Foreigners stranded in Afghanistan since the US military’s frantic evacuation late last month arrived at Kabul airport on Thursday with documents in hand and their departure seemed assured as the Taliban said people with the correct papers – including American passport holders – were free to go.
A US official familiar with the negotiations, who spoke only on condition of anonymity, said that around 200 people had been released, including Americans and other third-country nationals.
Bilal Karimi, a close associate of Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, said three flights from Persian Gulf countries had landed at the airport and that more were expected. They arrived with urgently needed humanitarian aid, said Karimi, and should take off when the technical problems with the radar at the airport are resolved.
Taliban and foreign officials said Afghans with dual citizenship are also allowed to leave.
Passengers – including dozens of Canadians and a handful of US and British citizens – have been checked in for a flight that was due to fly in from Qatar this morning and depart later on Thursday.
Safi, 42, from Toronto, was among those who passed security and planned to board a waiting Boeing 777.
He said he tried to leave during the evacuation but gave up when chaos surrounded the streets outside the airport.
“Things are good,” said Safi, who identified himself only by his first name. “It seems that the authorities are keeping their promises.”
While the move is the first step in overcoming a diplomatic impasse that has stranded numerous Americans and other international workers in Afghanistan, there was no indication that the Taliban would allow the tens of thousands of Afghans who qualify for an American emergency visa to leave .
It also remained unclear whether charter flights could fly from the airport in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, where dozens of Americans and hundreds of Afghans were waiting to leave the country.
Foreign Secretary Antony J. Blinken said at a press conference on Wednesday at Ramstein Air Force Base that the Taliban were entirely to blame for the inability to leave Mazar-i-Sharif charter flights.
“The Taliban do not allow the departure of the charter flights,” said Blinken. “They claim that some of the passengers do not have the necessary documents. While there are limits to what we can do without staff on the ground without an airport with normal security procedures, we will do everything in our power to support these flights and get them off the ground. “
Blaming the Americans for the delays, the Taliban said US forces shut down radar and other equipment at Kabul airport last week.
Engineers from Qatar have worked with workers from Turkey to repair the damage and create a safety protocol that will allow international passenger flights to resume.