Flight carrying Americans, others leaves Afghanistan after Taliban clearance

A charter flight with roughly 200 Americans and other foreign citizens left Afghanistan on Thursday, according to multiple reports, marking the first air departure from the country after the U.S. completed its troop withdrawal last month.

The Qatar Airways flight departed from Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA) Thursday afternoon en route to Qatar, according to CNN and The New York Times.

About 200 Afghan dual nationals, including roughly 30 Americans, were given permission to leave, according to The Washington Post. It remains unclear, however, how many people were able to secure safe passage to the airport. The Times reported that “more than 100 foreigners” were on the flight. 

The dual nationals on the flight manifest reportedly included individuals with passports from Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Ukraine, Canada and Germany.

Qatar assisted passengers with traveling to the airport using a convoy of minibuses stowed at a Kabul hotel, according to The Wall Street Journal. The buses reportedly crossed into the airport shortly after 2 p.m. local time.

National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne confirmed in a statement Thursday afternoon that the Qatar Airways flight had departed from Afghanistan with U.S. citizens and permanent residents on board earlier that day, and has since landed in Qatar.

“We are deeply grateful to the continued efforts of Qatar in facilitating operations at HKIA and helping to ensure the safety of these charter flights,” Horne said in a statement.

“We have been working intensely across the U.S. government to ensure the accuracy of the manifest and the safe departure and transit of the aircraft, and today’s safe flight is the result of careful and hard diplomacy and engagement,” she added.

Horne said the Taliban have been “cooperative” in facilitating the departure of American citizens and permanent residents on charter flights from the Kabul airport, adding that they have been “businesslike and professional” in dealings with the U.S.

Asked about the development during an appearance on CNN Thursday morning, White House press secretary Jen Psaki declined to get into specifics for security reasons but said the U.S. has been working to get flights out of the airport operational.

“What we’re working to do is be able to get flights in and out of the airport to help people who want to depart … American citizens, legal permanent residents, people who are eligible [for] different programs we have in the United States, Special Immigrant Visa programs and others,” Psaki said. “This is what we have been working toward every moment of every day, and it is something that we hope will be instrumental going forward.” 

In a statement to The Hill on Thursday, a State Department spokesperson refused to disclose additional details regarding the flight.

“As we have said, our efforts to assist U.S. citizens and others to whom we have a special commitment are ongoing, but we aren’t in a position to share additional details at this time,” the spokesperson said.

The charter flight’s departure comes more than one week after the U.S. completed its troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and days after the Taliban introduced its new interim Afghan government, which was made up of all men.

White House chief of staff Ron Klain on Sunday said the administration believes there are “around 100” American citizens still in Afghanistan. President Biden has vowed to bring all Americans home from the country.

Horne, in a statement on Thursday, said the U.S. will continue efforts to “facilitate the safe and orderly travel of American citizens, lawful permanent residents, and Afghans who worked for us and wish to leave Afghanistan.”

She would not, however, reveal additional details of those efforts before individuals are safely out of the country, citing an “ongoing terrorist threat to operations of this nature.”

“As President Biden has said, if you are an American citizen who wants to leave Afghanistan, there is no deadline. We remain committed to get them out if they want to come out,” she added

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday called on Taliban officials to allow charter flights to depart Afghanistan, after lawmakers expressed outrage that the insurgent group was blocking planes from leaving the country with American citizens and Afghan allies aboard.

“We’ve heard in some of our engagements with the Taliban their concern about a so-called brain drain and people with knowledge and expertise leaving the country,” Blinken said in remarks at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

“And one of the things that we shared with them was the best way to get people to stay in Afghanistan is to allow them to leave Afghanistan, as well as to uphold their basic rights,” he added. “Whether they will take that to heart remains to be seen.”

Blinken also said foreign governments and United Nations agencies were working on resuming commercial air activity in Kabul.

The secretary did, however, say that the Taliban in the meantime could immediately “demonstrate its willingness to respect freedom of movement” by allowing charter flights with properly documented passengers to leave Afghanistan.

“I think all of you know there are a number of such flights that have been waiting in Mazar-i-Sharif,” Blinken said, referring to reports that airplanes with Americans on board were being blocked for takeoff by the Taliban at the northern Afghanistan airport.

“And this is a point that we’ve made crystal-clear in recent engagements with the Taliban and we encourage others to do the same,” he added.

It is not clear, however, how many passengers awaiting departure at Mazar-i-Sharif could make it to Kabul in time for the cleared flight to Qatar, the Journal noted.

The Hill has reached out to the White House and State Department for more information.

— Morgan Chalfant contributed to this report, which was updated at 1:56 p.m.

Tags Afghanistan withdrawal Antony Blinken evacuation Jen Psaki Joe Biden Ron Klain Taliban White House

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