Charter flights delayed as US and Taliban struggle to work together

DOHA, Qatar – With the completion of the massive US military effort to evacuate endangered US citizens and Afghans, those still scrambli...

DOHA, Qatar – With the completion of the massive US military effort to evacuate endangered US citizens and Afghans, those still scrambling to find safe passage from Afghanistan now find themselves at a diplomatic impasse complicated and potentially dangerous.

Unable to fly from Kabul Airport, which remains closed and in need of modernization, many people flocked to the airport in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, this which makes it the latest flashpoint as the United States struggles to coordinate with its former Taliban adversaries to help those eager to leave the country.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, speaking to reporters during a visit to Qatar on Tuesday, said US officials “were working tirelessly” to ensure that flights carrying endangered Americans and Afghans could leave Afghanistan safe. He disputed allegations that the Taliban blocked charter flights from Mazar-i-Sharif airport.

Mr Blinken said he was not aware of any “hostage” situation in Mazar-i-Sharif, contradicting a claim by a prominent House Republican that the Taliban were reneging on promises. ‘they had instructed US officials to allow safe passage through the country. foreigners and Afghans with valid travel documents.

“We have been assured, once again, that all US citizens and Afghan citizens with valid travel documents will be allowed to leave,” Blinken said, adding that “we intend to oblige the Taliban to that”.

Mr Blinken, who appeared alongside Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and their Qatari counterparts, said the Taliban leadership recently reaffirmed this commitment. He pointed to the exit of the country on Monday of an American family who took an undisclosed land route. The Taliban knew what the family was doing but did not hinder them, US officials say.

But in the case of Mazar-i-Sharif, Blinken said, the Taliban has opposed charter flights that combine passengers who have valid travel documents and those who do not.

“From what I understand, the Taliban did not deny the exit to anyone with a valid document, but they said that those who did not have valid documents at this point could not leave,” Mr Blinken said. “But because all of these people are grouped together, it means the flights were not allowed to go.”

Representative Mike McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the House Foreign Relations Committee, on Sunday told “Fox News Sunday” that the Taliban was blocking the departure of six Mazar-i-Sharif flights that included citizens Americans and Afghans who had served as interpreters for the US military. Mr McCaul said the Taliban were holding the passengers “hostage” as they made demands on the US government.

Mr Blinken said he believed around 100 US citizens remained in Afghanistan, including “a relatively small number” seeking to leave Mazar-i-Sharif.

To complicate matters further, the Taliban said on Tuesday they would not allow people to leave the country until a new government is formed. The Taliban announced a list of people who will occupy key positions Tuesday afternoon, but they refrained from taking the oath to the new government.

The group said earlier today that without line ministries to grant exit stamps and perform other necessary tasks, an orderly departure process was not yet in place.

The Taliban’s latest comments represent a new twist in a chapter that has been playing out since their conquest of the country led to tens of thousands of people trying to flee.

Like the United States, the Taliban do not want to see a repeat of the desperate scenes that unfolded in Kabul, where thousands of Afghans rushed to the airport and many were evacuated without proper papers.

The Taliban are also working with international partners to try to revive full operations at Kabul airport.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said his country was working with Qatar and other countries to help repair damage to the Kabul facility and establish security protocols.

“Kabul airport can be opened again for international flights, the damage can be repaired, the runway can be renewed, the terminal also renewed,” Çavuşoğlu said, noting that 19 Turks were working to repair the damage.

While security outside the airport can be maintained by the Taliban, he said, airport security “should be maintained by a security company trusted by the international community.”

“There are companies that do this job, if the military presence is undesirable,” he said. Without such security, he said, commercial flights were unlikely to be able to resume.

“Even if planes want to fly, insurance companies won’t allow it,” he said in an interview with a private Turkish broadcaster.

At the press conference in Doha, Qatar’s Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani said his government had sent a technical team to assess the Kabul airport and expressed optimism that that “we are about to put everything into service very soon”, including for commercial flights.

The airport may currently be able to receive commercial flights for “a limited time during the day,” Al Thani said, adding that it requires an equipment upgrade to function as a standard international airport.

He added that his government was also negotiating with the Taliban to ensure security there.

So far, said Al Thani, Qatar is sending charter flights to Kabul providing humanitarian aid on an almost daily basis.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Charter flights delayed as US and Taliban struggle to work together
Charter flights delayed as US and Taliban struggle to work together
Newsrust - US Top News
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