Americans Among Up to 200 Westerners Evacuating from Afghanistan on Humanitarian Aid Flight

About 200 Westerners, including Americans, boarded a plane leaving Kabul, Afghanistan, on Thursday in an aircraft that previously transported humanitarian aid to the country, the Associated Press reported.

The flight, offered by Qatar Airways and headed for Doha, was the first sizable evacuation effort from the country since the U.S. and NATO allies completed their withdrawal at the end of August.

While the Taliban pledged to permit Afghans and foreigners to leave Afghanistan since assuming control of the country, some began to doubt the group's word when charter planes meant to transport evacuees out of another airport weren't given permission to leave, the AP reported. But when the group of Westerners leaving the Kabul airport was readying to board, Qatari special envoy Mutlaq bin Majed al-Qahtani called it a "historic day."

"Call it what you want, a charter or a commercial flight, everyone has tickets and boarding passes," al-Qahtani said, noting that another commercial flight was expected to take off Friday. "Hopefully, life is becoming normal in Afghanistan."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Taliban Guard Kabul Airport
A group of foreigners, including Americans and other Westerners, departed Thursday on a Qatar Airways flight from Kabul that had earlier ferried humanitarian aid to the Afghanistan. Above, Taliban fighters stand guard inside the Hamid Karzai International Airport after the U.S. withdrawal, in Kabul, on August 31, 2021. Kathy Gannon/AP Photo

A senior U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to brief the media, provided the number of Westerners expected on board and said that two very senior Taliban officials had helped facilitate the departure. The 200 includes Americans, green card holders and other nationalities, the official said.

The flight represents the first to depart from Kabul airport since American forces left the country at the end of August, their departure accompanied by a frantic airlift of tens of thousands of foreign citizens and Afghans fleeing the Taliban. The scenes of chaos, including Afghans plunging to their deaths after clinging to military aircraft that was taking off and a suicide bombing that killed 169 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members, came to define the fraught end to America's two-decade war.

A foreign diplomat, likewise speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to brief the media, said another 200 foreigners, including Americans, would depart in the next couple of days.

It remains uncertain what the resumption of international flights over the next few days will mean for the tens of thousands of Afghans desperate to flee Afghanistan's new Taliban leaders over fears of what their rule will hold.

Hundreds of other Afghans at risk after the Taliban takeover because of their past work with Americans have gathered for more than a week in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, waiting for permission to board privately chartered evacuation flights out of the country.

Although the Taliban assured the world they would let passengers with valid travel documents leave the country, many of those stranded at the northern airport did not have such papers.

Following the U.S.-led evacuation of over 100,000 people from the country in the wake of the troop pullout, extensive damage at Kabul airport has raised questions over how soon the transport hub could resume for regular commercial flights. Technical experts from Qatar and Turkey have been working to restore operations.

Al-Qahtani told reporters that the airport's radar was now active and covering some 70 miles (112 kilometers) after U.S. forces left it inoperable. Authorities were coordinating with Pakistan as they tried to fix the area control for the airspace, he added.

Flights Resume From Kabul
A group of foreigners, including Americans and other Westerners, departed Thursday on a Qatar Airways flight from Kabul that had earlier ferried humanitarian aid to the Afghanistan. Above, a Taliban soldier walks on the tarmac at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on September 5, 2021. Wali Sabawoon/AP Photo