U.S. Won't Reopen Afghan Embassy, Qatar Agrees to Provide Services to Americans in Region

Qatar has agreed to represent the U.S. in Afghanistan after the closure of the American Embassy in Kabul and U.S. military withdrawal in August, the Associated Press reported.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Qatari Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani announced Friday that Qatar will serve as the U.S. "protecting power." That means Qatar's embassy in Kabul will have a U.S. "interests section" to handle official communications between the American and Taliban governments.

The interests section will also handle services for American citizens still in Afghanistan and will assume responsibility over the vacant American diplomatic facilities there.

In an interview with AP, Al-Thani said he takes this added responsibility very seriously and that he would be adding staff to the Kabul embassy to take on the extra workload.

"Given the Afghan situation, it isn't going to be an easy job," Al-Thani said. "The situation in Afghanistan overall is a complicated situation. So definitely, there are a lot of complicated issues that need to be worked out and need to be settled."

Blinken and Al-Thani also signed an agreement on Friday making Qatar the formal main transit hub for American evacuees still in Afghanistan. Blinken said the U.S. has offered every American citizen that has proper travel documents the opportunity to leave Afghanistan.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Anthony Blinken, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani announced on Friday that Qatar would represent the U.S. in its Kabul embassy. Above, Blinken talks with Al-Thani during a news conference following a signing ceremony at the State Department in Washington, D.C., on November 12, 2021. Olivier Douliery/Pool via AP

The U.S. has numerous protecting power arrangements in countries where it does not have a diplomatic presence. Those notably include Switzerland in Iran, Sweden in North Korea and the Czech Republic in Syria.

Qatar has been a key player in discussions between the Taliban and the United States for many years. It hosted months of U.S.-Taliban peace talks and has since been critical to the evacuation of American citizens and others from Afghanistan. Roughly half the people who have left the country have transited through Qatar.

"As of Nov. 10, all U.S. citizens who have requested assistance from the United States government to depart and who we've identified as being prepared to depart, having the necessary travel documents, have been offered an opportunity to do so," Blinken said.

There was no way to independently confirm this and the administration has been heavily criticized for the chaotic nature of the withdrawal. It has also been accused of leaving thousands of Americans, green card holders, their families and at-risk Afghans behind.

Several hundred Americans are reported to still be in Afghanistan, though not all have indicated they want to leave, Biden administration officials have said.

Friday's agreement formalizing Qatar as the main transit hub for those fleeing Afghanistan is intended to regularize the standards for the arrival and processing of evacuees as they make their way to other destinations, al-Thani told AP.

"We need to make sure that's regulated and governed and properly," he said. "It's very important for us to do the proper vetting and security processes in order to ensure that we don't end up with the wrong people in our countries."

But some humanitarian groups have complained that stringent entry requirements in transit countries like Qatar put the most at-risk Afghans in further peril as they are unable to get proper travel documentation from Taliban authorities.

Al-Thani said Qatar would continue to facilitate evacuations through charter flights on its state-run Qatar Airways. "We will continue to be an instrument of peace and stability in the region," he said.

U.S. embassy, Kabul
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, sits vacant as the Qatari Embassy plans to serve as the U.S. "protecting power" in Afghanistan. Above, murals are seen along the walls at a quiet U.S. Embassy on July 30, 2021, in Kabul. Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images