Uzbekistan Sends Afghan Refugees Back Home, States Taliban Won't Persecute for Fleeing

Uzbekistan announced Friday that following talks with the Taliban, the country returned 150 Afghan refugees back home, which Uzbeck officials said was in keeping with the refugees' wishes.

The Uzbek Foreign Ministry released a statement Friday saying the Taliban promised not to persecute the refugees for fleeing. It added that it made contact with the Taliban for "security guarantees for citizens of Afghanistan who illegally crossed the border during those dramatic days," referring to the militants' takeover in the weeks leading up to the final U.S. and NATO withdrawal.

According to the ministry, the Afghans sent back to their country reached their homes safely following "the necessary formal procedures." There was no further explanation, and the ministry added that Uzbekistan was working with countries trying to evacuate their citizens from Afghanistan.

The statement said that Uzbek airspace and airports were made available to other nations and that the Uzbek government provided technical and logistical support to assist in the rescue of 1,982 people.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Afghan Security Forces
Uzbekistan announced it has returned 150 Afghan refugees to their native country on Friday. Afghan security forces patrol on a Humvee vehicle at Parakh area in Bazarak, Panjshir province on Friday after the Taliban stunning takeover of Afghanistan. AHMAD SAHEL ARMAN/Getty Images

U.S. officials said that American military planes will resume evacuation flights from the Kabul airport after an hours-long pause due to a lack of places available to take evacuees.

One official said there was a backlog on Friday of about 10,000 people at the airport who have been cleared for departure and were awaiting flights.

The backlog, in turn, caused the military to close gates at the airport perimeter, where many people are trying to get on flights. The State Department was working on arranging additional places to take the evacuees.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss matter not yet publicly announced ahead of President Joe Biden's speech Friday on the situation in Kabul.

UN Food Agency Negotiates Access to Distribute Aid

ROME—The U.N. food agency said it has been able to negotiate access with the Taliban to distribute aid in one provincial capital in Afghanistan but hasn't been able to resume food deliveries to three other provincial capitals it supplies.

The World Food Program, headquartered in Rome, has said that some 14 million people are facing severe hunger in the nation of some 39 million. A second drought in three years, combined with fighting, had afflicted Afghanistan even before the Taliban takeover of the country on Sunday.

Andrew Patterson, WFP's deputy country director, told the Associated Press on Friday that after Faizabad, a provincial capital in the north, fell to the Taliban last week, the agency's field office succeeded in negotiating access with the local Taliban command, and "we had [a food] truck on the road the next day."

However, Patterson said the situation in Kandahar, Herat and Jalalabad so far hasn't allowed the U.N. agency to resume distributing food in those areas.

According to WFP estimates, some 2 million children are malnourished in Afghanistan.

NATO Focusing Efforts on Safe Evacuations

BRUSSELS—NATO foreign ministers vowed on Friday to center their efforts on assuring the safe evacuation from Afghanistan of citizens from the alliance's member countries and allies, as well and Afghans deemed at risk after the takeover by the Taliban.

During a virtual meeting, the ministers also expressed concern over the "grave events" in Afghanistan and called for "an immediate end to violence" amid reports of Taliban atrocities and "serious human rights violations and abuses across Afghanistan."

The ministers insisted the new rulers in Kabul would have to make sure that the nation does not become a center for terrorism. They said that "under the current circumstances, NATO has suspended all support to the Afghan authorities."

"Any future Afghan government must adhere to Afghanistan's international obligations....And ensure that Afghanistan never again serves as a safe haven for terrorists," a statement from the alliance said.

French President Welcomes Afghan Refugees

PARIS—French President Emmanuel Macron sent a message of "welcome" in a tweet on Friday to Afghans evacuated to France, following the arrival from Kabul of a third group of more than 200 people, mostly Afghans.

He also noted that health rules are not being forgotten, posting photos of Afghans surrounded by doctors and a man getting a COVID-19 test, obligatory for all arrivals.

All people coming to France from Afghanistan must observe a 10-day quarantine under pandemic restrictions because their country is on the French red list of color-coded risks for coronavirus, with red the highest, the Foreign Ministry noted Thursday.

To ensure that France and other nations can continue evacuations, Macron insisted in a phone call with President Joe Biden of the "absolute need for rapid and concrete coordination among allies," according to a French statement Friday about the conversation the day before.

The U.S. military is in charge of the evacuations at Kabul airport, meaning that other countries must go through them to evacuate their own citizens and Afghans considered at risk in their homeland following the Taliban takeover of the country on Sunday.