Dozens of foreigners have left Kabul on an international commercial flight, marking the first large-scale evacuation since US and NATO forces left Afghanistan late last month.
Their departure represented a breakthrough in the bumpy coordination between the US and Afghanistan’s new Taliban leaders.
The Taliban have said they would let foreigners and Afghans with valid travel documents leave, but a days-long standoff over charter planes at another airport had cast some doubt on such assurances.
The Qatar Airways flight is heading to Doha. A senior US official said that Americans, green card holders and other nationalities including Germans, Hungarians and Canadians are on the flight.
As Taliban authorities patrolled the tarmac, passengers presented their documents for checking, and sniffer dogs inspected luggage laid out on the ground. Some of the veteran airport workers had returned to their jobs after fleeing during the harrowing chaos of the US-led airlift.
Irfan Popalzai, 12, among those boarding the flight with his mother and five brothers and sisters, said his family lives in Maryland.
“I am an Afghan, but you know I am from America and I am so excited (to leave),” he said.
As the group prepared to board earlier, Qatari officials gathered on the tarmac of Kabul airport to announce the airport was ready for the resumption of international commercial flights after days of repairs.
Extensive damage to the travel hub in the frenzied final days of the airlift that evacuated more than 100,000 people had raised questions over how soon the transport hub could resume for regular commercial flights. Technical experts from Qatar and Turkey have been racing to restore operations.
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 US service members, came to define the fraught end to America’s two-decade war.
A foreign diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity said another 200 foreigners 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 have gathered for more than a week in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, waiting for permission to board privately chartered evacuation flights.
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.