The first commercial flight to take off from Afghanistan since the chaotic US military airlift last month landed in Qatar on Thursday, carrying more than 100 foreign nationals, including Americans, according to a source with knowledge of the matter. Passengers onboard the Qatar Airways flight that departed from Kabul airport — including Canadian, Ukrainian, German, British, and US citizens — were among some 200 foreigners that the Taliban have cleared to leave the country.
The plane’s departure is the first signal that at least some foreign nationals who want to leave Afghanistan will be able to, following weeks of uncertainty. Civilians have been left scrambling to find safe passage from the country since the Taliban takeover in mid-August threw a US-led evacuation effort into confusion.
Qatar worked with parties on the ground to transport the passengers in a Qatari convoy and secure a safe passage to Kabul’s airport. Live pictures showed people disembarking the Qatar Airways Boeing 777 on Thursday evening Doha time. After landing in Doha, the passengers will head to a compound facility currently hosting Afghans and other evacuees.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Than, Qatar’s deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, thanked the Taliban for their “cooperation” in restarting flights, adding that this was a signal that the militant group’s “positive statements” can be “demonstrated into action.
“The cooperation was also praised by the US. “The Taliban have been cooperative in facilitating the departure of American citizens and lawful permanent residents on charter flights … They have shown flexibility, and they have been businesslike and professional in our dealings with them in this effort. This is a positive first step,” said US National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne.
Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority is preparing for more flights to start operating from Kabul, according to an aviation source who spoke to CNN. Both major Afghan carriers Kam Air and Ariana Afghan Airlines plan to restart different routes.
The source said that the handling company at the airport will be the same one that was used prior to the shutdown of the airport after the fall of Kabul in mid-August.
The terminal at the airport in Kabul is “ready” for flights, the aviation source told CNN. Earlier in the day, Qatari and Taliban officials toured the Kabul airport tarmac, where the Qatar Airways Boeing 777 stood.
Several passengers waiting to check into the flight earlier said their final destination was Canada. “We are going to Canada, we are Canadians,” one man told an Al Jazeera Arabic reporter at the airport in English. Another two men also said they were bound for Canada.
Other international flights are expected in the coming days. The Taliban’s acting foreign minister, Mawlawi Amir Khan Muttaki, thanked Qatari special envoy Mutlaq Al-Qahtani for his country’s efforts in restarting flights out of Kabul International Airport, the Taliban said in a statement posted on an official account.
A Qatari technical team has been in the country for the past 10 days, helping Afghan officials restore airport operations.
An engineer on the Qatari team told a news conference Thursday that the airport was now 90% fixed. “There are some technical issues that we cannot fix, but in total all the equipment is working,” said Mohamed Naeemi, speaking alongside Al-Qahtani.