US working with Taliban to enable charter flight ops from Kabul, says Blinken

US secretary of state also said that the US believes there are “somewhere around 100” of its citizens still present in Mazar-i-sharif who are seeking to leave Afghanistan.
US secretary of state Antony Blinken said the Taliban have reiterated that they would allow people with travel documents to freely leave Afghanistan. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/Pool)
US secretary of state Antony Blinken said the Taliban have reiterated that they would allow people with travel documents to freely leave Afghanistan. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/Pool)
Published on Sep 07, 2021 04:51 PM IST
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Written by Sharangee Dutta | Edited by Avik Roy, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

US secretary of state Antony Blinken, who is currently in Qatar, said on Tuesday that the state department is working with the Taliban to enable additional charter flights to operate from Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport for people wishing to leave Afghanistan. He added that the US has been in contact with the Islamist militant group in “recent hours” and that they have reiterated to allow Afghans to “freely leave” their country.

He was speaking at a joint press conference with his Qatari counterpart, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, along with other top defence officials and diplomats of the middle-eastern country, in Doha. US defence secretary Lloyd Austin was also present at the meeting.

Referring to Taliban’s take on the scenario, Blinken said the Islamist group have reiterated that they would “let people with travel documents freely depart.” “We will hold them to that,” he added.

"The entire international community is looking to the Taliban to uphold that commitment," the US secretary of state said, referring to a UN Security Council resolution that sought safe passage of the people wanting to leave Afghanistan.

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Blinken also said that Washington has identified a “relatively” small number of Americans at Mazar-i-sharif who are seeking to leave Afghanistan. He informed that the US believes there are “somewhere around 100” of its citizens still in the war-torn nation who seek to leave. The state department, however, had earlier put the estimate at between 100 and 200.

This comes after the US on Monday evacuated four Americans into a bordering third country – the name of which wasn’t disclosed — through land, marking the first such operation since the country’s troops pulled out on August 31. A state department official said that the Taliban were aware of the move and did not interfere.

Meanwhile, non-governmental organisations said an estimated number of people ranging between 600 and 1,300 – including girls and US nationals — are stuck in Mazar-i-sharif.

Marina LeGree, the founder and executive director of an American non-governmental organisation active in Afghanistan, told AFP that the Taliban are not letting anyone through.

Blinken and Austin’s visit to Qatar is to thank the Gulf country for its help with the evacuation of thousands of people after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan.

Qatar has already deployed technical teams to the Kabul airport in order to assess the viability of the venue and prepare its operations to allow evacuations and the arrival of humanitarian supplies that Afghanistan desperately needs in the current situation.

Turkey is also keen on helping the country resume operations to gain a foothold in Taliban-led Afghanistan. 

(With inputs from agencies)

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Sunday, December 05, 2021