First evacuation flight from Kabul since US exit lands in Doha
Around 100 passengers including Americans arrived in Doha after flying from Kabul airport Thursday, AFP correspondents said, the first flight ferrying out foreigners since a US-led evacuation ended.
Doha, a major transit point for Afghan refugees, has said it worked with Turkey to swiftly resume operations at Kabul’s airport to allow the flow of people and aid.
The arrival at Qatar’s Hamad International Airport was the first successful flight of its type since the chaotic airlift of more than 120,000 people concluded last month.
“I didn’t even fall asleep and we landed,” said one Canadian passenger who gave her name only as Elaha.
“The situation in Kabul was unpredictable and very uncomfortable,” she added after disembarking an airport bus.
The Qatar Airways Boeing 777 had “around 113” passengers including Americans, Canadians, Germans and Ukrainians, with all passengers due to be received at a compound for Afghan refugees in Doha, a source with knowledge of the operation told AFP.
Sources had earlier said that as many as 200 people were aboard, while London said 13 British nationals were on the flight.
A turbaned man with a suitcase was followed by three veiled, masked women off the plane and onto the tarmac at Qatar’s civilian airport, while other arrivals struggled with luggage.
The passengers who included several children, some of whom filmed their arrival, were directed to an airport bus to begin the next leg of their journey to a Qatari holding facility before returning to their home countries.
Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani praised the Taliban for allowing the flight.
– ‘Historic day’ –
“We managed to fly the first plane with passengers… we thank (the Taliban) for their cooperation,” Sheikh Mohammed said in televised remarks.
“This is actually what we are expecting from the Taliban, to see these positive statements translated into action,” said Sheikh Mohammed.
“I think this is a positive message, that we are supporting.”
In the days that followed the Taliban’s blitz, Kabul airport became a tragic symbol of desperation among Afghans terrified of the militants’ return to power.
Thousands of people crowded around its gates daily, and some even clinged to jets as they took off.
More than 100 people were killed, including 13 US troops, in a suicide attack on August 26 near the airport that was claimed by the Islamic State group’s local chapter.
“I came here on my own, my family was left behind,” said one passenger, aviation security officer Kiramuddin Nazary in broken English.
“My work was very, very dangerous. Now I want some help from all of you to (help) my family escape.”
Qatar’s special envoy to Afghanistan, Mutlaq al-Qahtani, called it a “historic day” for the airport.
“We are grateful to our Qatari friends for facilitating a flight carrying 13 British nationals from Kabul to safety in Doha today,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement.
“Qatar has acted as the central intermediary between the Taliban and the international community in recent years.”
US President Joe Biden’s press secretary Jen Psaki told a media briefing US authorities first wanted to check the flight manifest before confirming how many Americans were onboard.
Numerous countries, including Britain and the US, have relocated their embassies from Kabul to Doha in the aftermath of the takeover.