The first flight allowed to take off from Kabul’s airport since U.S. troops withdrew from the country late last month has safely landed in nearby Qatar, U.S. officials said.
The Qatar Airways plane left Hamid Karzai International Airport on the evening of Sept. 9 local time and landed in Qatar several hours later.
“This is a historic day in the history of Afghanistan, as Kabul airport is fully operational. We have been faced by huge challenges … but we can now say that the airport is fit for navigation,” Mutlaq al-Qahtani, Qatar’s special envoy to Afghanistan, told Qatari-funded Al Jazeera on the Kabul airport tarmac before the flight took off.
The Taliban terrorist group let the flight depart.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, standing nearby, said that Qatari officials had helped bring the airport back online.
Emily Horne, spokesperson for the White House National Security Council, said in a statement that the U.S. government facilitated the departure of U.S. citizens on the flight.
Thirty Americans and lawful permanent residents were invited to be on the flight but it wasn’t clear if all of them made it on, State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington. He said there would be additional opportunities for Americans to leave the country.
The Qatari embassy in Washington and Qatar Airways didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Irfan Popalzai, 12, was among those boarding the plane. His mother and five siblings were as well. He told the Associated Press that 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.
A senior U.S. official, who was not identified, told the outlet that approximately 200 foreigners were on board the plane, including Americans, Hungarians, Germans, and Canadians.
The official said two Taliban officials helped facilitate the flight.
“The Taliban have been cooperative in facilitating the departure of American citizens and lawful permanent residents on charter flights from HKIA. 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,” Horne said.
“We will continue these efforts to facilitate the safe and orderly travel of American citizens, lawful permanent residents, and Afghans who worked for us and wish to leave Afghanistan. Because there is an ongoing terrorist threat to operations of this nature, we will not be sharing details of these efforts before people are safely out of the country.”
U.S. lawmakers had said in recent days that Americans were being held hostage at a different airport, in northern Afghanistan.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken later confirmed that some Americans were being prevented from leaving the country. The Taliban, who were blocking the U.S. citizens, claimed that they lacked proper documents.
It still isn’t clear how many Americans remain stranded in Afghanistan. The Biden administration said between 100 and 200 were left behind when U.S. troops completed their withdrawal, but others have pegged the number at around 500.