U.S. Citizens and Afghans Wait for Evacuation Flights From Country’s North
Around 1,000 people, including dozens of American citizens and Afghans holding visas to the United States or other countries, remained stuck in …
Around 1,000 people, including dozens of American citizens and Afghans holding visas to the United States or other countries, remained stuck in Afghanistan for the fifth day on Sunday, awaiting clearance from the Taliban for departure, reflecting the challenges of working with the group, which has yet to form a government.
Negotiations to allow the planes to depart, involving officials of the Taliban, the United States and Qatar, have dragged on for days, leaving the evacuees in an increasingly precarious limbo, according to representatives of organizations trying to get them to safety.
The plight of the passengers hoping to leave the country from the airport in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif mirrors that of thousands of evacuees who were unable to board planes from Kabul, the capital, after Taliban rebels took the city on the eve of the U.S. troop withdrawal.
The American pullout and the end of the two-decade war in Afghanistan were overshadowed by chaotic efforts to airlift tens of thousands of Americans and their allies fleeing the Islamist fighters, who many fear will limit the rights of women and others once they officially return to power.
The Biden administration has faced criticism for leaving many behind in Kabul after the final troops left on Aug. 30.
Representative Michael McCaul, Republican of Texas, told Fox News Sunday that the Taliban were preventing six airplanes carrying American citizens from leaving.
“State has cleared these flights, and the Taliban will not let them leave the airport,” Mr. McCaul said, adding that he believed the problem was “turning into a hostage situation.”
Mr. McCaul said the Taliban wanted “something in exchange” for approving takeoff of the plans. He said he believed what they were seeking was “full recognition from the United States of America.”
But the State Department and organizers on the ground in Qatar countered Mr. McCaul’s description of the situation, saying that the planes had received necessary clearance and were awaiting final approval from the Taliban.
“The Taliban are not holding the planes hostage,” said Eric Montalvo, a former major with the U.S. Marines who is directly involved in organizing the flights.
According to documents reviewed by The New York Times, the U.S. military approved three flights to take about 1,000 evacuees, including dozens of American citizens, to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar.
Qatar also provided diplomatic clearance for the flights to land there, and the manifests have been vetted by the U.S. military, the State Department and Qatar, but need Taliban approval to depart Mazar-i-Sharif.
“If and when the Taliban agrees to take off, we are tracking that the landing sites will be prepared to accept the expected flights,” the State Department said in an email to congressional officials that was reviewed by The New York Times. It added that the United States no longer controlled the airspace over Afghanistan.
“It is a Taliban decision to ground flights in Mazar-i-Sharif,” the email said. “We are, however, providing guidance and assistance to the extent possible — and with an emphasis on safety — to private entities working out of Mazar.”
Reporting was contributed by Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Lara Jakes, Luke Broadwater and Julian E. Barnes.