Some 200 passengers, including US citizens, left Kabul airport, on the first flight carrying foreigners out of the Afghan capital since a US-led evacuation ended on August 30.
Dozens of foreigners, including Americans, have left Kabul on an international commercial flight, marking the first large-scale evacuation since US and NATO forces left Afghanistan late last month.
Their departure on Thursday represented a breakthrough in the bumpy coordination between the US and Afghanistan’s new Taliban leaders.
The Taliban have said they would let foreigners and Afghans with valid travel documents leave, but a days long standoff over charter planes at another airport had cast some doubt on Taliban assurances.
The Qatar Airways flight is heading to Doha.
A senior US official said that Americans, green card holders and other nationalities including Germans, Hungarians and Canadians are on the flight.
Waiting with suitcases
Footage broadcast by Al Jazeera TV on Thursday showed families including women, children and elderly people waiting with suitcases at the airport for their turn to leave.
It was not immediately clear whether any countries other than Qatar had played a role in organising the airlift.
Qatar has acted as the central intermediary between the Taliban and the international community in recent years, and numerous countries, including the United States, have relocated their embassies from Kabul to Doha in the aftermath of the Taliban takeover.
“We are very appreciative of the Qataris,” one man told the channel, giving his nationality as Canadian.
Away from the airport, there was a noticeably stronger Taliban presence on the streets of Kabul as armed fighters – including special forces in military fatigues – stood guard on street corners and manned checkpoints, according to AFP journalists.
Qatar’s special envoy to Afghanistan, Mutlaq al Qahtani, called it a “historic day” for the airport.
He also said it marked a major step on the road to “reopening … the airport to international flights, but it may be gradual”.
Most of the early Afghan evacuees were desperate to flee fearing Taliban reprisals for having worked with foreign powers during the 20-year, US-led occupation.
The United States has repeatedly pledged to continue working to evacuate any American citizens still in Afghanistan after last month’s airlift ended.
Earlier Thursday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said only around 100 Americans remained in Afghanistan.
“It’s right around 100 right now and we’re working to get those American citizens who want to depart out of the country, as well as legal permanent residents and other key partners,” Psaki told MSNBC.