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The 1st International Flight Since The U.S. Evacuated Leaves Kabul

Passengers board a Qatar Airways aircraft at the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan on Thursday.
Bernat Armangue
Passengers board a Qatar Airways aircraft at the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan on Thursday.

Updated September 9, 2021 at 2:50 PM ET

A flight with about 200 people, including some Americans, has landed in Doha, Qatar, after departing Kabul's airport earlier Thursday, a U.S. official says. It was the first international flight to leave Afghanistan since the U.S. withdrew its forces at the end of August.

In a statement, National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne thanked officials in Qatar as well as the Taliban for helping to facilitate the flight, which included U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents.

"The Taliban have been cooperative in facilitating the departure of American citizens and lawful permanent residents on charter flights from [Hamid Karzai International Airport]," Horne said.

"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," she added.

The passengers were bound for Doha on a Qatar Airways flight that brought in humanitarian and emergency aid. A senior U.S. official said that Americans, green card holders and other nationalities including Germans, Hungarians and Canadians were on the flight, according to the AP.

"We want people to think this is normal," said Qatar's special envoy to Afghanistan, Mutlaq bin Majed al-Qahtani.

Qatar had been instrumental in organizing the flight and other logistics to help get people stranded in Afghanistan out of the country.

Airport workers stand in a queue at a check point before entering the Kabul International Airport in Kabul on Sept. 4.
Aamir Qureshi / AFP via Getty Images
AFP via Getty Images
Airport workers stand in a queue at a checkpoint before entering Kabul International Airport in Kabul on Sept. 4.

Horne said the U.S. had evacuated 6,000 U.S. citizens and permanent residents from Afghanistan so far, and the administration was continuing to try to help such people as well as Afghans who worked for the U.S. leave the country if they want to.

According to The Washington Post, Qatari and Taliban officials gathered on the tarmac of the Kabul airport Thursday to announce that repairs had been made following recent violence there and the airport was nearly fully operational again.

Qahtani stressed that this was not an evacuation flight, but rather that people were leaving of their own free will and had tickets. Passengers will also need passports or other documentation, something many vulnerable Afghans don't have.

A senior U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press, said two very senior Taliban officials helped facilitate the flight and that the group of roughly 200 people included Americans, green card holders and other nationalities.

Meanwhile, hundreds of people, including Americans, have been waiting for days at a different airport in Mazar-i-Sharif, north of Kabul, in hopes of leaving the country.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.
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