First civilian flight from Kabul since US exit lands in Doha
Around 100 passengers have arrived in Doha after flying from Kabul airport, 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 flight, operated by state-owned Qatar Airways, landed at Doha’s Hamad International Airport on Thursday, marking the first successful flight of its type since the chaotic airlift of more than 120,000 people concluded last month.
Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Jamjoom reporting from Doha’s airport said there are about 113 passengers on board.
“The nationalities on board are comprised of Canadians, Americans, Ukrainians, Germans, British citizens and others,” Jamjoom said.
“They are transiting through Doha. After they clear customs they will be taken temporarily to a compound here in Doha, housing Afghan evacuees and Afghan refugees.”
Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani praised the Taliban for allowing the flight.
“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.”
‘A positive first step’
US National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne said in a statement the flight from Kabul is “a positive first step”.
“The Taliban have been cooperative in facilitating the departure of American citizens and lawful permanent residents on charter flights from HKIA (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.”
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement they are “grateful to our Qatari friends for facilitating a flight carrying 13 British nationals from Kabul to safety in Doha today.
“Qatar has acted as the central intermediary between the Taliban and the international community in recent years,” Raab said.
Numerous countries, including the UK and the US, have relocated their embassies from Kabul to Doha in the aftermath of the takeover.
Qatari and Turkish technical teams have helped restore operations at the airport, which was damaged during the chaotic evacuations of tens of thousands of people to meet the US troop withdrawal deadline of August 31.
Al Jazeera’s Jamjoom said that at the press conference on Tuesday, when US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin visited their Qatari counterparts in Doha, the reopening of Kabul’s airport was “one of the things on the top of the agenda”.
“This is a big deal… it’s a very significant step,” Jamjoom said.
“Qatar is playing an outsize role on the world stage when it comes to Afghanistan because they are the primary interlocutors when it comes to the Taliban, they are the mediators and because of that you have a situation like today, where this is a historic day.”
Earlier on Thursday, Mutlaq al-Qahtani, Qatar’s special envoy to Afghanistan said it was a “historic day” for Afghanistan.
“This is a historic day in the history of Afghanistan as Kabul airport is fully operational,” al-Qahtani said, speaking from the tarmac.
“We have been faced by huge challenges … but we can now say that the airport is fit for navigation.”
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid thanked Qatar for its assistance in making the airport operational and for humanitarian aid to Afghanistan.
“In the very near future, the airport will be ready for all sorts of flights including commercial flights,” he said, standing beside Qatari officials at the airport tarmac.
Al-Qahtani earlier said another flight would take off on Friday.
“Call it what you want, a charter or a commercial flight, everyone has tickets and boarding passes,” he said. “Hopefully, life is becoming normal in Afghanistan.”
Alex Macheras, aviation analyst, told Al Jazeera that Thursday’s flight was a charter flight.
“This is not a commercial flight whereby the airline is selling tickets to [inaudible] paying passengers … as part of a schedule,” he said,
“Instead the airline has been paid by the government, which in coordination with other governments, offers almost rescue tickets if you like, to those who are stuck by operating individual, one-off special, charter flights. We see this all around the world when there is bad weather in places, when airlines go bust, and so on.”
The departure of a large group of Americans, a first since the US withdrawal, would also signal that US officials have come to an arrangement with the new Taliban rulers.
In recent days, there had been a standoff between the Taliban and organisers of several charter planes who had hoped to evacuate Americans and at-risk Afghans from an airport in the northern town of Mazar-i-Sharif.
The Taliban has said it would let passengers with valid travel documents leave, but that many of those at the airport in northern Afghanistan did not have such papers.
Following the evacuation of more than 100,000 people from the country in the wake of the troop withdrawal, extensive damage at Kabul airport raised questions over how soon the transport hub could resume for commercial flights.