• The San Juan Daily Star

Foreign passengers clear security to board flights out of Kabul

By Victor J. Blue, Marc Santora and Sami Sahak

Foreigners stranded in Afghanistan since the frenzied U.S. military evacuation late last month arrived at the airport in Kabul on Thursday, documents in hand, with their departure seemingly assured as the Taliban said that people with the proper papers — including U.S. passport holders — were free to leave.

A U.S. official familiar with the negotiations who spoke only on the condition of anonymity said that about 200 people had been cleared to depart and that they included Americans and other third-country nationals.

Bilal Karimi, a close aide to Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, said three flights from Persian Gulf nations had landed at the airport and that more were expected. They arrived with desperately needed humanitarian aid, Karimi said, and would be allowed to take off when technical issues involving the radar at the airport had been resolved.

Taliban and foreign officials said that Afghans with dual citizenship would also be allowed to leave.

Passengers — including scores of Canadians, and a handful of U.S. and British citizens — were being checked in for a flight that flew in from Qatar Thursday morning and was expected to depart later Thursday.

Safi, 42, from Toronto, was among those passing through security and planning to board a waiting Boeing 777.

He said he had tried to leave during the evacuation but had given up as chaos enveloped the streets outside the airport.

“Things are good,” said Safi, who only identified himself by his first name. “It seems the authorities are keeping their promises.”

While the move is the first step in resolving a diplomatic impasse that has left scores of Americans and other international workers stranded in Afghanistan, there was no indication that the Taliban would allow the tens of thousands of Afghans who qualify for emergency U.S. visas to leave.

It also remained unclear whether charter flights from the airport in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, where dozens of Americans and hundreds of Afghans were waiting to leave the country, would be allowed to fly.

Speaking at a news conference Wednesday at the U.S. air base in Ramstein, Germany, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Taliban bore the entire blame for the inability of charter flights to leave Mazar-e-Sharif.

“The Taliban are not permitting the charter flights to depart,” Blinken said. “They claim that some of the passengers do not have the required documentation. While there are limits to what we can do without personnel on the ground, without an airport with normal security procedures in place, we are going to do everything in our power to support those flights and to get them off the ground.”

The Taliban blamed the Americans for the delays and said that as U.S. forces left last week, they rendered the radar and other equipment at the Kabul airport inoperable.

Engineers from Qatar, alongside workers from Turkey, have been working to repair the damage and to come up with a security protocol that would allow international passenger flights to resume.

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