Taliban Reportedly Blocks At Least Four Planes With Refugees, Americans From Departing Afghanistan
21:44 GMT 05.09.2021 (Updated: 16:35 GMT 08.12.2022)
In a chaotic US and NATO pullout that effectively ended a nearly 20-year military intervention on August 31, thousands of Afghans tried to flee the country, including collaborators with foreign troops, flocking to the runway at Kabul airport, the only way out. There are several hundred Americans still left in the country.
At least four planes chartered to evacuate hundreds of people fleeing Afghanistan after the Taliban* takeover have been unable to leave the country for days, with conflicting accounts emerging about why the flights were unable to take off, the Associated Press reported on Sunday.
The passengers, an Afghan official at the airport in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif cited in the report said, were Afghans, many of whom did not have passports or visas, and were thus unable to leave the country. He stated that they had departed the airport while the problem was being resolved.
However, the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, claimed on "Fox News Sunday" that the group included Americans who were seated on the planes, and the Taliban were preventing them from departure, effectively "holding them hostage." The representative did not reveal the sources where he obtained that information, though.
McCaul told the show's host Chris Wallace that a total of six planes were being held at the airport with American citizens and Afghan interpreters on board when asked about how many US citizens and evacuees have left Afghanistan after the withdrawal completion.
"I understand, zero. And, in fact, we have six airplanes at Mazar Sharif Airport, six airplanes with American citizens on them as I speak, also with these interpreters, and the Taliban is holding them hostage for demands right now," McCaul replied. "The state has cleared these flights and the Taliban will not let them leave the airport."
Six commercial airplanes are seen near the main terminal of the Mazar-i-Sharif airport, in northern Afghanistan, September 3 2021. Picture taken September 3, 2021.
The congressman asserted that the Taliban was creating the situation in order to "demand more and more, whether it be cash or legitimacy as the government of Afghanistan."
"They've sat at the airport for the last couple of days, these planes, and they're not allowed to leave. We know the reason why is because the Taliban want something in exchange," he explained. "This is really turning into a hostage situation where they're not going to allow American citizens to leave until they get full recognition from the US."
On the contrary, according to the AP, it was four planes, the Afghan official noted. Their intended passengers were staying in hotels while authorities worked out whether they would be able to leave the country. The issue, he reportedly said, was that many people did not have the proper travel documents.
Citing residents of Mazar-e-Sharif, the outlet stated that the passengers had left the airport, and at least ten families were observed waiting for a judgment at a local hotel, according to witnesses. None of them reportedly had passports or visas, but claimed to have worked for companies with ties to the US or German militaries, while the rest of the would-be passengers have been spotted in restaurants.
Departure Flights and Promises of Familiar Life
According to reports, Mazar-e-Sharif's airport has just lately begun to handle international flights, with only flights to Turkey thus far. The jets in question were on their way to Doha, Qatar, according to the Afghan official quoted by the AP.
It was not specified who had chartered them or why they were in the northern city waiting. The recent big airlift took place at Kabul's international airport, which had been shuttered following the US pullout, but has again reopened to domestic flights on Saturday.
Afghans with passports and visas will be permitted to travel once the country's airports are operational, the movement currently ruling the country has pledged earlier. More than a hundred countries signed a statement indicating that they would keep an eye on the new authorities to see if they kept their word.
© REUTERS / ITALIAN MINISTRY OF DEFENCEAfghan evacuees queue before boarding one of the last Italy's military aircraft C130J during evacuation at Kabul's airport, Afghanistan, August 27, 2021
Afghan evacuees queue before boarding one of the last Italy's military aircraft C130J during evacuation at Kabul's airport, Afghanistan, August 27, 2021
© REUTERS / ITALIAN MINISTRY OF DEFENCE
The US troops' pullout from the war-torn nation was highlighted by a horrific airlift at Kabul's airport to transport tens of thousands of people, who were afraid of their future under the Taliban, notoriously known for a history of repression. Many people were left behind as the final troops withdrew.
The US agreed to continue working with the Taliban's new leadership to help anyone who wishes to flee, and the militants committed to letting anyone with the necessary legal documents depart.
*The Taliban is a terrorist group banned in Russia and a number of other countries.