As airport reopens, Taliban gives permission for 200 dual nationals to leave the country
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Roughly 200 Afghan dual nationals - including about 30 Americans - have been granted permission to leave the country, two diplomats based in Kabul confirmed, as the airport was declared to be repaired and ready for some commercial flights.
The manifest for the Qatar Airways flight granted permission for 211 Afghans to leave from Kabul, but it is unclear how many people reached a convoy in time for safe passage to the airport. The diplomats spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.
The dual nationals on the manifest also included passport holders from Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Ukraine, Canada and Germany.
Qatari and Taliban officials gathered on the tarmac in Kabul on Thursday to announce that the airport was nearly fully operational after significant repairs were made in the aftermath of chaos when the Taliban came to power.
Mutlaq Al-Qahtani, Doha's special envoy to Afghanistan, told reporters that it should no longer be seen as an "evacuation" but rather free passage for those with valid travel documents. "We want people to think this is normal."
"I can say this is a historic day in the history of Afghanistan, as the Kabul airport is now operational," he said. "We want to have a gradual reopening of the airport."
Thursday's flight out is the first such large-scale air departure of Afghans since a U.S. airlift concluded with the departure of foreign forces from Afghanistan just over a week ago.
The Taliban pledged that once the airlift was complete, Afghans with travel documents would be free to leave the country. But in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif, a number of planes chartered to evacuate at-risk Afghans have been stuck on the tarmac for days. Organizers of that evacuation effort say the Taliban has not granted the planes permission to take off. The Taliban said technical issues and the lack of a fully functioning Interior or Foreign ministry has held up the effort.
This week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington was working with the Taliban to move US citizens and other allies out of the country safely but that complications had arisen over some passengers' travel documents.
"It's my understanding that the Taliban has not denied exit to anyone holding a valid document, but they have said those without valid documents, at this point, can't leave," Blinken said in a news conference in Doha.
The situation in Afghanistan remains unstable, with protests breaking out across the country in recent days as the Taliban announced a caretaker government in the capital, composed largely of hard-line Taliban members. Several members of the new interim government were previously detained at Guantánamo Bay and were released in exchange for US soldier Bowe Bergdahl in 2014.
On Wednesday, Taliban forces cracked down on a protest in Kabul, detaining several Afghan journalists and severely beating two who work for Etilaatroz, an Afghan newspaper, the outlet said on Twitter. Photos shared on social media showed their backs covered with lash marks.
The Interior Ministry later announced a ban on protests, saying participants have been "harassing people and disrupting normal life."
"All citizens are informed that for the time being, they should not try to hold demonstrations under any name or title," the statement said.
"For the past few days, a number of people in Kabul and other provinces have taken to the streets in the name of demonstrations, disrupting security, harassing people and disrupting normal life," the ministry said in a statement.
The international community is still grappling with how to manage the Taliban takeover.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters Thursday that Washington is closely monitoring whether al-Qaeda militants will attempt to use Afghanistan as a new staging ground to launch attacks against the United States.
"The whole community is kind of watching to see what happens and whether or not al-Qaeda has the ability to regenerate in Afghanistan," he said while visiting Kuwait. "We put the Taliban on notice that we expect them to not allow that to happen."
On Wednesday, a spokesman for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Reuters that Britain "will continue to judge the Taliban on their actions."
"We would want to see, in any situation, a diverse group in leadership which seeks to address the pledges that the Taliban themselves have set out, and that's not what we have seen," he said.