About 1,000 people, including dozens of US citizens and Afghans with visas to the United States or other countries, were held in Afghanistan for the fifth day on Sunday, awaiting clearance from the Taliban to leave, reflecting the challenges of working with the group. , which has yet to form a government.
Negotiations to let the planes take off, involving Taliban, United States and Qatar officials, dragged on for days, leaving the evacuees in an increasingly precarious situation, representatives of organizations trying to get them to safety said.
The plight of passengers hoping to leave the country from the airport in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif mirrors that of thousands of evacuees who were unable to board the plane from Kabul, the capital, after Taliban rebels attacked the city. on the eve of the withdrawal of the American troops.
The American withdrawal and the end of the two-decade war in Afghanistan have been overshadowed by chaotic efforts to persuade tens of thousands of Americans and their allies to flee from Islamist fighters, who many say will limit the rights of women and others once they officially return to Afghanistan. current.
The Biden administration has been criticized for leaving many in Kabul after the last troops left on August 30.
Texas Republican Representative Michael McCaul told Fox News on Sunday that the Taliban prevented six planes carrying American citizens from taking off.
“The state has authorized these flights and the Taliban will not let them depart from the airport,” Mr McCaul said, adding that he believed the problem would “turn into a hostage situation.”
Mr McCaul said the Taliban wanted “something in return” for approving the takeoff of the plans. He said he believed what they were looking for was “full recognition of the United States of America”.
But the State Department and on-site organizers in Qatar refuted Mr McCaul’s description of the situation, saying the planes had received the necessary clearance and were awaiting final approval from the Taliban.
“The Taliban are not holding the planes hostage,” said Eric Montalvo, a former U.S. Marine major directly involved in organizing the flights.
According to documents reviewed by NewsMadura, the US military authorized three flights to bring about 1,000 evacuees, including dozens of US citizens, to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar.
Qatar also gave diplomatic clearance for the flights to land there, and the manifests have been vetted by the US military, the State Department and Qatar, but require Taliban approval to leave Mazar-i-Sharif.
“If and when the Taliban agrees to take off, we will monitor whether the landing sites will be willing to accept the expected flights,” the State Department said in an email to congressional officials reviewed by NewsMadura. . It added that the United States no longer controlled the airspace over Afghanistan.
“It is a decision by the Taliban to ground flights in Mazar-i-Sharif,” the email said. “However, we provide guidance and assistance to the extent possible – and with an emphasis on security – to private entities operating out of Mazar.”
Reporting contributed by: Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Lara Jakes, Luke Broadwater and Julian E. Barnes.