US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Tuesday that the Taliban had reiterated a promise to release Afghans from Afghanistan after his meeting with Qatari officials about speeding up evacuations.
US President Joe Biden is under mounting pressure amid reports that hundreds of people, including Americans, were prevented from flying out of an airport in northern Afghanistan for a week.
The Taliban told the United States that “they will release people with travel documents freely,” Blinken told a news conference in Doha, where he and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met their Qatari counterparts.
“We will hold them to that,” he added.
Qatar said the Kabul airport, largely closed since the conclusion of Washington’s chaotic withdrawal from the country in late August, will hopefully reopen soon, potentially opening a key corridor for Afghans looking to leave.
“The entire international community is counting on the Taliban to deliver on that promise,” Blinken said, referring to a UN Security Council resolution urging safe passage.
Biden’s senior cabinet members dined with Qatari ruler Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani on arrival Monday, where they expressed Washington’s gratitude to Doha for helping with the airlift in Afghanistan.
Qatar was the transit point for nearly half of the more than 120,000 people evacuated from Afghanistan in the final days of the US 20-year war when the Taliban took over.
Doha is the Taliban’s international diplomatic base, though Blinken’s aides said he has no plans to meet with them as Washington instead waits to assess the group’s actions in power to determine the level of involvement. .
The United States on Monday facilitated the overland evacuation of four Americans of the same family from Afghanistan, the first departure Washington has arranged since the military’s withdrawal.
A foreign ministry official said the Taliban were aware of the operation and did not interfere.
But nongovernmental organizations say some 600 to 1,300 people – including girls and US citizens – are trapped at the airport in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif.
Marina LeGree, the founder and executive director of a small US non-governmental organization operating in Afghanistan, told AFP the Taliban won’t let anyone through.
Blinken said the Taliban had not blocked people with valid travel documents, but not all passengers on charter flights had papers, and denied there was a “hostage situation” in Mazar-i-Sharif.
He said there were unavoidable obstacles to charter flights, as the United States has no personnel on the ground.
“We don’t have the resources to verify the accuracy of the manifests, the identities of passengers on board these planes, aviation security protocols or where they plan to land, among others. These are real concerns,” he said.
“We are working as we talk to resolve these issues,” he said.
US officials say they no longer control airspace in Afghanistan and that the main airport in Kabul, which the US military seized for evacuations in August, is in disrepair.
Qatari engineering teams have been dispatched to Kabul to assess the airport’s viability and prepare it for return to operation to allow for evacuations and the arrival of much-needed humanitarian supplies.
During his meeting with the Gulf state ruler, Blinken praised “Qatar’s extraordinary support in facilitating the safe passage of US citizens, our partners and other Afghans at risk,” the State Department said.
Austin acknowledged that the withdrawal posed obstacles, but said the United States was determined to stop threats from Afghanistan.
“There is no doubt that (the withdrawal) will make it more difficult to identify and address threats from the region,” Austin said.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NewsMadura staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.)