The Taliban has said it will not block Americans and other people with valid travel documents from leaving Afghanistan, Biden administration officials said Tuesday, after a handful of charter flights were prevented from taking off from an airport in the northern part of the country over the weekend.
In a press conference in Qatar Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Taliban had repeated its commitment to let people leave with proper documents, including Americans, permanent residents and Afghans who worked for the U.S. and would be eligible for a visa.
He explained that the charter flights blocked from taking off from Mazar-e-Sharif this weekend were a mix of people “grouped together” — some with documents and some without.
The secretary did not say how many Americans were hoping to leave on those flights since the State Department does not have insight into the charter flights’ manifests, but he said it was likely a “small number.”
“We’ve also been engaged with the Taliban on this topic, including in recent hours,” Blinken told reporters in Doha. “They’ve said that they will let people with travel documents freely depart. We will hold them to that.”
There were “just under” 100 Americans left in Afghanistan who want to leave as of Tuesday, the White House press secretary said, noting the four that were evacuated by land over the weekend.
Secretary Blinken said the department was continuing to work with non-governmental organizations and members of Congress organizing charter flights as the United States’ diplomatic oversight of Afghanistan operates out of Qatar.
“Without personnel on the ground, we can’t verify the accuracy of manifests, the identities of passengers, flight plans, or aviation security protocols,” he said. “So this is a challenge, but one we are determined to work through. We’re conducting a great deal of diplomacy on this as we speak.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the goal was to get flights up and running throughout Afghanistan, not only in Kabul but from regional airports as well.
The passengers who were blocked from leaving this weekend left the airport in Mazar-e-Sharif to wait while the situation was worked out, an Afghan official said. The group included several Afghans, several who did not have passports or visas.
The small airport only recently began to handle international flights and so far only to Turkey. The planes in question were bound for Doha, Qatar, the Afghan official said. It was not clear who chartered them or why they were waiting in the northern city.