It chartered at least four planes to evacuate several hundred people seeking to escape Taliban control Afghanistan On Sunday, officials said they had not been able to leave the country for days.
There have been conflicting accounts of why flights were unable to take off as pressure mounted on the United States to help those left behind escape.
An Afghan official at the airport in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif said the potential passengers are Afghans, many of whom do not have passports or visas, and therefore have been unable to leave the country. He said they left the airport while the situation was settled.
However, the top Republican on the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee said the group included Americans who were sitting on the planes, but the Taliban wouldn’t let them take off, effectively “taking them hostage”. And he did not say where this information came from – it was not immediately possible to settle the accounts.
The final days of America’s 20-year war in Afghanistan were marked by a horrific airlift at Kabul airport to evacuate tens of thousands of people – Americans and their allies – who feared what the future would hold, given the Taliban’s history of oppression, particularly of women.
When the last troops withdrew on August 30, many were left behind.
The United States has promised to continue working with the new Taliban rulers to get those who want to leave, and the militants have vowed to let anyone with the appropriate legal documents leave.
But Republican Michael McCall of Texas said Fox News Sunday American citizens and Afghan interpreters were on six planes.
“The Taliban will not allow them to leave the airport,” he said, adding that he was worried “that they will demand more and more, whether it’s cash or legitimacy as the government of Afghanistan.” He gave no further details .
The Afghan official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, said it was four planes, and its intended passengers were staying in hotels while authorities were considering whether they could leave the country. The sticking point, he noted, was that many did not have the correct travel papers.
Mazar-i-Sharif residents also said the passengers were no longer at the airport. They said at least 10 families were seen at a local hotel, waiting for a decision on their fate. None of them had passports or visas, but he said they worked for companies allied with the United States or the German military. Others were seen in restaurants.
The small airport in Mazar-i-Sharif only recently began to handle international flights and so far only to Turkey.
The Afghan official said the planes in question were bound for Doha, Qatar. It was not clear who hired them or why they were waiting in the northern city.
The massive airlift took place at Kabul International Airport, which was initially closed after the US withdrawal, but domestic flights have now resumed.
Burning images of this chaotic evacuation — including of people clinging to the plane as it took off — came to mark the final days of America’s longest war, just weeks after Taliban fighters recaptured the country in a misguided attack.
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