Officials have confirmed that at least four aircraft chartered to evacuate hundreds of people fleeing Taliban-controlled Afghanistan were unable to depart the country over the past days. There are conflicting reports about the reasons for the inability to fly, as the United States is under increasing pressure to assist those who remain.
A Mazar-e-Sharif official said that the passengers would be Afghan nationals who did not have visas or passports and could not leave Afghanistan. They had already left the airport until the situation was resolved, he said.
However, the top Republican on U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee stated that the group consisted of Americans, and that they were sitting on the planes but that the Taliban were refusing to let them take off. He didn’t say where this information came from. The accounts could not be reconciled immediately.
The last days of America’s 20 year war in Afghanistan saw a terrible airlift to Kabul’s Airport to evacuate tens and thousands of Afghan civilians. This was an attempt by the allies and Americans to fend off the Taliban’s past of oppression, especially of women. Many were left behind when the last troops left Afghanistan on August 30.
The U.S. pledged to work with the Taliban rulers to help those who wish to leave, while the militants promised to let anyone with legal documentation leave. However, Rep. Michael McCaul from Texas said that American citizens and Afghan interpreters were being held on six planes.
“The Taliban won’t let them leave the Airport,” he stated, adding that they’re worried about “they’re going To Demand More and More, Cash or Legitimacy as the Government of Afghanistan.” He didn’t provide any further details.
According to the Afghan official who spoke under anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the topic, it was four planes. The intended passengers were staying in hotels while authorities worked out if they could leave the country. He said that many people did not have the proper travel papers.
Mazar-e-Sharif residents also claimed that the passengers weren’t at the airport. They claimed that at least 10 families were waiting in a hotel to find out their fates. They all claimed they were from countries that had been allied to the U.S. military or had worked for companies. Others were also seen in restaurants.
According to a U.S. official, the State Department does not have any reliable information to confirm charter flights. This includes whether American citizens are on them. The official spoke under condition of anonymity to confirm that the department would not allow the Taliban to violate their promises to let people travel free.
Only recently, the small airport at Mazar-e-Sharif began handling international flights. Until now, it has only handled Turkish flights. According to an Afghan official, the planes were headed for Doha, Qatar. It wasn’t clear who chartered them nor why they were waiting in the city. The huge airlift took place at Kabul’s international Airport, which was initially closed due to the withdrawal of the United States. Domestic flights have since resumed however.
Searing images of that chaotic evacuation — including people clinging to an airplane as it took off — came to define the final days of America’s longest war, just weeks after Taliban fighters retook the country in a lightning offensive.
The Taliban sought to present themselves as something different than their 1990s reign, when they imposed severe restrictions on society and tried to make it seem like they were a new entity. Both girls and women were denied education and work, while men were made to grow beards and television was banned.
The world waits to see what the new government looks like, but many Afghans remain skeptical. Signals have been mixed in the weeks since they assumed power: Women and government employees were asked to return to work but some women were later expelled by the Taliban. Although schools and universities were ordered to be open, fear has prevented both teachers and students from attending.
Some women have peacefully demonstrated, others even had conversations with Taliban leaders about their rights. Some were dispersed by Taliban special force firing in the air.
The Taliban promised that Afghans with visas and passports will be able to travel once their airports were operational. Over 100 countries released a statement stating that they would monitor the new rulers to ensure their compliance.
In recent days, technical teams from Turkey and Qatar arrived to assist in the operation of the civil airport.
State-run Ariana Airlines flew its first domestic flight on Saturday. It continued this weekend. Official Shershah Stor stated that the airport does not have radar facilities and flights must be limited to daylight hours in order to permit visual landings.
Many countries have been bringing in humanitarian aid. Qatar, the Gulf state, which has been home to the Taliban since 2013, has flown daily into Kabul to deliver humanitarian aid. Bahrain announced aid deliveries.
The Taliban increased their assault on the last remnant of resistance led by fighters against their rule.
Former vice president Amrullah Salesh is leading the anti-Taliban fighting forces in Panjshir, north of Kabul. He has called for humanitarian assistance to the thousands of civilians who have been displaced by the fighting.
Sunday’s tweet by a senior Taliban spokesperson stated that the Taliban had taken over Rokha district in Panjshir, one of the eight largest districts. There have been several attempts to reach out to the Taliban, but no progress has been made.
According to the group’s twitter account, Fahim Dashti was the spokesperson for the group fighting the Taliban. He was killed in battle on Sunday. Dashti was the voice for the group and a prominent media personality during previous governments.
Abdullah Abdullah was his nephew and is currently involved in negotiations between the Taliban regarding the future of Afghanistan.
After Ashraf Ghani, the Afghan president, left Afghanistan and the Taliban invaded Kabul’s capital, Saleh fled to Panjshir. It took the fighters’ lightning blitz to sweep across the country less than a week for them to defeat 300,000 government troops. Most of them surrendered or fled.