First international commercial flight leaves Kabul airport since Taliban takeover

A member of Taliban forces stands guard next to a plane that has arrived from Kandahar at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan.

The first international commercial flight since the end of the chaotic Western airlift from Afghanistan last month departed from Kabul airport on Thursday, Qatar’s foreign minister said.

A large group of foreigners were aboard the Doha-bound flight, Al Jazeera television reported. The Qatar Airways plane had arrived in Kabul earlier on Thursday carrying aid, it said.

Although international flights have gone in and out with officials, technicians and aid, this was the first such civilian flight since the evacuation which followed the Taliban’s seizure of the capital on August 15 as foreign military forces pulled out.

“We managed to fly the first plane with passengers just an hour ago,” Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said in Islamabad, thanking the Taliban for helping reopen the airport.

It marked an important step in the Islamist militant group’s efforts to bring some kind of normalcy back to the country, which is facing economic collapse and a humanitarian crisis.

A U.S. official had said earlier that 200 foreigners in Afghanistan, Americans among them, were set to depart on charter flights from Kabul on Thursday after the new Taliban government agreed to their evacuation,

Qatari and Turkish technical teams had helped restore operations at the airport, from where 124,000 foreigners and at-risk Afghans were evacuated by U.S.-led forces in the fraught days after the Taliban takeover.

Qatari special envoy Mutlaq bin Majed Al Qahtani described the flight out of Kabul on Thursday as a regular flight and not an evacuation. There would also be a flight on Friday, he said.

“Call it what you want, a charter or a commercial flight, everyone has tickets and boarding passes,” al-Qahtani said from the tarmac, quoted by Al Jazeera. “Hopefully, life is becoming normal in Afghanistan.”

In Washington, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that as of Wednesday about 100 U.S. citizens were still in Afghanistan but that not all necessarily wanted to leave now. Some may have family in the country or other reasons for not departing yet, she said.

The flight came two days after the Taliban announced an interim government made up of mainly ethnic Pashtun men, including Islamist hardliners and some wanted by the United States on terrorism charges.

The announcement of the new government was seen as a signal the Taliban would not try to broaden their base and show a more tolerant face, as they had suggested they would do.

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