The Taliban interim government has given approval for around 200 people—of whom as many as 150 are American citizens—along with other foreign nationals to finally depart on a commercial Qatari flight to Doha on Thursday, according to the Associated Press. The surprise clearance comes just two days after the ruling militant group named its interim government, made up of old-guard ethnic Pashtun men who have a proven history of violence and misogyny.
The Qatari flight is the first of several expected to be cleared in the coming days after several charters have been stalled at Kabul airport since it reopened for domestic travel last weekend. It arrived early Thursday with humanitarian aid and is expected to fly out Thursday late afternoon for Doha. Engineers from Qatar assisted in getting the airport back online last weekend for domestic flights. The radar, which the Taliban said U.S. troops destroyed on departure, was also repaired prior to the international flight Thursday. Pakistan has provided some assistance with air traffic control as a back up, the AP reported. A standoff at an airport in northern Afghanistan is still ongoing as Americans, Afghans, and other foreign nationals wait to be cleared to depart on other charter flights after the Taliban said many of the would-be passengers lacked proper paperwork.
The flights still waiting to depart are privately funded by NGOs and others and not paid for by the U.S., Reuters reports. “Call it what you want, a charter or a commercial flight—everyone has tickets and boarding passes,” Qatari special envoy Mutlaq bin Majed al-Qahtani said as he prepared to board the first international passenger flight since U.S. troops pulled out. “Hopefully, life is becoming normal in Afghanistan.”
Among the passengers are said to be many Afghan female athletes who have just been banned from participating in any sports inside the country, lest their bodies be seen during competition.
On Wednesday, Ahmadullah Wasiq, deputy head of the Taliban cultural commission, said Afghanistan’s national women’s cricket team would likely not be allowed to compete in upcoming matches. “I don’t think women will be allowed to play cricket because it is not necessary that women should play cricket,” he said in a statement. “In cricket, they might face a situation where their face and body will not be covered. Islam does not allow women to be seen like this.”
Other passengers still waiting to leave the country include former military contract dogs now under the care of the Kabul Small Animal Rescue. Its founder is a woman from Tennessee who refused to leave on an earlier evacuation flight with the U.S. military after they refused to let board more than 150 dogs she had somehow brought to the Kabul airport in crates during the last days of the official evacuations.
Several animal-rescue organizations have been fundraising for her group and were said to have chartered a jet before the last U.S. troops left on Aug. 30. Conflicting reports about whether the flight was denied clearance to land—or whether it existed at all—have been impossible to verify. PETA has provided frequent updates on their plight and several supporters suggested that their evacuation is imminent and that no U.S. military dogs had been abandoned by departing troops.
Some reports from media on the ground suggest more than 1,000 Americans and allies have been languishing at Kabul’s international airport since the American military left, stuck in a limbo between the Taliban and the U.S. and other countries while they seek to vet them before allowing them to leave. Some suggestions that those people are being held as hostages have been unconfirmed.
Other Americans have escaped the country by land. Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK), who said he helped a Texas woman and her three children escape via a ground border last week, told CNN they had to pay Taliban fighters “fees” to get through checkpoints. The nonprofit group he works with is trying to assist 23 American citizens to leave the country.
On Sunday, Ron Klain, White House chief of staff, told CNN Sunday that the Biden administration had pinpointed around 100 American citizens still in Afghanistan who could not reach the Kabul airport for authorized evacuations. “We are going to find ways to get them—the ones that want to leave—to get them out of Afghanistan,” he said. “We know many of them have family members, many of them want to stay. But the ones that want to leave, we’re going to get them out.”
More than 124,000 American citizens, Afghans, and other foreign nationals were evacuated in the weeks leading up to the end of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan on Aug. 31.