A deal brokered by Qatari, US, and Taliban officials has allowed the first commercial passenger airline to fly out of Kabul since the US military departed on August 30. A Qatar Airways Boeing 777-300ER flew out of Kabul on Thursday carrying 150 passengers.
A safe exit from Kabul for 150 people
The Qatar Airways Boeing, A7-BEO, departed Doha mid-morning Thursday for the 1,232 mile (1,983 kilometer) flight to Kabul. Safely touching down in Kabul later in the day, A7-BEO was the first passenger airliner to return to Kabul since the US military departure. The jet arrived loaded with cargo and humanitarian aid items.
The flight, which took days to organize, later left Kabul carrying approximately 150 passengers, mostly foreigners and Afghani dual nationals. Multiple media outlets suggested 200 people were onboard the flight from Kabul. However, not all of the 200 people cleared to fly made it to the airport.
The Qatar Airways Boeing 777-300ERs come in multiple cabin configurations, but all can fly well over 300 passengers.
“About 150 Americans and citizens from other foreign nations are flying on this plane to Qatar,” said Wall Street Journal reporter Yaroslav Trofimov at Kabul Airport on Thursday. “Many of them were hiding for weeks since the fall of the Afghani Government.
“The Qatari Government, in co-operation with the Taliban have organized this flight. The passengers were told to show up on Thursday morning in Kabul’s Serena Hotel, from which about 10 buses took them for processing at the airport which has just re-opened for international flights.
“Qatari officials say there will be more of these flights, starting tomorrow (Friday). Everyone onboard this flight has been checked. They all have passports and visas for their final destinations. The Qatari officials stress this is not an evacuation – this is the resumption of regular passenger flights.”
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Unlikely parties get praise for allowing the Qatar Airways flight
After landing back in Doha on Thursday evening, the passengers went to a holding facility for Kabul evacuees to wait for flights elsewhere. Footage posted online shows a significant number of women, children, and families boarding the flight in Kabul.
“We are deeply grateful to the continued efforts of Qatar in facilitating operations at Hamid Karzai International Airport and helping to ensure the safety of these charter flights,” said US NSC spokesperson Emily Horne in a statement.
“The Taliban have been cooperative in facilitating the departure of American citizens and lawful permanent residents on charter flights from HKIA. They have shown flexibility, and they have been businesslike and professional in our dealings with them in this effort.
“We will continue these efforts to facilitate the safe and orderly travel of American citizens, lawful permanent residents, and Afghans who worked for us and wish to leave Afghanistan.”
Associated Press reports suggest two senior Taliban officials were critical to allowing the Qatar Airways flight to land and the passengers to leave.
Aviation analyst Alex Macheras says technical teams from Qatar and Turkey have repaired the damaged runway, radar, and other equipment and infrastructure at Kabul Airport. A CNN report says a Qatari technical team has been in the country for the past 10 days.
“The Americans had damaged the radar and it takes time to repair,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid says.
There is a push on to gradually resume commercial passengers flights from Kabul. But security issues in and around the airport remain a roadblock. The view is until the airport is properly secured by a reputable security force, few airlines will willingly risk flying regular passenger services to Kabul.