First Flight From Kabul Is Hailed as Positive Step Amid Troubling Signs

KABUL, Afghanistan — Ten days after the chaotic evacuation of Afghanistan got here to an finish, a lone jetliner lifted off from Kabul’s airport on Thursday, the primary worldwide passenger flight since American forces ended their 20-year presence within the nation.

The departure of the chartered Qatar Airways Boeing 777, with scores of Americans, Canadians and Britons on board, was hailed by some as an indication that Taliban-ruled Afghanistan is perhaps poised to re-engage with the world, even as experiences emerged that the group was intensifying its crackdown on dissent.

“Kabul Airport is now operational,” Mutlaq bin Majed Al-Qahtani, a particular envoy from Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, mentioned at a information convention on the tarmac.

In latest days, Qatari and Turkish personnel labored with the Taliban to restore harm and make the airport mainly purposeful once more. But simply greater than every week in the past, the ability was a scene of frantic desperation as individuals jockeyed to seek out seats on the final business and navy planes out.

When the final evacuation flight left Kabul simply earlier than midnight Aug. 30, it left behind a ghost city of an airport, strewn with broken tools and the deserted possessions of evacuees.

Also left behind have been an unknown variety of foreigners and Afghans determined to depart — however with no method out.

Mr. Al-Qahtani appeared at pains Thursday to level out the distinction between then and now. This, he mentioned, was not an evacuation. “We are speaking about free passage,” he mentioned. “We want people to feel that this is normal.”

But for all of the diplomat’s speak of a brand new period, by day’s finish, solely a single planeload of passengers had left the nation, and “normal” appeared far-off for a rustic simply taken over by militants who’re feared by many Afghans and who’re shunned by a lot of the world.

More flights have been promised within the days forward. But an untold variety of individuals remained in limbo, together with on the airport within the northern metropolis of Mazar-i-Sharif, the place dozens of Americans and lots of of Afghans have been ready for the Taliban to allow them to depart on constitution flights.

And the nation total remained in determined straits, as the newly put in Taliban authorities labored to tighten its grip, cracking down on all indicators of public protest. Protesters have been violently dispersed, and experiences are rising of journalists being detained and crushed.

Afghan journalists who mentioned they have been crushed by the Taliban for overlaying a protest in Kabul.Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

At Thursday’s joint information convention on the airport, Taliban and Qatari officers hailed the flight as the second that Afghanistan reconnected with the worldwide neighborhood. While which will have been overstated — many world leaders clearly stay deeply cautious of the nation’s new leaders — American officers had phrases of reward Thursday for the militants that U.S. forces battled for twenty years.

“The Taliban have been cooperative in facilitating the departure of American citizens and lawful permanent residents on charter flights from H.K.I.A.,” Emily Horne, a National Security Council spokeswoman, mentioned in a press release, referring to the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. “They have shown flexibility, and they have been businesslike and professional in our dealings with them in this effort. This is a positive first step.”

The State Department confirmed that Americans have been on the aircraft, which later landed in Doha, Qatar’s capital, however wouldn’t say what number of there have been. A spokesman, Ned Price, mentioned greater than 30 Americans had been invited onto the flight however that some didn’t go.

At Kabul’s airport Thursday, as passengers have been being checked in for the flight to Qatar, the temper of reduction stood in stark distinction to the scene there simply over every week in the past.

Safi, 42, who’s from Toronto, was amongst these passing via safety to board the aircraft. He mentioned he had tried to depart through the evacuation however had given up as chaos enveloped the streets exterior the airport. At the top of August, a suicide bombing assault on the gates of the airport killed scores of Afghans and 13 U.S. service members.

But Thursday was a scene of relative calm.

“Things are good,” mentioned Safi, who requested to be recognized solely by his first identify. “It seems the authorities are keeping their promises.”

The chartered aircraft had arrived in Kabul from Doha carrying 50 tons of reduction help, together with meals, officers mentioned.

The Qatar Airways flight departing from Kabul on Thursday.Credit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban who joined the Qatari envoy on the information convention, mentioned that the resumption of worldwide flights could be crucial to making sure that much-needed help continued to move into the nation.

China, making cautious overtures to its unstable neighbor, has pledged to offer $30 million in meals and different help to the brand new authorities. But China’s international minister, Wang Yi, additionally urged the Taliban to work to include terrorist teams.

The United Nations warned on Thursday that the freezing of billions of dollars in Afghan belongings to maintain it out of Taliban arms would inevitably have devastating financial penalties.

Deborah Lyons, the U.N. particular envoy on Afghanistan, advised the U.N. Security Council that the worldwide neighborhood wanted to seek out solution to make these funds out there to the nation, with safeguards to stop misuse by the Taliban, “to prevent a total breakdown of the economy and social order.”

On Thursday, Afghanistan’s new appearing prime minister, Mullah Muhammad Hassan, urged former officers who fled when the Taliban seized energy to return residence. The group, he advised Al Jazeera in an interview, will “guarantee their security and safety.”

But these and different assurances supplied by the Taliban have been obtained with broad skepticism. Many keep in mind the militants’ brutal reign 20 years in the past. And many are alarmed by what they’ve already seen for the reason that group’s return.

“The Taliban have repeatedly insisted that they will respect human rights, yet these claims are completely at odds with what we are currently seeing and hearing in cities across the country,” Amnesty International mentioned on Thursday in a press release. “Afghans who have taken to the streets, understandably fearful about the future, are being met with intimidation, harassment and violence — particularly directed at women.”

U.S. officers mentioned that the Americans on board the flight from Kabul on Thursday have been thought of the “most interested” in getting out, however mentioned different Americans in Afghanistan would produce other alternatives to depart.

Senator Angus King of Maine, an unbiased who sits on the Senate Intelligence and Armed Services Committees, was cautiously optimistic on Thursday morning about Americans elsewhere in Afghanistan having the ability to depart from the Kabul airport, though he famous the journey might be “treacherous and difficult.” But he mentioned it was nonetheless unclear what number of who wished to depart remained in Afghanistan, or how they might get to the capital.

Foreign passport holders at Kabul’s airport on Thursday.Credit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

“I don’t want to sound like I have a great deal of confidence in the Taliban,” Mr. King mentioned, including, “All I can say is that it appears that, thus far, the Taliban has honored their commitment to allow Americans to leave.”

While the flight Thursday gave the impression to be a step towards resolving a diplomatic deadlock that has left scores of Americans and different worldwide employees stranded in Afghanistan, it was not clear if the Taliban would enable the tens of hundreds of Afghans who as soon as helped the U.S. authorities and now qualify for emergency U.S. visas to depart.

Taliban and international officers have mentioned that Afghans with twin citizenship could be allowed to depart, nevertheless it was unclear whether or not any have been on the primary flight.

It additionally remained unclear whether or not constitution flights from the airport within the northern metropolis of Mazar-i-Sharif, the place dozens of Americans and lots of of Afghans have been ready to depart the nation, could be allowed to fly.

In latest days, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken has mentioned that the Taliban are guilty for the grounded flights, and that they declare some passengers on the manifesto would not have the right documentation.

Mr. Price, the State Department spokesman, mentioned the United States had “pulled every lever” to steer the Taliban to permit flights to depart from Mazar-i-Sharif carrying not solely American residents and authorized residents but in addition Afghans thought of to be at excessive danger.

“It continues to be our contention that these individuals should be allowed to depart,” he mentioned. “At the first possible opportunity,”

Paul Mozur and Marc Santora contributed reporting.