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Afghanistan: Taliban to allow 200 people including Americans to fly out of Kabul airport

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It is unclear at this stage how many Americans are expected to be on board the flight to Doha or what the nationalities of the remaining evacuees may be.

It will be the first commercial flight to depart from Kabul’s international airport since the Taliban seized control of the country in mid-August.

Several passengers waiting to check into the Qatar Airways flight from Kabul to Doha have said their final destination is Canada.

“We are going to Canada, we are Canadians,” one man told an Al Jazeera Arabic reporter at the airport in English. Another two men also said they were bound for Canada.

Live pictures showed Qatari and Taliban officials touring the airport tarmac, where a Qatar Airways Boeing 777 stood.

The Taliban’s acting foreign minister, Mawlawi Amir Khan Muttaki, earlier thanked Qatari special envoy Mutlaq Al-Qahtani for his country’s efforts in restarting flights out of Kabul International Airport, the Taliban said in a statement posted on an official account.

A US official told CNN that the Taliban’s agreement for the 200 or so people to leave on a charter flight came after US Special representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad had been pressing the Taliban to allow departures.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday blamed the grounding of charter flights in Mazar-i-Sharif, northern Afghanistan, on the Taliban, saying that the militant group was not allowing them to leave.

The Taliban claimed “that some of the passengers do not have the required documentation,” Blinken said.

CNN has reached out to the White House, the US National Security Council and the Taliban for comment on Thursday’s developments. The US State Department declined to comment.

The last US military planes left Kabul’s airport just ahead of an August 31 deadline, marking the full withdrawal of American forces. That landmark moment came only two weeks after the Taliban seized control of the capital.

By the time the US completed its withdrawal, more than 122,000 people in total had been flown out of Kabul airport since July and more than 6,000 Americans civilians evacuated.

A US Air Force aircraft takes off from the military airport in Kabul on August 27, in the closing days of a huge US airlift operation.

Efforts to repair Kabul airport

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Monday that the Taliban were working to get Kabul airport “back to normal” as soon as possible following the withdrawal of American forces.

According to Mujahid, progress had been held up by the damage done to radar facilities. “The Americans had damaged the radar and it takes time to repair,” he said. Mujahid added that the US had “deliberately destroyed definite parts of the airport.”

Mujahid said the Taliban had employed a “technical team from Qatar and Turkey” to help restore capabilities, adding that a company from the UAE was also stationed there.

Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed al Thani said on Tuesday that Kabul airport would be operational “very soon” after their technical teams were able to “fix many elements.”

However, an agreement on management had not been reached with the Taliban yet, he said. Flights carrying humanitarian aid have already been able to land, he added.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Tuesday that Ankara was working with Qatar and the United States on keeping the airport in Kabul operational.

“We currently have 19 technicians on the ground there working. But the most important point is who ensures security?” Cavusoglu said in an interview with Turkish private broadcaster NTV.

“Outside the airport, it could be the Taliban but inside (the airport) it needs to be a private company or a state or two that the international community can rely on. If the presence of a military is unwanted, there are private companies that can do this kind of work.”

CNN’s Vasco Cotovio, Niamh Kennedy and Gul Tuysuz contributed to this report.

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