The first chartered flight in months evacuating Americans from Afghanistan has left Kabul airport for Qatar, according to a government official, a congressional official and two people with knowledge of the matter.
The passengers on the Qatar Airways charter include more than 30 Americans, one of the two people with knowledge of the matter said. The chartered flight, run by the Qatari Ministry of Foreign Affairs and paid for by the U.S. State Department, is the first to leave Kabul since November.
The government official confirmed that the flight to Doha, Qatar, is carrying Americans but did not provide numbers.
The Taliban halted all flights of Afghan evacuees in a dispute about how the Kabul airport is run and who is allowed on the evacuation flights, a congressional source, two refugee advocates and a source familiar with the matter told NBC News in December.
At the time, a State Department official involved in relocation efforts confirmed that flights had stopped: “We are hopeful that flights will resume shortly, though as usual, winter weather conditions and airport operations remain additional factors to be aware of.”
The Taliban began demanding several seats on the flights for Taliban fighters and sympathizers to leave the country, so they can work in other countries and send desperately needed money back to Afghanistan, according to a congressional official and the source familiar with the matter. The country’s economy is in tatters, and millions of Afghans are short of food.
Before the Taliban suspended flights, about one or two chartered flights a week were heading to Qatar, refugee groups and U.S. officials said.
When the Qatari government declined to continue providing seats, the Taliban stopped the flights.