Turkey, Qatar in talks to restart Afghan evacuation flights

Turkey and Qatar are negotiating with the Taliban to restart operations at Kabul’s international airport days after a report emerged that Afghanistan’s hardline Islamist government had halted evacuation flights.

NBC News reported last week that flights out of Hamid Karzai International Airport had been stopped earlier this month due to a dispute over whether Taliban fighters and sympathizers could be allowed on US-chartered Qatar Airways planes meant for evacuees.

According to the report, the Taliban wanted their members and allies to travel to find work in other countries and send much-needed money back to Afghanistan. 

When the Qatari government declined to provide seats, the Taliban suspended the flights. 

Thousands of America’s Afghan allies have been looking to leave Afghanistan since the Taliban reconquered the country in August. The number of evacuation flights dropped drastically after the US completed its military pullout at the end of that month. NBC, citing aid groups and US officials, reported that one or two flights per week were flying out of Kabul to Qatar before the Taliban shut them down.

A member of the Taliban stands on the runway at the Kabul airport earlier this month.
AFP via Getty Images

During a Monday press conference, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said that companies from Qatar and Turkey have agreed on a proposal to take over operation of the Kabul airport, though he stressed that a final deal had not yet been forged with the Taliban, according to the pro-Ankara newspaper Daily Sabah. 

Officials from Turkey and Qatar met with the Taliban in Kabul last week to present their proposal, with Taliban transport ministry spokesman Imamuddin Ahmadi telling Voice of America that additional meetings were planned for early this week. 

In addition to the Kabul airport, Turkey and Qatar are reportedly discussing operating airports in the Afghan provinces of Balkh, Herat, Kandahar and Khost. 

Taliban fighters stand guard at a checkpoint on a street in Kabul.
Taliban fighters stand guard at a checkpoint on a street in Kabul.
AFP via Getty Images

If an agreement is reached, domestic and international flights are expected to resume. 

Since the US completed its troop withdrawal, the State Department has worked alongside private organizations to facilitate the evacuations of dozens of Americans and thousands of Afghan allies from the country. 

The US is not involved in the Kabul airport dispute, a US official told NBC News, though Washington remains adamant that the airport should remain open.

People scramble onto an airplane taking off from Kabul shortly after the Taliban's takeover in August.
People scramble onto an airplane taking off from Kabul shortly after the Taliban’s takeover in August.
AFP via Getty Images

A State Department spokesman told The Post Tuesday that they are “concerned” about the flight suspensions and urged the Taliban to “work expeditiously” with international partners to ensure a quick, safe, and secure resumption of operations. 

The spokesperson added that the Department believes there is an urgent need for humanitarian aid and safe travel to and from Afghanistan.