By Kareem Khadder, Mostafa Salem and Tara John, CNN
A second Qatar Airways passenger flight, which arrived in Afghanistan on Friday, has now departed for Doha from Kabul Airport, a day after more than 100 foreign nationals left on another plane with the Taliban’s approval.
Friday’s flight was carrying 158 passengers, including US, German, Canadian, French, Dutch, British, Belgian and Mauritanian nationals, a Qatari official said.
The passengers will land in the Qatari capital at 8 p.m. (1 p.m. ET) and be transported to the compound facility currently hosting Afghans and other evacuees.
According to US National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne, 21 US citizens departed Afghanistan Friday, including 19 via the chartered Qatar Airways flight out of Kabul and two via land passage to a neighboring country. Eleven lawful permanent residents (LPRs) from Afghanistan were also with the group of US citizens that left the country by land.
“We are continuing intensive work across the U.S. government to facilitate the safe transit of these individuals and other U.S. citizens, LPRs, and Afghans who have worked for us who wish to leave Afghanistan,” Horne said.
“We will continue to provide proven options for leaving. It is up to Americans who remain whether they choose to take them,” she added.
Earlier on Friday, the aircraft was seen landing in Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport on Qatari-funded Al Jazeera Arabic television, and aid was seen being unloaded before passengers boarded the plane.
This is the second such flight to depart from the airport. On Thursday, the first international passenger flight to take off from Afghanistan since the chaotic US military airlift last month landed in Qatar, carrying scores of foreign nationals, including Americans.
The planes’ departures are the first sign that at least some foreign nationals who want to leave Afghanistan will be able to do so, following weeks of uncertainty. Civilians have been left scrambling to find safe passage from the country since the Taliban takeover in mid-August threw a US-led evacuation effort into confusion.
The French Foreign Ministry said in a statement that 49 French citizens and their dependents were “evacuated” Friday from Kabul in an operation assisted by Qatar.
The operation ferried the passengers to Doha, the Qatari capital, from where a flight chartered by the French Foreign Ministry will return them to Paris. The statement did not specify which flight the French citizens and dependents took from Kabul to Doha.
Passengers on board Thursday’s chartered Qatar Airways flight that departed from Kabul airport — including Canadian, Ukrainian, German, British and US citizens — were among some 200 foreigners that the Taliban have cleared to leave the country, according to a source with knowledge of the matter.
Thursday’s flight happened after Qatar worked with parties on the ground to transport the passengers in a Qatari convoy and secure a safe passage to Kabul’s airport.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Than, Qatar’s deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, thanked the Taliban for their “cooperation” in restarting flights, adding that this was a signal that the militant group’s “positive statements” can be “demonstrated into action.”
The cooperation was also praised by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday, who said it offered “another concrete demonstration” of the administration’s commitment to help US citizens and others depart Afghanistan if they choose to do so.
The top US diplomat said the departure of the flight “was the result of the Department’s regular and close engagement with our regional partners, particularly with Qatari authorities, who facilitated [Thursday’s] flight.”
“We also have been in regular — typically daily — contact with Americans remaining in Afghanistan. We have provided them, including those aboard this flight, with specific guidance and instructions. Our message to those who remain in Afghanistan is simple: if you wish to depart Afghanistan, we will help you do so,” he said.
This comes after Blinken 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.
More flights expected
Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority is preparing for more flights to start operating from Kabul, according to an aviation source who spoke to CNN. Both major Afghan carriers Kam Air and Ariana Afghan Airlines plan to restart different routes, according to the source.
The source said that the handling company at the airport will be the same one that was used prior to the shutdown of the airport after the fall of Kabul in mid-August.
The terminal at the airport in Kabul is “ready” for flights, the aviation source told CNN. Other international flights are expected in the coming days.
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. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Monday that progress on getting Kabul airport “back to normal” had been held up by the damage done to radar facilities.
In the meantime, thousands of Afghans who worked with international organizations in the country remain left behind after seeking to flee during last month’s airlift.
Many of them fear retribution from the Taliban, but Afghanistan’s new acting prime minister, Mohammad Hasan Akhund, said Wednesday that his government promises amnesty for “all those who have caused the Taliban fighters to suffer, and are responsible for the most severe types of torture and abuse.”
“No one will be able to prove that he was subjected to revenge. And in such tense circumstances, it is easy to do what you want. But the movement is disciplined and controls its gunmen,” he told Al Jazeera in an interview, adding that the Taliban “have not harmed anyone because of his previous actions.”
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CNN’s Sarah Dean, Joseph Ataman, Jennifer Hansler, Laura Smith-Spark and Sam Kiley contributed to this report.