US Urges Taliban to Allow Charter Flights to Depart from Afghanistan


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WASHINGTON - U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged the Taliban on Wednesday to allow charter flights to depart Afghanistan, as planes carrying Americans and vulnerable Afghans reportedly have been stranded at Mazar-i-Sharif International Airport.

"As of now, the Taliban are not permitting the charter flights to depart. They claim that some of the passengers do not have the required documentation," said Blinken during a press conference with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

"The bottom line is: Those charter flights need to be able to depart. And we will work every day to make sure that they're able to do that," said the top U.S. diplomat.

There are reports that U.S. citizens and at-risk Afghans have been stuck at Mazar-i-Sharif airport in northern Afghanistan, with some organizers of the outbound flights accusing the State Department not doing enough to facilitate their departure.

"I have been deeply frustrated, even furious, at our government's delay & inaction. There will be plenty of time to seek accountability for the inexcusable bureaucratic red tape that stranded so many of our Afghan allies," said Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal in a tweet.

At the White House, when asked how the U.S. could press the Taliban to do more, officials admitted to limitations.

"We don't have a role in preventing flights from taking off. We are not on the ground," said White House press secretary Jen Psaki during Wednesday's briefing.

But, she said, a number of the planes may have a handful of Americans on board, along with several hundred others who have not been identified or vetted, and there is a "fundamental question" about where they will land.

"Are we going to allow a plane with hundreds of people where we don't know who they are, we don't know what security protocols have been put in place, to land on a U.S. military base?" Psaki asked.

Washington is working with international partners to increase pressures on the Taliban to follow through on its pledge to allow safe passage and freedom of travel for anyone who chooses to leave Afghanistan.

The U.S. is also in direct contact with individuals and the Taliban to facilitate the cross-border travel, according to the State Department.

Wednesday, Blinken and Maas held talks with a group of partners and allies to discuss the situation in Afghanistan, including efforts to continue the flow of humanitarian aid to the country after the Taliban's takeover.

Some 18 million Afghans need food, clean water, health care and other urgent assistance, with winter just around the corner. The United Nations is seeking a total of $606 million to fund humanitarian operations through December.

The virtual ministerial meeting with senior officials from 22 countries, NATO, the European Union, and United Nations came one day after the Taliban announced a "caretaker" Islamic government that is headed by Mullah Hasan Akhund, a close associate of the Islamist movement's late founder Mullah Omar.

The new Taliban-led government also includes Sirajuddin Haqqani as its interior minister. Haqqani is the head of the Haqqani network, designated by the United States as a global terrorist organization.

Wednesday, Maas said the Taliban's "announcement of a transitional government without the participation of other groups and yesterday's violence against demonstrators and journalists in Kabul are not signals that give cause for optimism."

Taliban forces fired shots in the air Tuesday to disperse protesters, including dozens of women who marched in Kabul to protest Taliban rule. Some protesters were beaten during an earlier march.

Blinken expressed concern about the lack of inclusivity in the new Taliban government, saying any legitimacy and support for the interim administration should be earned.

"The nature of the Taliban-led government's relationship with us and with the international community will depend entirely on its actions in the weeks and months" ahead, Blinken told reporters during Wednesday's press briefing in Germany.

In Washington, the White House added that the U.S. has not "validated" the Taliban-led government in Afghanistan.

"No one in this administration - not the president, nor anyone on the national security team - would suggest that the Taliban are respected and valued members of the global community. They have not earned that in any way, and we've never assessed that," Psaki said Wednesday.