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Qatar's Afghan evacuations resume

Qatar resumes Afghan evacuation flights after two-month halt

An US Air Force aircraft takes off from the airport in Kabul on August 30, 2021. - Rockets were fired at Kabul's airport on August 30 where US troops were racing to complete their withdrawal from Afghanistan and evacuate allies under the threat of Islamic State group attacks. (Photo by Aamir QURESHI / AFP)

DOHA, Jan 27 (Reuters) - Qatar has resumed operating passenger evacuation flights from Afghanistan, a senior Qatar government source told Reuters on Thursday, after a halt of nearly two months.

The first flight, operated by Qatar Airways and chartered by the United States government, departed Kabul for Doha on Wednesday. On board were 227 civilians, including U.S. citizens, green-card holders and their dependents, the source said.

Qatar resumed operating civilian flights only after “extensive talks” with the Taliban government, the Qatari source said.

Doha stopped operating evacuation flights in early December amid a dispute with the Taliban over which passengers were permitted to take the flights, another source familiar with the issue told Reuters.

There were concerns that “opportunistic travelers” had boarded several Qatar-bound flights in Kabul that were intended only to evacuate civilians, a diplomatic source said.

Qatar Airways had operated one or two chartered flights between Kabul and Doha during most weeks between late September and early December.

The resumption of Qatar’s flights comes as Qatar’s ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, prepares to meet U.S. president Joe Biden in Washington on Jan. 31.

Sheikh Tamim’s visit aims to build on relations with ally Washington that have strengthened since Doha played a pivotal role in evacuation efforts during the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan last summer.

Qatar and Turkey are in negotiations with the Taliban administration to manage operations at Kabul’s international airport, the landlocked country’s main international airlink. (Reporting by Andrew Mills in Doha and Jonathan Landay in Washington; Writing by Andrew Mills Editing by Matthew Lewis)

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