Several planes chartered to evacuate hundreds of people trying to escape Afghanistan were reportedly prevented from leaving an airport in northern Afghanistan.
Axios on Monday posted a satellite image showing planes waiting near the main terminal of Mazar-i-Sharif airport. The Taliban blocked at least four planes chartered to evacuate several hundred people seeking to escape, the Associated Press reported.
An unnamed Afghan official at the airport in the city of Mazar-i-Sharif told the AP the would-be passengers were Afghans, many of whom did not have passports or visas, and thus were unable to leave the country. He said they had left the airport while the situation was sorted out.
On Sunday, Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, also referred to planes unable to take off, saying six were being held back by the Taliban “holding them hostage for demands.”
“My concern is they are going to demand more and more, whether it be cash or legitimacy as the government of Afghanistan,” he told Fox News Sunday.
“This is really turning into a hostage situation where they are not going to allow American citizens to leave until they get full recognition from the United States of America,” he said.
According to the AP, an Afghan official said there were four planes not allowed to leave, and that their passengers were staying at hotels while authorities worked out whether they might be able to leave the country. The sticking point, he indicated, is that many did not have the right travel papers.
Residents of Mazar-i-Sharif also told the AP that the passengers were no longer at the airport. At least 10 families were seen at a local hotel waiting, they said, for a decision on their fates. None of them had passports or visas but said they had worked for companies allied with the United States or German military, the AP reported. Others were seen at restaurants.
The State Department has no reliable way to confirm information about such charter flights, including how many American citizens might be on them, since it no longer has people on the ground, an unnamed U.S. official told the news agency,
But the department will hold the Taliban to their pledges to let people travel freely, said the official.
The small airport at Mazar-i-Sharif only recently began to handle international flights and so far only to Turkey. The planes in question were bound for Doha, Qatar, the Afghan official told the AP. It was not clear who chartered them or why they were waiting in the northern city.
The massive airlift in the wake of the U.S. military withdrawal happened at Kabul’s international airport, which initially closed after the U.S. withdrawal but where domestic flights have now resumed, the AP reported.