Civilian flights out of Kabul International Airport resumed Thursday for the first time since U.S. forces ended a two-week evacuation on Aug. 31. The first international passenger flight, a Qatar Airways 777, left Kabul with 113 Western passport holders or legal residents on board, and Qatar said another flight with up to 200 people will leave Friday. Almost all the passengers on Thursday's flight were of Afghan origin, and many had gotten stuck in the country after coming to visit relatives over the summer, The Wall Street Journal reports.
The U.S. State Department said it had "invited" 30 U.S. citizens and permanent legal residents to leave on Thursday, but about 10 citizens and 11 green card holders made it on the flight. Some of the invited Americans declined for health reasons, some wanted more time to decide about leaving, and others chose to remain with family members who could not leave, State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
Before Thursday's flight, the U.S. estimated that about 100 Americans remain in Afghanistan, though outside groups say that doesn't count Americans who never notified the State Department they were in Afghanistan and the many more Afghans who helped the U.S. or want to leave for other reasons.
Some U.S. citizens and residents are refusing to leave until they can bring family members with them, The Washington Post reports. But U.S. and Afghan definitions of family are pretty different, James Miervaldis, chairman of the evacuation group No One Left Behind, tells the Post. "When the Americans say, 'immediate family,' that's your spouse and your children. From an Afghan point of view, immediate family means spouse, children, sister, cousin, brothers; it's a much larger definition."
U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne called Thursday's flight, facilitated by Qatar, "a positive first step" that followed "careful and hard diplomacy and engagement" with a Taliban government that "have shown flexibility, and they have been businesslike and professional in our dealings with them in this effort."