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Hundreds, Including Americans, Stranded In Northern Afghanistan As Taliban Blocks NGO Flights

A plane waits on the tarmac at the airport in Mazar-e Sharif. (file photo)

Several American citizens and hundreds of others, including children, have reportedly been prevented for days from flying out of the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif on planes chartered by several U.S. non-governmental organizations.

Marina LeGree, the founder and executive director of the U.S.-based NGO Ascend, said on September 7 that some 600 to 1,300 people, including teenage girls from her group, have been waiting near the city’s airport for as long as a week to board planes on the ground.

"It's been seven days and nothing's moving," LeGree, whose group trains Afghan girls in leadership through physical activities like mountain climbing, told AFP, accusing the Taliban of “simply not letting anything move."

Six chartered planes were waiting at the airport to evacuate those waiting, who are meanwhile being housed at various places in the city, LeGree said.

Those waiting to be airlifted out of Afghanistan are said to include 19 Americans and a small group of girls and women aged 16 to 23, as well as family members, whom Ascend is trying to evacuate.

All are members of Afghanistan's mainly Shi'ite Hazara minority, which has faced severe repression when the Taliban last ruled the war-torn country from 1996-2001.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on September 7 that his department has been "working around the clock" to ensure the safe departure of the flights.

The Taliban told the United States that "they will let people with travel documents freely depart," Blinken told a news conference in Qatar.

"We will hold them to that," he added.

While Washington says it is committed to helping U.S. citizens and at-risk Afghans to leave, LeGree expressed frustration over the situation.

"If it isn't resolved very soon, we're worried for the physical safety of our girls," she added.

The United States completed its military withdrawal from Afghanistan a week ago, following the Taliban's rapid takeover of the country.

Ahead of the pullout, the United States and NATO allies evacuated tens of thousands of foreigners and Afghans at risk of Taliban reprisals from Kabul.

However, more than 100 Americans, and possibly hundreds, were said to remain, along with tens of thousands of others thought to want to leave.

On September 7, the State Department announced that four Americans had been able to leave Afghanistan by road, arriving in an unnamed neighboring country -- marking the first time the United States has confirmed it facilitated a successful overland exit from the country since the airlifts concluded.

With reporting by AFP and dpa
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