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Visiting Blinken Thanks Qataris Over Afghan Airlift As Four More Americans Evacuated

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivers remarks at the State Department in Washington. (file photo)

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Doha on September 6 for Afghan crisis talks and to thank Qatar's leaders for their help so far and work to ensure more evacuations from Afghanistan.

Qatar has played a key role in the evacuation of Americans and Afghans in a massive airlift that was the final act of the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan. A U.S. military base in Qatar was the first stop for about half the people flown out on U.S. military planes after the Taliban seized power on August 15.

Its capital, Doha, is where the United States has set up its diplomatic operations for Afghanistan and where Afghans who worked for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul await transfer to the United States along with thousands of others.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was also scheduled to travel to Doha, where he and Blinken were expected to engage in talks reportedly aimed at getting trapped Americans out of Afghanistan.

Neither Blinken nor Austin was expected to meet with members of the Taliban, which also has a diplomatic mission in Doha.

An unnamed official traveling with the U.S. delegation told Reuters that the first four Americans since the declared end of the withdrawal on August 30 had been evacuated from Afghanistan, adding that "the Taliban did not impede them."

The official said the four marked "the first overland evacuation facilitated by the State Department" since the Taliban takeover.

More than 100 Americans, and possibly hundreds, were said to remain.

The founder of a small U.S. NGO active in Afghanistan complained on September 6 that between 600 and 1,300 people, including girls from her group, were still waiting near the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif, some of them for up to a week.

Marina LeGree said those stranded individuals included 19 Americans, although none were from her group.

"It's been seven days and nothing's moving," LeGree told AFP. She said six chartered planes were waiting to evacuate what some have dubbed "the NGO group."

"The Taliban are simply not letting anything move," LeGree said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson meanwhile declined to say in an address to parliament how many British-Afghan nationals remained in Afghanistan.

But he acknowledged 311 Afghans who worked as interpreters or other functions still there who are eligible for the U.K.'s Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy and said "we will do everything we can to ensure that those people get the safe passage that they deserve."

Blinken was also expected to visit diplomats, troops, and other U.S. government employees in Doha "who are doing truly heroic work around the clock to keep this process moving forward as quickly and humanely as possible."

Blinken plans to fly to Germany after his stop in Doha.

Austin is making a wider visit to the Gulf region taking in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Kuwait.

Blinken, who spoke at a briefing at the State Department on September 3, said the U.S. government continues to "maintain channels of communication with the Taliban on issues that are important us, starting with the commitment to let people leave Afghanistan should they choose to do so."

The United States has pledged to continue efforts to see that they are able to get out either on flights or over land and has said the Taliban's pledge to allow freedom of travel will be closely watched.

Blinken told reporters he had not seen anything final on the details of the Taliban's government and declined to comment specifically about it, but he said the United States expects "inclusivity" and a government that "makes good on commitments that the Taliban have made," especially regarding freedom of travel.

He stressed that while the make-up of the Afghan government under the Taliban was important to Washington, it is more important what the government does.

He noted that the Taliban is seeking sanctions relief and the ability for its leaders to travel freely, and it would be hard to see how the group would get that it fails to uphold its own pledge on freedom of travel.

"We're in very, very active coordination with like-minded countries around the world so that we're all -- we continue to work together and use the leverage and influence we have to hold the Taliban to the commitments it's made," he added.

Blinken will travel from Qatar to Ramstein Air Base in Germany, which is a temporary home for thousands of Afghans who are in the process of immigrating to the United States.

Blinken and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas are scheduled to co-host a virtual ministerial meeting on Afghanistan while in Germany. All 20 nations expected to participate have a stake in relocating and resettling Afghans.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP
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