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U.S., UK Criticize Taliban Restriction On Afghans Traveling Abroad

Afghan citizens wait for airline transfers at the airport in New Delhi, India, following the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan last August.

The Taliban's announcement that it would restrict Afghans from leaving the country under certain circumstances has drawn concern from the United States and the United Kingdom this week amid fears it could hamper ongoing evacuation efforts.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid had said at a media conference on February 27 that Afghans would not be allowed to leave the country unless they had a clear destination and that women could not travel overseas for study without a male guardian.

Hugo Shorter, the UK charge d'affaires for Afghanistan, said in a tweet on February 28 he had seen the Taliban's statements.

"These would be unacceptable restrictions on freedom of movement," he said. "I call on the Taliban to clarify their remarks urgently."

It was not immediately clear whether the plans would hamper the efforts by international governments and organizations to evacuate thousands of Afghans who had worked with foreign embassies, militaries, and projects and were eligible for asylum in Western countries but still in Afghanistan.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson said late on February 28 that U.S. officials were engaging with the Taliban over the issue.

"We have seen the Taliban statements reported in the press and have raised our concerns with the Taliban," the spokesperson said.

"Our ability to facilitate relocation for our Afghan allies depends on the Taliban living up to its commitment of free passage," the spokesperson added.

Mujahid said the Taliban's travel restrictions would apply to Afghans who worked with NATO and American forces but did not elaborate under what, if any, circumstances they would be able to evacuate.

"We will not allow Afghans to leave the country unless their destinations are known," Mujahid said.

Mujahid blamed poor conditions in countries where some Afghans were being held while their visas were processed after thousands were evacuated, at times without finalized visas, by withdrawing foreign forces in the wake of the Taliban's takeover of the country in August.

Regular evacuation flights organized by the United States via Qatar were largely stopped in December over disagreement by the Taliban-led government on who should be able to board, sources had told Reuters.