How Qatar emerged as key transit point for evacuating people from Afghanistan

Ever since Kabul fell to Taliban, Qatar has served as a crucial transit point for those being evacuated from Afghanistan.

US President Joe Biden has thanked Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani for its  “generous support” to Washington in evacuating people stranded in the war-torn country.

According to the White House, Biden said the airlifts “would not have been possible without the early support from Qatar”.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had on Friday praised Qatar for providing transit to US Air Force planes bringing US citizens and Afghan nationals from Kabul.

He tweeted, “Spoke yesterday with @MBA_AlThani_about Afghanistan and Qatar’s generous support to safely transit U.S. citizens, Embassy Kabul personnel, and at-risk Afghans through Doha. We commend Qatar for its efforts to promote regional security.”

On Friday night, about 300 people evacuated from Afghanistan and taken to Qatar reached the US Ramstein Air Base in Germany, which is another transit point for people being taken to the US.

Blinken also said that Qatar is one of the countries which has agreed to resettle refugees from Afghanistan. He said apart from Qatar, 12 other countries—Albania, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Kosovo, Mexico, North Macedonia, Poland, Qatar, Rwanda, Uganda and Ukraine — have agreed to the proposal.

Resources stretched to capacity

However, resources at the Al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar have been stretched to capacity. In fact, a backlog at a transit facility in Qatar had compelled authorities to stop flights from the Kabul airport for six hours on Friday.

“The sites at Qatar were just at capacity, there was no room to flow in additional people,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters in a media briefing.

“The flight delay out of Kabul lasted about six to seven hours and it was allowed to ensure that flights at our intermediate staging bases could receive more personnel. And that has been cleaned up as flights have departed there. It has allowed us now to continue with those that are ready to fly out of Kabul,” US Army Maj General Hank Taylor was quoted as saying by Al Jazeera.

Thereafter, Bahrain announced that it would allow flights from Afghanistan to use its transit facilities.

Apart from Bahrain and Qatar, the other countries which the US has been using as transit points for evacuating people from Afghanistan include Britain, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Tajikistan, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Uzbekistan.

“We deeply appreciate the support they have offered, and are proud to partner with them in our shared support of the Afghan people. We are encouraged by other countries that are also considering providing support. We have no higher priority than the safety and security of US citizens overseas and to fulfill our commitments to citizens of partner nations and at-risk Afghans,” Blinken was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

Praise for Qatar’s efforts coming in from all quarters

Praise for Qatar has been coming in from other countries as well. French lawmaker Sebastien Nadot recently said that Qatar “is assuming as much as possible” in efforts to evacuate civilians stuck in war-torn Afghanistan.

Nadot, who chairs a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the living conditions of migrants and refugees, tweeted “To sum up: the USA, Westerners, UK, France are totally overwhelmed by the scale of the damage in Afghanistan. Qatar is assuming as much as possible, humanitarian aid, NGOs, journalists, refugees.”

Nadot was responding to multiple reports stating that Qatar had helped the New York Times and other media outlets to evacuate their employees from Afghanistan.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas had also “thanked Qatar for their support” during the evacuation process, the German Foreign Ministry tweeted. Maas also added that Qatar Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani and his country have “taken on a real leadership role.”

Indian flights using Qatar as transit point for evacuation

India has also been using Qatar as a crucial transit point for its exercise of evacuating people from Afghanistan. On Sunday, the second batch of 146 Indian nationals were brought back via the Doha airport.

Doha had been used as a transit point for evacuating Indians from Afghanistan earlier as well.

On August 22, The Indian Embassy in Doha had tweeted, “1st batch of 135 Indians who were evacuated 4m Kabul to Doha over past days being repatriated tonight to India. Emb officials provided consular & logistics asst to ensure their safe return. We thank Qatar authorities n all concerned for making this possible.”

The 135 Indians evacuated from Kabul to Doha by US and NATO aircraft were flown back to Delhi on a special flight.

On the same day, 168 people, including 107 Indians, airlifted from Kabul to the Hindon airbase in Ghaziabad, in an Indian Air Force C-17 military transport aircraft.

On Monday, India had brought back 146 of its nationals to Delhi in four different flights from Doha, days after they were evacuated from Kabul by NATO and American aircraft.

India began its evacuation mission by airlifting 40 Indians from Kabul to Delhi on August 16, a day after the Taliban seized control of the Afghan capital city.

The latest batch evacuated by India includes 78 people, including 25 of its nationals and a number of Afghan Sikhs and Hindus from Dushanbe, a day after they were evacuated from Taliban-besieged Kabul.

The group was airlifted from Kabul to Dushanbe by a military transport aircraft of the Indian Air Force on Monday.

With Tuesday’s evacuation, the number of people brought back to Delhi reached over 800 since August 16.

(With agency inputs)

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