Qatar, Turkey work with Taliban to reopen Kabul airport

Doha (AFP) –


Qatar said Thursday it is working with the Taliban to quickly reopen Kabul's airport, whose closure since the departure of US troops could pose major strategic and humanitarian challenges.

A jet from the Gulf country was the first foreign aircraft to land in the Afghan capital on Wednesday since frenzied evacuations ended a day earlier with the American withdrawal.

Doha, a major transit point for Afghan refugees, said it was working hard to swiftly resume operations at Kabul airport.

"We remain hopeful that we will be able to operate it as soon as possible," said Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, whose country has close contacts with the Taliban which assumed control of Kabul on August 15.

"It's very important... that the Taliban demonstrate their commitment to provide safe passage and freedom of movement for the people of Afghanistan," said Sheikh Mohammed.

"Hopefully in the next few days we will hear some good news," he added.

Sheikh Mohammed said discussions about reopening the airport also included Turkey, which he hoped could provide technical assistance.

Turkey said Thursday it was "evaluating" proposals from the Taliban and others on the airport, with Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu saying security "inside and outside" the facility remained the top priority.

An Afghan civil aviation official told Qatar-owned Al-Jazeera that Kabul will begin airport operations "soon".

"Domestic flights will begin tomorrow (Friday), as for international, it'll take time," he said.

- Vulnerable to attack -

Doha, where the Taliban has a political office, has in recent months hosted a flurry of talks between the US, Taliban and the former Afghan government.

The wealthy country sent a Boeing C-17 Globemaster carrying a technical team, with the challenge to put in a place a crew to help the Taliban run airport facilities.

The airport, with a single runway, is located only five kilometres (three miles) from downtown Kabul -- forcing planes to go into a holding pattern over the city in case they cannot land immediately.

It has also been vulnerable to attacks, such as on August 26, when a suicide bombing claimed by the Islamic State extremist group -- an opponent of the Taliban regime -- killed more than 100 Afghans and 13 US soldiers.

But the Taliban, which returned to power 20 years after being ousted by American troops, now has its back against the wall and must get the country and its infrastructure up and running.

The Taliban's return to power after their first stint between 1996 and 2001, when US troops invaded the country following the 9/11 attacks for harbouring Al-Qaeda, has led to mass evacuations of foreigners and Afghans fearing reprisal.

Reopening the airport has been addressed by a host of Western officials who have visited Qatar this week, including the German, Dutch and British foreign ministers.

Italy's foreign minister is expected in Doha on Sunday.

On Thursday, British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said his country has evacuated some 17,000 British and Afghan nationals since April, reiterating that those left behind -- including those most at risk -- can travel to the UK.

"That's why we watch with great interest what may be possible at Kabul airport," he said.