Washington identifies Americans seeking to leave Mazar-i-Sharif

Antony Blinken in Doha for crisis talks on Afghanistan

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, fourth left, and Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin, fifth left, take part in a meeting with Qatari Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdul Rahman Al Thani, fourth right and Qatari Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Dr Khalid bin Mohammed Al-Attiyah, fifth right, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Doha, Qatar, on Tuesday, September 7. AP
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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday said Washington had identified a "relatively" small number of Americans seeking to leave Mazar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan.

Mr Blinken said one of major challenges of the evacuation charter flights was that some Afghans seeking to leave did not have the required documents.

He arrived in Doha on Monday for crisis talks with Qatar after the Taliban claimed to have full control over Afghanistan and was speaking on Tuesday alongside Qatari Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdul Rahman Al Thani at a joint press conference in Doha.

Mr Blinken, accompanied by US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, is the most senior American official to visit the region since the Taliban's lightning takeover of Afghanistan on August 15.

He was not due to meet any of the Taliban's representatives in Doha but State Department official Dean Thompson said Washington would continue to engage with the militant group "to ensure our messaging with them is clear".

"We are thankful for Qatar's close collaboration on Afghanistan," the State Department said before Mr Blinken's arrival.

His team praised Doha's "indispensable support in facilitating the transit of US citizens, embassy Kabul personnel, at-risk Afghans and other evacuees from Afghanistan through Qatar".

Qatar, which hosts a major US airbase, has been the gateway for 55,000 people flown out of Afghanistan, about half of all those extricated by US-led forces after the Taliban's takeover.

Before his arrival, Mr Blinken said that in Qatar he would "express our deep gratitude for all that they're doing to support the evacuation effort," and meet rescued Afghans.

He will meet US diplomats after Washington relocated its embassy in Kabul to Doha, along with allies such as Britain and the Netherlands.

The State Department said Mr Blinken would discuss Qatar's efforts, alongside Turkey, to reopen Kabul's airport, with incoming humanitarian aid badly needed and more Afghans seeking departure.

Qatar invited the Taliban to open a political office in Doha in 2013, later hosting talks between Washington and the militants, which ended in 2020 with a troop withdrawal agreement.

It was followed by direct negotiations between the former insurgents and Afghan government.

The Taliban on Monday claimed total control of Afghanistan, saying they had won the key battle for the Panjshir Valley, the last remaining holdout of resistance against their rule.

The group has not yet finalised its new regime after arriving in the capital Kabul three weeks ago at a speed that analysts say probably surprised even the hardline militants.

After Doha, Mr Blinken will fly on Wednesday to the US airbase at Ramstein in Germany, a temporary home for thousands of Afghans moving to the US.

Washington is closely watching whether the Taliban keep their promise to let US citizens and allies depart as it decides how to deal with the militants.

US officials say slightly more than 100 Americans, mostly dual citizens, remain in Afghanistan after tens of thousands of people were flown out in the last days of America's longest war.

President Joe Biden's Republican rivals have been quick to accuse him of abandoning Americans.

Tens of thousands of interpreters and others who supported the US mission and their family members are believed to remain, with many fearing retribution despite Taliban assurances.

With the Kabul airport in disarray, land routes offer the only way out of Afghanistan, primarily though Pakistan or Iran, which does not have diplomatic relations with Washington.

While at Ramstein, Mr Blinken will hold an online, 20-nation ministerial meeting on the crisis, alongside German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.

Updated: September 07, 2021, 3:51 PM