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Charter Flights Are Trying To Leave Afghanistan, Blinken In Qatar For Crisis Talks

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Just across the border from me here, U.S. troops are out of Afghanistan. Some Americans and many Afghans want to follow. The Taliban have promised safe passage, but making that into reality is proving tough. A few Americans have crossed land borders recently, but private planes ready to carry many more are stuck at the airport of a northern Afghan city. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Doha, Qatar, trying to arrange that journey and others, and NPR's Michele Kelemen is traveling with the secretary. She spoke with us a short time ago.

What is the delay for these planes in the city called Mazar-e-Sharif?

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Well, veteran groups, activists and others that have been trying to evacuate hundreds of people that they say were left behind - these include some Americans and at-risk Afghans - have really been turning up the heat on the State Department, saying that they haven't been helpful with this. Now they say the Taliban isn't helpful with this. Secretary Blinken did address it today. Take a listen to what he had to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANTONY BLINKEN: We're working around the clock to clear any roadblocks to make sure that charter flights carrying Americans or others to whom we have a special responsibility can depart Afghanistan safely. Without personnel on the ground, we can't verify the accuracy of manifests, the identities of passengers, flight plans or aviation security protocols.

KELEMEN: And you see, those are the real security risks at stake that Blinken was talking about there. And that's been one of the big issues that the State Department has been talking about is that they don't know exactly who are on these planes. So they'd be responsible for them if they end up coming to other countries or to U.S. military bases.

INSKEEP: Yeah, I guess you don't know what kind of security protocols are really put in place by the Taliban in Mazar-e-Sharif. But what about the Taliban themselves? Are they being helpful or blocking things as best you can tell?

KELEMEN: Well, Blinken said it's not a hostage situation. It's not that the Taliban are holding up all these planes. He said that they are letting people leave if they have the right travel documents or travel documents at all. In fact, he said the State Department got four Americans out on an overland route just yesterday. The Taliban knew about that and didn't impede it. So, you know, what he's focused on is trying to keep the Taliban committed - to keep their commitment to letting people out, to giving people safe passage. And he's also working to try to get the airport in Kabul reopened with the help of Qatar and Turkey, where the U.S. would have a little bit - at least have allies and partners on the ground to help in this.

INSKEEP: I would just want to think through what the secretary of state would be doing in Doha, in Qatar, which is there on the Persian Gulf, south of us here in Pakistan and south of Afghanistan. There's a big U.S. military base there, I know. It would be the destination for some of these flights out of Afghanistan. Qatar is close to the Taliban, has friendly relations with the Taliban, and there's even a Taliban office there. So what is the secretary of state doing and who's he meeting with?

KELEMEN: Well, as you say, it's really the hub for international diplomacy. The U.S. embassy staff that left Kabul are operating out of here. He's going to be meeting with them. He's going to see where the refugees are. Fifty-eight thousand of them have come through Qatar as the first stop before heading to the U.S. and Europe. But he's not planning to meet those Taliban delegation that has an office here. That we know so far.

INSKEEP: Michele, thanks for your reporting. Safe travels to you.

KELEMEN: Thank you.

INSKEEP: NPR's Michele Kelemen is with the secretary of state in Doha, Qatar. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.