The U.S. is indirectly paying an airline controlled by the Taliban to fly out Afghans seeking safety, according to a new report, following the chaotic departure of American troops last year.
Washington is committed to helping rescue Afghans who helped U.S. forces or who fear for their lives after working for the former government.
But with no diplomatic representation in the country it is reliant on Qatar, which maintains relations with the Taliban, to make arrangements to fly Afghans out of the country en route to the U.S.
Four sources told NBC News that Qatar is buying plane tickets in bulk from Ariana Afghan Airlines, the country’s state-owned airline.
The airline flies twice a week to Doha, with tickets costing around $480 a seat.
From there, the U.S. arranges onward flights.
Any suggestion that American taxpayers money is going to the Taliban will be embarrassing to the Biden administration, which has refused to recognize the new government in Kabul.
The Taliban suspended refugee flights in January, reportedly angered by the way they were characterized as evacuation flights. But some 2,500 Afghans en route to the U.S. have reportedly flown out since the flights resumed two months ago.
‘The United States remains committed to supporting American citizens, lawful permanent residents and our Afghan allies and their families who are eligible to relocate to the United States,’ a State Department spokesperson said.
‘This is an enduring effort, and the State Department continues to support travel for these individuals out of Afghanistan at this time.’
Refugee advocate say about 160,000 Afghans are trying to resettle in the U.S. because of their previous work.
Thousands more qualify for a refugee program because of their ties to U.S.-backed charities or media organizations.
The departure of U.S. troops in August last year triggered the chaotic flight of tens of thousands of Afghans who feared retribution from the Taliban.
Families descended on the airport amid scenes of chaos after the insurgents captured the capital with barely a fight.
Military planes and charters carried more than 70,000 out of the country in a mad scramble before the final American troops left the country at the end of the month.
Images of desperate Afghans falling from U.S. planes as they took generated widespread anger that the Biden administration had botched the withdrawal, and that officials had failed to ensure the safety of its allies inside the country.
Officials repeatedly said they could not foresee the collapse of the government in Kabul and the Taliban takeover.
But a damning watchdog report last month said it was decisions made by successive administration that laid the groundwork for the disaster.
The biggest factors in the rapid collapse of Afghanistan‘s armed forces were the Trump administration’s deal with the Taliban to withdraw U.S. troops and contractors from the country followed by Joe Biden‘s announcement that he was pulling out all U.S. troops, according to a scathing watchdog report.
The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (S.I.G.A.R) found that Afghan forces had been built to reply on U.S. air power as well as contractors to maintain sophisticated weaponry.
Doing a deal with the Taliban to pull out, wrote John Sopko, set in motion the collapse of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (A.N.D.S.F.).
‘The single most important near-term factor in the A.N.D.S.F.’s collapse was the U.S. decision to withdraw the U.S. military and contractors from Afghanistan through the U.S.-Taliban agreement in February 2020, signed under the Trump Administration and confirmed by President Biden in an April 2021 address to the nation,’ he wrote in a report published on Tuesday.
‘Many Afghans thought the U.S.-Taliban agreement was an act of bad faith and a signal that the U.S. was handing over Afghanistan to the enemy as it rushed to exit the country; its immediate effect was a dramatic loss in A.N.D.S.F. morale.’
President Biden announced in April last year that he was bringing U.S. troops home in time for the 20th anniversary of 9/11.
He said the war in Afghanistan needed to end after two decades of war that had cost American lives, drained resources and distracted from more important priorities.