(Reuters) – About 1,000 people, including dozens of Americans and Afghans holding visas for the United States or other countries, remained stuck in Afghanistan for a fifth day on Sunday while awaiting Taliban clearance for flights out of the country, the New York Times reported.
The newspaper reported that the situation facing those hoping to leave from the international airport in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif mirrored that of thousands who were unable to board flights from Kabul after the Taliban took the capital before U.S. troops withdrew.
The senior Republican on the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, Mike McCaul, told “Fox News Sunday” that six airplanes were stuck at Mazar-i-Sharif airport with Americans and Afghan interpreters on board, unable to take off because they had not received clearance from the Taliban.
He said the Taliban were holding passengers “hostage for demands,” but multiple reports disputed McCaul’s statement.
McCaul said the Taliban wanted “something in exchange” for approving the flights and that he believed they sought “full recognition from the United States of America.”
One person familiar with the evacuation effort told Reuters that it was not correct to characterize the passengers as “hostages.”
The New York Times reported that organizers of evacuation flights in Qatar said the planes in Mazar-i-Sharif had received necessary clearance and were awaiting final Taliban approval.
“The Taliban are not holding the planes hostage,” it quoted Eric Montalvo, a retired U.S. Marines major involved in organizing the flights, as saying.
A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department said it did not have a reliable means to confirm the basic details of charter flights, including the number of U.S. citizens and others aboard, but added: “We will hold the Taliban to its pledge to let people freely depart Afghanistan.”
Earlier, another Republican U.S. representative, Mike Waltz, called on the State Department to work with non-governmental organizations he said were trying to clear charter flights to evacuate Americans and at-risk Afghans.
In a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Waltz said he had been told by several NGOs that there were manifested charter flights “available, funded, and ready to fly” people out.