Restoration of Kabul's closed airport begins as some Afghan aid resumes

The entrance to Kabul airport on Aug 31, 2021. PHOTO: NYTIMES

KABUL (NYTIMES) - Afghanistan's plunge into chaos, isolation and near-destitution under its newly ascendant Taliban rulers appeared to slow on Thursday (Sept 2), with the first significant moves to salvage Kabul's inoperable airport, an increased flow of UN aid and word that international money transfers had resumed to the country, where many banks are shuttered.

But these developments did not signal any diminished suspicion towards the Taliban, the hardline movement of Islamic extremists, many of them on terrorist watch lists, who seized power last month after two decades of war against a US-led military coalition and the government the United States had propped up.

And despite expectations that the Taliban leaders now ensconced in Kabul's presidential palace would formally announce the makeup of a new government Thursday, the anticipated announcement was delayed.

The desperate, sometimes deadly confusion at Kabul's international airport came to symbolise the Biden administration's hasty US pullout, which officially ended Monday night.

The airport remained closed to the public Thursday, but the Taliban permitted reporters inside, where security personnel and technicians from Qatar who had been sent to help reopen the airport were busy.

"The airport will open very soon," said Mr Daoud Sharifi, chief operating officer of Kam Air, Afghanistan's largest privately owned airline.

The air force of Qatar, an important US ally that has maintained cordial relations with the Taliban, flew in airport technicians as well as equipment and security officers Monday, with a second planeload arriving Wednesday and a third due later Thursday.

The airport had been a vital link to the outside world, one of the main routes for food, medical supplies and other aid to enter and for people to leave.

The United Nations, which has long helped oversee distribution of food and medical aid in Afghanistan, said Thursday that its World Food Program's Humanitarian Air Service was resuming flights to the cities of Mazar-e-Sharif and Kandahar, where the airports have remained serviceable despite the chaos and violence of recent weeks.

One source of help for destitute Afghans returned on Thursday, when Western Union announced that it was resuming money transfers to Afghanistan.

At the same time, financial institutions in the United States and elsewhere have prevented the Taliban from gaining access to Afghan government bank reserves and other financial assets.

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