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UAE operating aid air bridge to Kabul as Pakistan’s PIA to resume commercial flights

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The United Arab Emirates has set up an air bridge to deliver tons of aid to Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover, a Kabul airport operations manager told AFP on Saturday, while Pakistan International Airlines said it would relaunch commercial flights to the Afghan capital starting Monday.

The wealthy UAE, a close US ally, is one of a number of Gulf states that have been key staging posts for evacuation flights for foreigners and Afghans, alongside Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain.

“From the 3rd of September, (…) the UAE government has activated an air bridge corridor for humanitarian aid,” said Ibrahim Moarafi.

Moarafi is general manager and regional director of GAAC, a UAE-based company that has provided ground and security handling services at Kabul airport since November 2020.

“From that day and until now, we have received and handled 11 flights almost on a daily basis, and we have handled 255 tonnes of medical aid and food items,” he said.

On Saturday, two UAE aircraft unloaded dozens of aid packages containing roast minced veal, powdered milk, cooking oil and medical supplies, an AFP correspondent said.

More than two thirds of the 120,000 Afghans and foreigners who fled Afghanistan on evacuation flights landed in the UAE and Qatar before going on to their final destinations.

Qatar hosts the largest US air force base in the region and has been the main intermediary between the Taliban and the international community.

>> Analysis: Qatar emerges as central player in West’s relationship with Afghanistan

Numerous countries, including the United States, have relocated their embassies from Kabul to Doha since the Taliban took over Afghanistan’s capital on August 15.

The UAE was one of only three countries to recognise Taliban rule between 1996 and 2001. It currently hosts ousted president Ashraf Ghani who fled Kabul as the Taliban entered the city.

While Kabul airport has yet to receive its first international flight since the Taliban takeover, technicians at the vital facility have been racing round the clock to bring it back to life.

Moarafi said efforts to make the airport fully functioning again are under way. “We have activated and resumed our operations,” he told AFP.

In the last two days Qatar Airways has operated two charter flights out of Kabul, carrying mostly foreigners and Afghans who missed being taken out during the evacuation.

An Afghan airline resumed domestic flights last week.

Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) told AFP on Saturday that it will resume flights from Islamabad to Kabul next week, becoming the first foreign commercial service since the Taliban seized power last month.

“We have got all technical clearances for flight operations,” PIA spokesman Abdullah Hafeez Khan told AFP.

“Our first commercial plane… is scheduled to fly from Islamabad to Kabul on September 13.”

Khan said the service would depend on demand.

“We have received 73 requests which is very encouraging… from humanitarian relief agencies and journalists,” he said.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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