A group of United States citizens and Afghan evacuees have been permitted to travel to the US from the United Arab Emirates after being temporarily held up for vetting, according to the Gulf state’s foreign ministry.
The 117 passengers had been stuck at Abu Dhabi’s international airport after arriving from Kabul, a lawyer who had been working to relocate the passengers told Al Jazeera on Wednesday.
In an email on Thursday to Reuters news agency, the UAE foreign ministry said the “processing of those passengers has been completed and they have already departed for the United States on a commercial aircraft (Etihad) this morning”.
Stan Bunner, a lawyer working with the passengers, told Al Jazeera that all the evacuees were US citizens, permanent legal residents, or special immigrant visa applicants. They included 59 children under the age of 18.
Bunner, who is part of an ad hoc group of US veterans called Project Dynamo that formed to help Afghans flee after the Taliban took control of the country on August 15, said US Customs and Border Patrol had repeatedly denied the plane permission to enter the US.
He said that the group’s organisers believed they had full US landing permissions when the Kam Air flight they had chartered took off from Kabul.
A Department of Homeland Security spokesperson previously told Al Jazeera all passenger manifests of US-bound flights “must be verified before departure to the US to ensure all passengers are screened appropriately”.
A State Department spokesperson said on Wednesday that embassy staff in the UAE were vetting the passengers’ paperwork.
The US completely withdrew its troops from Afghanistan on August 30, stepping up a chaotic evacuation operation in the final weeks after the Taliban swept to power.
Defence officials have since acknowledged the US was surprised by the Taliban’s rapid takeover of Kabul, with the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, General Mark Milley, telling a Senate Committee on Tuesday the withdrawal was a “strategic failure”.
While the US and its allies airlifted about 120,000 people out of the country, officials have acknowledged that hundreds of US citizens and permanent residency holders likely remain in Afghanistan.
Rights groups, meanwhile, say tens of thousands of Afghans who had worked for the US government, and are eligible for special visas to relocate to the US, have been left behind.