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Cablegate: Afghanistan's Haj Flight Woes Persist

VZCZCXRO3726
PP RUEHIK RUEHPOD RUEHPW RUEHYG
DE RUEHBUL #3019 3231442
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 181442Z NOV 08
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6174
INFO RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC 0686
RULSDMK/DEPT OF TRANSPORTATION WASHINGTON DC 0128
RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE
RUEHRH/AMEMBASSY RIYADH 4294
RUEHJI/AMCONSUL JEDDAH 3363
RUEHZG/NATO EU COLLECTIVE
RUEKJCS/OSD WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC
RUEABND/DEA HQS WASHINGTON DC
RHMFIUU/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS KABUL 003019

DEPT FOR SCA/FO, SCA/RA, AND SCA/A
DEPT PASS AID/ANE
DEPT PASS USTR FOR GERBER AND KLEIN
DEPT PASS OPIC FOR ZAHNISER
DEPT PASS TDA FOR STEIN AND GREENIP
USOECD FOR ENERGY ATTACHE
CENTCOM FOR CSTC-A
NSC FOR JWOOD
TREASURY FOR LMCDONALD, ABAUKOL, BDAHL, AND MNUGENT
OSD FOR SHIVERS
COMMERCE FOR DEES, CHOPPIN, AND FONOVICH

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958 N/A
TAGS: EAIR ECON AF
SUBJECT: AFGHANISTAN'S HAJ FLIGHT WOES PERSIST

REF: KABUL 2977

1. (SBU) The difficulties in airlifting Afghan Haj pilgrims to Saudi
Arabia that led to the dismissal of the last Transport Minister
(reftel) are continuing. More than a week after Haj flights were to
have begun, only about 900 of the 30,000 Afghans who have paid to
make the Haj have actually taken flights to Saudi Arabia. The few
flights that have occurred have been wet-lease contracts arranged by
the state-owned Afghan carrier Ariana Airlines with a Turkish
carrier. But since Ariana is officially banned by Saudi authorities
from flying to Saudi Arabia, it is unclear if even these wet-lease
flights can continue.

2. (SBU) The Afghan government has signed a new contract with a
Saudi-Swiss charter carrier, but this airline has not been able to
provide the promised number of flights, in part because of higher
insurance costs and complicated underwriting standards associated
with flights to Afghanistan. Some of the flights the Saudi-Swiss
contractor are to provide would be sub-contracted to a second
Turkish charter carrier, but its flights have been delayed
reportedly because of issues related to the Turkish civil aviation
authority. FM Spanta had to step away from a meeting today with the
Ambassador to address the issue. Embassies Kabul and Warsaw
subsequently assisted Spanta and the MFA to place a call to Turkish
FM Babacan, who was in Warsaw. Kabul's FAA Rep also continues to
provide direct assistance to the Ministry of Transport and Civil
Aviation in resolving technical issues. AmConsul Jeddah has also
helped resolve issues with landing slots on the Saudi end.
Commercial issues between the Afghan government and its contractors
present higher hurdles, and the USG has limited ability to influence
these.

3. (SBU) Meanwhile, thousands of would-be Hajis day after day await
news of when they will fly. Hundreds have been told to gather at a
mosque in downtown Kabul in preparation for departure. They wait in
reportedly squalid conditions and are becoming angrier each day that
the promised Haj flights do not occur. Demonstrations against the
government's handling of the Haj flights have already taken place,
and the possibility of further social unrest cannot be ruled out.

WOOD

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