Pentagon spokesman John Kirby addressed the “hundreds” of Americans who wanted to be evacuated but were left behind in Afghanistan after the United States military fully withdrew on Monday, telling MSNBC that Americans “get stranded” in foreign countries “all the time,” and downplaying the administration’s role in leaving citizens, passport holders, green card holders, and allies behind enemy lines.
Last week, the State Department estimated that there were around 1,500 Americans who had contacted the Biden administration to arrange extraction and were still in Afghanistan waiting to be evacuated. On Sunday, Kirby himself admitted that there were “roughly” 300 Americans still behind enemy lines awaiting a trip out of Afghanistan.
On Monday, Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, head of United States Central Command (CENTCOM), confirmed there were Americans who wanted to leave Afghanistan still on the ground in or near Kabul, and they numbered in the “very low hundreds.”
“We did not get out everybody we had wanted to get out,” McKenzie admitted Monday, adding that diplomatic measures will likely be needed to extract Americans left behind.
Addressing the situation Tuesday, Kirby seemed to admit, again, that Americans had, indeed, been left behind, but downplayed the danger they now face living under Taliban authority.
“It’s not completely unlike the way we do it elsewhere around the world,” Kirby said when asked how the Biden Administration plans to extract its own citizens from Afghanistan. “We have Americans that get stranded in countries all the time, and we do everything we can to try to facilitate safe passage.”
That’s likely true, but those Americans do not necessarily get stranded in hostile countries, and typically not in large numbers.
Kirby did seem to contradict White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, who several weeks ago indicated that Americans were not “stranded” in Afghanistan.
“Does the President have a sense that most of the criticism is not of leaving Afghanistan, it’s the way that he has ordered it to happen — by pulling the troops before getting these Americans who are now stranded?” Fox News’ Peter Doocy asked Psaki at a press conference following the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul. “Does he have a sense of that?”
“First of all, I think it’s irresponsible to say Americans are stranded. They are not,” Psaki shot back. “We are committed to bringing Americans, who want to come home, home. We are in touch with them via phone, via text, via e-mail, via any way that we can possibly reach Americans to get them home if they want to return home.”
Kirby also contradicted the Biden administration’s position from previous weeks — that Americans who were left behind in Afghanistan made a choice to avoid extraction. In this case, the Pentagon and CENTCOM have both admitted that Americans who wanted to leave the country did not get evacuated on time. Kirby, in the same interview, echoed CENTCOM in saying the number of Americans who want to leave but cannot is in the “low hundreds.”
President Joe Biden is expected to speak Tuesday afternoon on the matter of rescuing Americans left behind following withdrawal Tuesday. He is also expected to explain the administration’s decision to trust the Taliban to assist in those rescues rather than extend the timeline for departure.
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