The State Department revealed, in a series of missives Wednesday, that hundreds of Americans are still in Afghanistan waiting to be evacuated. And while the precise number of United States passport holders awaiting rescue is up for debate, both the State Department and the White House noted that around a “thousand” Americans may not want to leave the rapidly deteriorating country.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) fired back at the Biden administration later Thursday, snapping that the State Department’s claim of Americans who want to remain in Afghanistan is “a lie.”
As of Thursday, around 4,500 U.S. passport holders and their families have been evacuated from Afghanistan, but the State Department issued conflicting reports for how many Americans are estimated to be awaiting rescue. Initially, the State Department estimated around 4,100 Americans were still waiting to be extracted; Thursday afternoon, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the number was closer to 1,500.
“As many as 1,500 Americans are still waiting to be evacuated from Afghanistan, and close to 4,500 Americans and their families have already been removed from the country, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday afternoon,” per Politico. Blinken also said the number of Americans in and around Kabul, as of August 14th, was about 6,000.
He admitted, though that the number of individuals needing rescue was “fluid.”
“The specific estimated number of Americans in Afghanistan who want to leave can go up as people respond to our outreach for the first time, and can go down when we reach Americans we thought were in Afghanistan but have already left,” Blinken told reporters.
“What we’re doing is very carefully tabulating everything we have, cross-checking it, referencing it, using different databases,” Blinken added. “We will have numbers for all those different categories in the days ahead and after this initial phase of efforts to bring people out of Afghanistan ends.”
Of those 1,500, 500 have been contacted and want to leave. The remaining thousand, though, have not responded to the State Department’s repeated queries. “Since the original military withdrawal began on Aug. 14, the State Department has sent more than 20,000 emails and made over 40,000 phone calls to Americans advising them how to leave the country if they wished and providing other resources,” the Secretary said.
Blinken again said that the U.S. is essentially trusting the Taliban to allow Americans and allied personnel to leave. “The Taliban have made public and private commitments to provide and permit safe passage for Americans and Afghans at risk going forward, past August 31,” he said.
Rubio pointed out on Twitter, though, that it’s not immediately clear individuals stranded in Afghanistan — particularly those unable to make it through Taliban checkpoints — have reliable access to phones and email. And while many Americans have made it out, reports indicated on Thursday that the Taliban is letting very few people through into the airport.
The @StateDept admits 4,100 Americans remaining in Kabul alone but claim that some of them are deciding not to leave
This is a lie
Taliban isn’t allowing American women through their checkpoints without a male guardian & are blocking non-citizen family members of U.S. citizens
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) August 25, 2021
“The @StateDept admits 4,100 Americans remaining in Kabul alone but claim that some of them are deciding not to leave This is a lie Taliban isn’t allowing American women through their checkpoints without a male guardian & are blocking non-citizen family members of U.S. citizens,” he wrote.
Others have suggested that the Biden Administration’s language, indicating that those left behind have selected their fate, is setting the stage for the Administration to wash their hands of Americans trapped in Afghanistan after troop pullout. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki also appeared to lay the blame at Americans who have not been in contact with Biden administration officials, telling reporters that “there may be individuals who have not yet contacted us.”
Private flights are now also facing obstacles, per The Wall Street Journal. Once-packed charters are now leaving with “hundreds” of empty seats, even as Afghans and allies crush together outside the wall blocking off the airport, begging to leave, and social media is awash in journalists attempting to correct the Biden administration’s assertions that everyone who wants to leave Afghanistan is able.
“Taliban has now blocked all roads leading to #Kabul airport. Taliban fighters acting ‘extremely aggressive,’ locals say,” a journalist for Radio Free Europe said on Twitter. “No Afghans allowed through, unless accompanied by foreigners. Taliban refused to let a friend, a dual Afghan-Australian citizen, from entering airport today.”
Columnist Josh Rogin, who has covered the situation extensively, noted that the “Taliban stopped an Afghan United Nations staff member as he tried to reach Kabul airport on Sunday. They searched his vehicle and found his U.N. identification. Then they beat him.”
“The Taliban are not complying,” said MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell.