Blinken: 1,500 Americans may still await evacuation from Afghanistan
WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that as many as 1,500 Americans may be awaiting evacuation from Afghanistan, a figure that suggests this part of the U.S.-led airlift could be completed before President Joe Biden’s Tuesday deadline. Thousands of at-risk Afghans, however, are struggling to get into the Kabul airport.
Blinken said the State Department estimates there were about 6,000 Americans who wanted to leave Afghanistan when the airlift began Aug. 14, and about 4,500 of them have been evacuated so far. The 6,000 figure is the first public estimate by the State Department of how many Americans were seeking to get out when the Taliban completed its takeover of Afghanistan.
“Some are understandably very scared,” Blinken told a State Department news conference.
About 500 Americans have been contacted with instructions on when and how to get to the chaotic Kabul airport to catch evacuation flights.
In addition, 1,000 or perhaps fewer are being contacted to determine whether they still want to leave. Blinken said some of these may already have left the country, some may want to remain and some may not actually be American citizens.
Of the 1,000, the number who are “actively seeking assistance” to leave Afghanistan “is lower — likely significantly lower,” Blinken said.
The Biden administration has stressed that American evacuees are its first priority, even as it attempts also to airlift Afghans who worked for the U.S. government or military or to build
Afghan civil society during the 20-year war as well as what it calls “vulnerable Afghans” — those who believe they face retribution from the Taliban for their role in opposing the insurgency.
The Tuesday deadline aside, Blinken said, “There is no deadline on our work to help any remaining American citizens who decide they want to leave to do so, along with the many Afghans who have stood by us over these many years, and want to leave, and have been unable to do so. That effort will continue, every day, past Aug. 31.”
Biden said Tuesday he has asked his national security team for contingency plans in case he decides to extend the deadline.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul
has been evacuated; staff are operating from the Kabul airport and are to leave by Aug. 31.
However, refugee groups are describing a different picture when it comes to many Afghans: a disorganized, barely-there U.S. evacuation effort for Afghan allies that leaves the most desperate to risk beatings and death at Taliban checkpoints
Some Afghans are reportedly being turned away from the Kabul airport by American forces controlling the gates, despite having approval for flights.
“It’s 100 percent up to the Afghans to take these risks and try to fight their way out,” said Sunil Varghese, policy director with the International Refugee Assistance Project. “Those with
young children and pregnant are willing to take those beatings to get out.“
Just days are left before the U.S. military is to start shutting down its role in a massive operation that the White House says has evacuated 82,300 Afghans, Americans and other foreigners on a mix of U.S., international and private flights. The withdrawal comes under a 2020 deal negotiated by President Donald Trump with the Taliban.
Taliban leaders who took control of Afghanistan say they will not tolerate any extensions to the Tuesday deadline. But Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen tweeted that “people with legal documents” will still be able to fly out via commercial flights after Tuesday.