As the evacuation effort in Afghanistan continues, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday there are about 1,500 people who may be American citizens and are still in the nation.
Tuesday remains the U.S. deadline for withdrawal.
During a press conference Wednesday, Mr. Blinken said the State Department had been in contact with about 500 Americans to provide specific directions on how to get to the airport in Kabul safely.
“For the remaining roughly 1,000 contacts that we had who may be Americans seeking to leave Afghanistan, we’re aggressively reaching out to them multiple times a day through multiple channels of communication to determine if they still want to leave,” Mr. Blinken said.
He noted that some of the 1,000 still in the country may not be American citizens, some may have left Afghanistan and others may have decided to stay.
With the deadline to withdraw from the country less than a week away, Mr. Blinken said the U.S. efforts to evacuate Americans and Afghan citizens remains ongoing.
Since Aug. 14, the U.S. has evacuated more than 82,300 people, Mr. Blinken said. He added that in the 24-hour period between Tuesday and Wednesday, 19,000 people were evacuated on 90 military and coalition flights.
During his remarks, Mr. Blinken told reporters that the U.S. is operating in a very “hostile environment” with a “high possibility” of an ISIS-K attack in the Taliban-controlled country. He explained that while the U.S. remains on track to complete the mission, President Joe Biden has called for contingency plans from the Pentagon and State Department if the evacuation goes past the deadline.
He added, however, that if American citizens and civilians in Afghanistan need assistance after the withdrawal, the State Department would still be ready and able to help.
“Let me be crystal clear about this. 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,” Mr. Blinken said.
Last week, a group of bipartisan veterans in the For Country Caucus sent a letter to the White House last week to urge the president to keep the Kabul airport under control for “as long as necessary” to evacuate all American citizens and Afghan partners. The letter was sent in response to President Biden’s steady position that the withdrawal will be completed by the Tuesday deadline, despite thousands of Americans and Afghans who have yet to be evacuated.
“This is about more than doing the right thing,” officials wrote in the letter. “This is a national security imperative. The eyes of the world are watching whether we will stand by our friends. We must show the world that we will live up to our values and promises. We are strong as a nation because we have friends and allies. If we don’t stand by those friends and allies right now, we will find ourselves dealing with future threats and challenges alone.”
The letter was signed by 25 veterans in Congress, including Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara.
In a statement sent to the News-Press, the congressman said he stands by the president’s decision to end the war by strategically removing troops from Afghanistan, but acknowledges “the pain being experienced by the Afghan people, diplomats, humanitarian workers, and the many veterans who served and sacrificed in Afghanistan.”
“There will be ample opportunities to examine the policy choices and considerations that brought us to this moment,” Rep. Carbajal said. “Right now, we must focus on the mission at hand which is to safely evacuate American citizens and the Afghan partners who served bravely alongside us.
“To that end, I have urged the president to leave troops on the ground at Hamid Karzai International Airport for as long as is necessary to get Americans and our allies to safety. Just as our Afghan partners stood by us, we must now stand by them.”