Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday the Taliban is not blocking those with valid travel documents from leaving Afghanistan but conceded that some outgoing flights, including for a group at an international airport in the northern part of the country, have been stalled.
The flights out of Afghanistan have seemingly been held back, Blinken said, as those eligible evacuees remain intermixed with other people who are seeking to flee the country but are not in possession of the necessary documentation.
“There are groups of people who are grouped together, some of whom have the appropriate travel documents — an American passport, a green card, a visa — and others do not,” Blinken told reporters at a news conference in Doha, Qatar.
“It’s my understanding that the Taliban has not denied exit to anyone holding a valid document, but they have said that those without valid documents at this point can’t leave,” Blinken said. “But because all of these people are grouped together, that’s meant that flights have not been allowed to go.”
Blinken’s remarks came after the State Department confirmed Monday that four Americans had been evacuated overland from Afghanistan into a bordering country. But reports indicate that more than 1,000 people, including some Americans, are still stranded at Mazar-i-Sharif International Airport in northern Afghanistan.
On Tuesday, Blinken said the State Department had identified “a relatively small number of Americans who we believe are seeking to depart from Mazar-i-Sharif with their families.”
“We have been assured, again, that all American citizens and Afghan citizens with valid travel documents will be allowed to leave,” Blinken said, adding: “It’s my understanding that the Taliban has not denied exit to anyone holding a valid document.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that “just under 100” American citizens were still in Afghanistan, telling reporters aboard Air Force One the administration was “working to get every single American citizen and every individual who has documentation out of the country.”
But Psaki also acknowledged the difficulties facing U.S. officials as they sought to facilitate the departure of charter flights out of Mazar-i-Sharif and determine how many American citizens were aboard the aircraft.
“While we are in touch with American citizens directly, beyond that, we don’t have an assessment of [flight] manifests [and] what security protocols and measures are taken. So there are reams of issues that we’re working through,” Psaki said.
“What we have seen is individuals who have documentation are able to depart … but, again, we don’t have a great deal of understanding of every individual on these manifests,” Psaki added.
Both Blinken and Psaki also denied claims by Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, that the Taliban was holding American citizens and Afghan allies at the airport hostage until the United States recognized the militant group as the rightful rulers of Afghanistan.
“We are not aware of anyone being held on an aircraft or any hostage-like situation in Mazar-i-Sharif,” Blinken said. “So we have to work through the different requirements, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”
“No, that is not what we would characterize it as,” Psaki said, referring to McCaul’s hostage claims. “Those were comments made by a Republican congressman this weekend, so let me be very clear: We’re in touch with American citizens. We’re working to get them out.”
President Joe Biden — asked about potential U.S. recognition of the Taliban upon returning to the White House from Wilmington, Del., Monday night — responded: “That’s a long way off. That’s a long way off.”
Psaki said Tuesday there would be “no rush to recognition” by the United States and that such a scenario “is really going to be dependent on what steps the Taliban takes.”
“The world will be watching, the United States included,” Psaki said. “They will be watching whether they allow for American citizens and citizens of other countries to depart; whether they allow individuals who want to leave the country to leave; whether they allow for humanitarian assistance and travel; [and] how they treat women and girls around the country.”
America’s two-decade war in Afghanistan came to an end Aug. 30 with the conclusion of the frantic, weekslong evacuation operation out of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, which saw the U.S. military transport more than 123,000 people out of the country — including roughly 6,000 Americans and 73,500 third-country nationals and Afghan civilians since Aug. 14.
The effort to evacuate the American citizens who remain in Afghanistan has now transitioned from a military mission to a diplomatic undertaking led by the State Department, according to U.S. officials.
Following his visit to Qatar — where he was joined by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin — Blinken will travel to Ramstein, Germany, Wednesday to further coordinate with U.S. allies on America’s approach toward the Taliban and the international community’s role in Afghanistan. Both Qatar and Germany helped facilitate the U.S. evacuation of American citizens and Afghan allies from the country.
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