At a press briefing on Aug. 16, state department spokesperson Ned Price stated that all U.S. direct-hire embassy personnel, including the Ambassador, have been relocated to the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul that is secured by the American military. However, Price has asked other American citizens still in the country not to approach the airport.
“We are asking U.S. citizens to shelter and not to travel to the airport until they hear otherwise from the Department of State. We also continue to pursue all options to relocate interested and qualified Afghan SIV applicants and their immediate families, as well as other vulnerable Afghans,” Price said in the briefing.
The airport is located five kilometers from the capital city and is the only safe route to leave the country since all other border crossings are now under control of the Taliban. Price added that the military has airlifted 1,600 people out of Afghanistan in recent days on top of the 2,000 Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) holders who were evacuated during the past weeks. He confirmed that the department was “prioritizing American citizens.”
However, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby made an opposing statement in his interview with Fox News’ Jacqui Heinrich, saying that American citizens will not get any special priority in the evacuation process.
“Once we get more airlift out of Kabul, we’re going to put as many people on those planes as we can. There will be a mix… not just American citizens, but perhaps some Afghan SIV applicants as well. We’re going to focus on getting people out of the country, then sorting it out at the next stop. It’s not going to be just Americans first, then SIV applicants,” Kirby said.
Afghan SIV applicants to be housed in Texas, Wisconsin
Heinrich obtained Defense Department documents showing that it plans to relocate up to 30,000 Afghan SIV applicants in the near future. These refugees would be housed in military bases in Texas and Wisconsin. When asked as to how long the U.S. military will remain in Afghanistan, Kirby said that they are focused on the August 31 deadline which “the president gave us.”
Washington has sent 6,000 additional troops into Afghanistan to secure a safe passage for its citizens and Afghan aides.
As of Sunday, Aug. 15, thousands of Americans remain in Afghanistan. In an interview with CBS, National Security advisor Jake Sullivan said that America will evacuate a “significant number of Americans” in the coming days and that they are “still doing outreach” to determine the total number of U.S. citizens present in the country.
Wall Street correspondent Margherita Stancati stated that the Taliban has been going “door to door” in some places, looking for people with Western ties. “Thousands of U.S. citizens who didn’t make it there (airport) yet are hiding and hoping someone saves them before roaming Taliban gangs find them,” according to a report by The Washington Post.
The report’s author Josh Rogin noted that there isn’t a single tally of how many Americans are in danger in Afghanistan. According to one Biden administration official who spoke anonymously, an estimated 10,000 Americans are still in the country; the majority of them in and around Kabul. Government sources also told Rogin that they have not yet received clear guidance from the White House on the issue.
Hundreds of calls to hotline for stranded Americans
Staffers from Republican Tom Cotton’s office set up a hotline for Americans stranded in the war-torn country. In less than 24 hours, hundreds of individuals had contacted the hotline. Though the staffers haven’t received any special inside information on the state of evacuations, they have been able to consolidate contact details and streamline communications with appropriate authorities on the ground. Other lawmakers, like Republican Ken Buck, are also offering similar assistance through their office.
“My office has heard from over 100 Americans who need help getting out of Afghanistan… We can’t fly planes or open gates, but we can at least give people information. The Biden administration needs a plan to get our fellow Americans out,” Cotton said to Rogin.
Another GOP congressional staffer who has been fielding calls says that the homes of some American citizens have been ransacked and “they are in hiding because the Taliban is terrorizing and tormenting neighborhoods.” He blamed the Biden administration for not having a proper plan “to handle this on a mass scale.”
Meanwhile, hundreds of Afghan Americans gathered in front of the White House to protest against President Biden’s failure to appropriately act against Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan. They blamed neighboring Pakistan for the dire situation and asked that America bring an end to Pakistan’s funding of the Taliban.
“Biden, you betrayed us! We will not trust you! You abandon allies! You made a deal and sold out Afghanistan!” the protestors shouted.