As Americans scramble to escape Afghanistan, Washington is apparently unsure exactly how many U.S. citizens are currently in the Taliban-controlled nation.
In an interview with CNN, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said that he could not give a “precise number” of Americans in Afghanistan. Sullivan stated that the government has been in touch with a “few thousand” Americans and was working to get them to safety. In another interview with NBC, Sullivan estimated that “roughly a few thousand” Americans were attempting to leave Afghanistan.
When Pentagon press secretary John Kirby was asked by a reporter about the number of Americans, he responded by saying, “I don’t know.” When the reporter pressed on and asked why the U.S. does not have an accurate count, Kirby said that Americans are not obligated to register their presence in another country.
“The State Department would be a better place to go for an estimate of how many Americans are in Afghanistan or in and around Kabul. That is not a figure that the United States military would know,” Kirby said.
However, when State Department spokesperson Ned Price was asked the count, he failed to give a satisfactory answer, admitting that the Biden administration does not have a full count.
“We’re just not in a position to give a number right now. We’re more broadly, not in a position to offer an aggregate figure, because we are putting forward offers to individuals who may be interested in relocating,” Price said.
When Americans come to Afghanistan, they are asked to register at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. However, not all of them register. There are also those who register but leave the country without notifying the embassy.
According to a Washington Post report published on Aug. 16, an anonymous Biden administration official revealed that an estimated 10,000 American citizens are in Afghanistan, with the majority of them in or around Kabul. George W. Bush’s former Assistant Secretary of State, Robert Charles, believes that there are between 15,000 and 40,000 Americans scattered across the country.
While Americans are desperately trying to get out, Kirby told a Fox News reporter that U.S. citizens will not be prioritized for evacuation. “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. SIV refers to Special Immigrant Visas for Afghans who helped the U.S. in its two-decade war in the country.
On Sunday, President Joe Biden said that nearly 28,000 people have been flown out since Aug. 14, a number that also includes Afghan nationals. A day earlier, Major General William Taylor from the Pentagon’s Joint Staff said that roughly 2,500 Americans had been evacuated.