Blinken says up to 1,500 Americans may still need evacuation from Afghanistan

Washington — Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday the U.S. has airlifted 4,500 U.S. citizens and their families out of Afghanistan in the last 10 days, and there may be up to 1,500 Americans who still want to leave the country as part of the massive evacuation effort by the Biden administration in the wake of the Taliban’s takeover.

Speaking from the State Department, Blinken painted the clearest picture yet from the Biden administration about the number of Americans in Afghanistan and awaiting evacuation from the country. 

Beginning August 14, there were as as many 6,000 U.S. citizens in Afghanistan who wanted to leave, Blinken said, and 4,500 Americans and their families have been shuttled out of the country in the last 10 days.

The State Department has been in direct contact with 500 additional Americans in Afghanistan over the last 24 hours and provided them with specific instructions on how to get to the airport in Kabul safely, Blinken said.

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks about Afghanistan during a media briefing at the State Department on August 25, 2021, in Washington, D.C. ALEX BRANDON/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

For the remaining roughly 1,000 people who may be Americans who want to leave, Blinken said the U.S. is “aggressively” reaching out to them through various channels, including phone, email and text messages, to determine if they still want to get out of the country.

“Some may no longer be in the country, some may have claimed to be Americans but turn out not to be, some may choose to stay,” he said, adding the administration believes far fewer than the remaining 1,000 are actively seeking assistance to leave Afghanistan.

Blinken detailed extensive efforts taken by the Biden administration to reach U.S. citizens in Afghanistan since mid-August, saying they have sent 20,000 emails and made 45,000 phone calls to those enrolled with the State Department.

“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,” he said. “That effort will continue every day past August 31.”

The U.S. has evacuated roughly 82,300 people on U.S. military and coalition flights from Kabul since August 14, the White House said earlier Wednesday, as the Biden administration warns of growing risk to American and allied forces on the ground in Afghanistan with each day that passes.

The administration has ramped up the pace of evacuations of U.S. citizens and at-risk Afghans from Kabul in recent days, with roughly 19,000 people airlifted from the main airport in the capital over a 24-hour period beginning early Tuesday morning.

Forty-two U.S. military flights — C-17s and C-130s — carried about 11,200 evacuees, and 48 coalition flights brought 7,800 out of Afghanistan, the White House said. A plane left the airport in Kabul every 39 minutes Tuesday, and there are more than 10,000 people at the airport waiting for flights to leave Afghanistan, Army Major General Hank Taylor, deputy director of the joint staff for regional operations, said during a press briefing at the Pentagon on Wednesday.

Since the end of July, 87,900 people have been relocated from Afghanistan on U.S. military and coalition flights, the White House said. 

“We’re going to continue to work the evacuation mission right up until the last day,” Pentagon press secretary Kirby told reporters.

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Refugees board a U.S. aircraft heading to Germany after being evacuated from Kabul, at the Torrejón de Ardoz air base near Madrid on August 24, 2021. PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP via Getty Images

Taylor said the U.S. conducted an operation Tuesday night to rescue fewer than 20 people by helicopter and bring them to the airport. While Kirby would not say whether they were Americans, he said the passengers were picked up in Kabul.

The helicopter operation marks the third to get people to the airport that has been acknowledged by the Pentagon. Since August 14, there have been no U.S. troops killed and one minor injury, Kirby said.

The mission in Afghanistan is set to end on August 31, and President Biden said Tuesday the U.S. is “on pace” to meet his deadline for withdrawing all remaining U.S. forces from the country, which will bring an end to the two-decade war there.

In remarks from the White House, the president warned that American and allied troops, as well as civilians, face added risk with each day of operations, but noted that completion of airlifts out of Kabul by August 31 depends on cooperation from the Taliban and access to the airport.

“The longer we stay, starting with the acute and growing risk of an attack by a terrorist group known as ISIS-K, an ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan — which is the sworn enemy of the Taliban as well — every day we’re on the ground is another day we know that ISIS-K is seeking to target the airport and attack both U.S. and allied forces and innocent civilians,” Mr. Biden said.

In the event evacuations are not finished in the next six days, the president said he has asked the Pentagon and State Department for “contingency plans to adjust the timetable.”

The Taliban has said the U.S. must complete its withdrawal by August 31 and will not allow extensions to the deadline.