Secretary of State Antony Blinken gave few details and dodged several questions about the State Department’s efforts to evacuate Americans and Afghans from the Taliban-controlled country in a lackluster press conference on Friday.
Following his comments, Blinken met with officials at the US Embassy from Kabul on Friday afternoon and praised their “resilience, dedication and professionalism” in a statement posted on Twitter.
Hours after the military left Kabul on Aug. 30, Blinken admitted that between 100 and 200 American citizens who wanted to leave Kabul were left behind as the last C-17 jet lifted off the tarmac at Hamid Karzai International Airport.
Early Friday in the news conference, he said the US State Department had issued 19 warnings to US citizens registered at the embassy in Kabul to leave the country.
He was asked about the status of those Americans today, but he wouldn’t say how many were left.
“We are in very regular contact with a relatively small number of US citizens who remain in Afghanistan and have indicated that they want to leave,” he said.
Blinken went out of his way to reiterate that the State Department sent warnings to those Americans it knew were in Kabul before the Taliban took over — seemingly accusing them of not taking the initiative to flee earlier.
Blinken offered plenty of assurances about the US’s “diplomatic mission” to get Americans and Afghan allies to safety – but declined to say how many of each were left in Afghanistan
The Secretary of State met with staff at the US embassy in Kabul . after his remarks
“Over many months, going back to March, we made 19 different notices to those registered with the embassy, as I said, encouraging and then urging them to leave Afghanistan,” he said.
He claimed those Americans lived there “almost exclusively” for years and were hesitant to leave when those warnings were issued and “it is especially painful for them to make the decision whether or not to leave.”
Blinken stressed that the State Department was working with those US citizens based on their “desire to leave” — meaning some had wanted to stay and live under Taliban rule, despite the world witnessing chaotic scenes at the airport. in August when thousands tried to flee.
He even quantified the number of times his department contacted them during the evacuation – 55,000 phone calls and 30,000 emails over two weeks – but failed to give a figure of how many did not heed the warnings.
As he left the briefing, a reporter yelled, “So no American made it? Is that what you answer?’
But Blinken marched silently out of the briefing room.
Blinken said on Monday that as many as 200 Americans may still be actively trying to flee Afghanistan after the US military ended the evacuation that day.
A US military transport plane flies over relatives of a man killed by a US drone strike in Kabul
The Biden official told reporters the US is looking at possible overland routes to evacuate Americans and Afghan US military allies still stranded in Kabul.
Afghanistan’s mountainous region is notoriously inhospitable and would likely pose a number of threats to those leaving — and without US military guards to escort them.
Earlier in the briefing, he addressed the thousands of special immigrant visa applicants still stranded in Afghanistan, many of whom have targets on their backs for aiding the US military during its 20-year war.
He said the government is looking at “alternative” application routes for those individuals so they don’t have to wait in the Taliban-ruled country, including possible locations in third countries where they can wait safely.
Blinken also thanked US veterans working to help stranded Afghans and said the State Department was in contact with those groups about how to get out.
“Helping these Afghans is more than just a priority for us, it’s a deep-rooted commitment and it’s an ongoing one. We’re going to do everything we can to preserve it,” he said.
There were no US citizens on the last five flights from Kabul, military officials said earlier
An image of the last soldier to leave Afghanistan after 20 years of constant presence. With military gone, Blinken said US is on new ‘diplomatic mission’ to get people out
During the briefing, Blinken was also asked about the number of SIV applicants remaining in Afghanistan.
Another State Department official revealed on Wednesday that “the majority” of SIVs were left behind, despite repeated promises from government officials to President Biden himself that the US would do everything it could to get them out.
Blinken gave a roundabout response praising the 124,000 people evacuated by US-led flights and said efforts are currently underway to assess how many of the thousands of Afghans at US assembly points or safe harbor sites in the Middle East and Europe are SIV- applicants were or other vulnerable Afghans.
He again refused to give a specific number of the number of people who were abandoned.
“What I can tell you is this: Of the approximately 124,000 people who have been evacuated, the vast majority – 75.80 percent – are at risk. And of that will be a significant number of SIVs,” said Blinken.
He assured that there was “no deadline” for the diplomatic phase of the evacuation.