How did the US help four American citizens escape Afghanistan?
State Department announced that four American citizens had been evacuated by an “overland route,” after US forces had left the country in late August.
On Monday 6 September, a senior State Department official told CNN that the agency had effectively evacuated four Americans through an “overland route,” meaning that planes were not involved in the operation. The four individuals consisted of a woman from Texas and her three children. Little has been released on the family reasons for privacy reasons.
The family traveled by road during their journey, which included making stops at more than twenty Taliban checkpoints. While they had been held up for more than ten hours at one stop and thought of turning back to Kabul, their US government contacts facilitating the departure urged them to stick to the plan.
In the end, they made it to a third country -- which has not been made public --, and the Taliban did not attempt to stop them. The family was met by officials from the US State Department when they reached the border. In an attempt to keep the route open as an evacuation option, the federal government has not released any further details.
The Taliban has stated publicly that any foreign national or Afghan civilian able to provide the correct documentation will be allowed to leave the country.
However, there have been recent reports that the Taliban has held up planes looking to depart from Mazar-i-Sharif International Airport located in the north of the country. During an interview on Fox News Sunday, Congressman Michael McCaul of Texas reported that six planes were held “hostage” and prevented from leaving the country. Onboard were American citizens -- the number remains unknown -- and Afghans that were looking to flee.
On Tuesday morning from Doha, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said that very few Americans were looking to leave through that airport; no official number has been made public. While not an excuse for the incident, in an interview with Business Insider, a spokesperson from the State Department said that they could not confirm the details or experiences without a presence on the ground. The official added that the agency “will hold the Taliban to its pledge to let people freely depart Afghanistan.”
How many Americans are still in Afghanistan?
The evacuation of the four US citizens occurred nearly a week after the 31 August deadline set by President Biden. On Sunday, 5 September, White House Chief of Staff Ron Klien told CNN’s Dana Bash that the administration estimated around 100 American citizens left in Afghanistan.
However, the true number is difficult to calculate.
Earlier in the evacuation, the State Department failed to provide an accurate headcount of those in the country, shifting the blame to those who had neglected to register thier presence in the country with the agency. How it would be possible not to have a solid understanding of how many citizens resid in a country you are at war with is a question that has been tossed around in many circles of late.
This 100 figure tossed around by State Department officials has been refuted by many “ad-hoc” groups working to evacuate Americans and Afghans.
One of these is called Digital Dunkirk, which is often supported by veterans of both the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
An Iraq War veteran, Alex Plistas, told the Associated Press that Digital Dunkirk “received calls from six U.S. citizens stuck in Afghanistan in just one day earlier this week — and none had registered with the U.S. Embassy.”
In addition to the lack of an official list of citizens in the country, many critics believe two main groups are being left out of the State Department’s numbers: US green card holders and families. Afghanistan War veteran and rescue coordinator Chuck Nadd told the AP that “the numbers being reported back to him by 180 Digital Dunkirk volunteers suggest there are hundreds of green card holders desperate to get out.