WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that as many as 1,500 Americans may still need to be evacuated in Afghanistan, a calculation he described as “difficult to pinpoint, to pinpoint with absolute precision” at any given time.
Blinken said during a news conference that the US is currently “aggressively” approaching about 1,000 contacts “several times a day through multiple communication channels” to see if they still want to leave and give them instructions on how to do so. The final number could be lower, however, Blinken said.
Blinken added that the State Department has been in direct contact with 500 other Americans in the past 24 hours for instructions on how to safely get to the airport for evacuation.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks about refugee programs for Afghans who have helped the US during a briefing at the State Department in Washington, DC, on August 2, 2021.
Brendan Smialowski | Reuters
“The US government does not follow the movements of the Americans when they travel around the world,” said Blinken. “There could be other Americans in Afghanistan who have never signed up with the embassy, who have ignored public evacuation instructions, and have not yet identified themselves.”
“We have also found that many people who contact us and identify themselves as American citizens, even by completing and submitting repatriation assistance forms, are in fact not US citizens, which may take some time to decide to verify to stay in Afghanistan, “said the country’s top diplomat.
The US embassy in Afghanistan issued a security warning on its website early Thursday urging Americans not to travel to Kabul airport and warning some at certain gates to “leave immediately”.
“US citizens who are now at Abbey Gate, East Gate, or North Gate should leave immediately.” said the warning.
A State Department spokesman called it a “dynamic and volatile security environment”.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday that many of the 1,000 contacts the US is trying to reach are dual citizens who may not want to leave the country.
“Maybe you have an extended family there, maybe you have lived all your life in Afghanistan and are not ready to leave yet,” Psaki told reporters at a press conference. “Maybe they are working on a number of projects there and are not ready to leave yet. I know it’s hard for us to understand when we look at the pictures, but for many of these Afghans this is their home. “.”
Blinken’s press conference, his first since the Afghan government collapsed with the Taliban more than a week ago, comes as US and coalition forces step up emergency evacuation flights.
In the past 24 hours, Western forces evacuated 19,000 people from Kabul on 90 military cargo plane flights, which, according to the Pentagon, corresponds to a departure frequency every 39 minutes.
Evacuees wait to board a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 23, 2021.
Sgt. Isaiah Campbell | US Marine Corps | via Reuters
Since the mass evacuations began on August 14, around 82,300 people have been flown out of Afghanistan. Around 87,900 people have been evacuated since the end of July, including around 4,500 US citizens and their families.
The Pentagon announced on Wednesday that 10,000 people are currently waiting for a flight at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. Approximately 5,400 U.S. soldiers are helping with evacuation efforts, with nearly 200 U.S. military aircraft dedicated to the mission.
President Joe Biden reaffirmed Tuesday to leaders of the G-7, NATO, the United Nations and the European Union that the United States will withdraw its military from Afghanistan by the end of the month.
The president warned that staying in Afghanistan for extended periods of time poses serious risks to foreign troops and civilians. Biden said ISIS-K, an Afghanistan-based offshoot of the terrorist group, posed a growing threat to the airport.
“Every day we are there is another day we know that ISIS-K is trying to attack the airport and target both US and Allied forces and innocent civilians,” he said.
Read more about developments in Afghanistan:
The Taliban said Tuesday that the group would no longer allow Afghan nationals to leave the country on evacuation flights, nor would they accept an extension of the exit period beyond the end of the month.
“We are not in favor of allowing Afghans to leave the country,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told reporters during a press conference on Tuesday.
“She [the Americans] have the option, they have all the resources, they can take with them all the people who belong to them, but we will not allow Afghans to leave and we will not extend the deadline, “he said. August would be a “violation” of a promise by the Biden government to end the US military’s mission in the country, Mujahid said.
Clarification: Up to 1,500 Americans may still be waiting in Afghanistan to be evacuated. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has given 500 of them specific instructions on how to safely get to Hamid Karzai International Airport. The US is still trying to contact the remaining 1,000, although the number who actually want to leave may be lower, according to the State Department.
NBC News contributed to this report.