State Department tells congressional staffers it’s in contact with 368 Americans left in Afghanistan

State Department tells congressional staffers it’s in contact with 368 Americans left in Afghanistan

The US State Department informed congressional staffers it has been in contact with 368 Americans who remain in Afghanistan — 178 of whom want to leave.

The number is substantially higher than the Biden administration previously said were left behind in the country following the US’ chaotic exit in August. 

Administration officials previously stated that roughly 100 Americans who wanted to be evacuated remained in the area. 

One staffer on the call said they were told by a State Department official that the agency is working with airlines, the Qatari and Pakistani embassies and communicating with the Taliban to get visas distributed to individuals currently trapped in the country amid logistical challenges. 

“I’ll say there are tactical difficulties, you have to be in person to get a visa foiled, but obviously there’s no embassy in Afghanistan anymore, so State is having trouble working through third parties,” the aide said, adding they were told that the agency is setting up several conduits to contact the recently established task force to aid in evacuations. 

The Biden administration came under fire from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle for its handling of the withdrawal of troops, having abandoned Bagram Air Base before all Americans and US allies were safely evacuated, resulting in the deaths of 13 US service members during an ISIS-K attack on the Kabul airport. 

A newborn baby is looked after prior to taking off with other Afghan evacuees on a C-17 Globemaster III at a Middle East staging area on Aug. 23, 2021.
A newborn baby is looked after prior to taking off with other Afghan evacuees on a C-17 Globemaster III at a Middle East staging area on Aug. 23, 2021.
via REUTERS

Lawmakers from both parties recently told The Post they speculated that the number of US citizens who remained in the country was higher than what was being publicly projected. 

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Cailf.) — a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs who recently led a bipartisan group of lawmakers on a trip abroad to help evacuate constituents who remain in Afghanistan — raised concerns that the administration may have intentionally misled the public on the number of individuals that the failed to evacuate ahead of the chaotic U.S. military departure. 

“This administration thinks it can hide the truth and turn the page on its Afghanistan debacle — but the full story of its betrayal of our citizens will be told,” he told The Post. 

House Foreign Affairs Ranking Member Mike McCaul (R-Texas) said he was informed that that the State Department is now working with US special operations veterans groups –Task Force Pineapple and Task Force Dunkirk — which to get Americans and their allies that want to leave out.

He said their logistical knowledge has helped the government locate additional U.S. citizens and SIVS that remain. 

McCaul, who was highly critical of the Biden administration’s handling of the withdrawal of troops in the region, said he is encouraged by the State Department’s decision to hire former Ambassador Elizabeth “Beth” Jones to help take charge of evacuation efforts. 

“They’ve hired the well-respected ambassador to integrate the further evacuation of all American citizens and Special Immigrant Visa holders,” he told The Post. “They are also very focused on SIV applicants.”

Multiple lawmakers said major concerns remain over the ability to evacuate Afghan Special Forces, which have become major targets of the Taliban, and interpreters in addition to Americans, noting that the numbers could be even higher than the State Department is currently aware of attempting to leave. 

The jump in numbers comes the same week the State Department’s acting inspector general Diana Shaw announced her office is looking into several aspects of the Afghanistan withdrawal fiasco, NBC News reported.

Shaw told the heads of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, House Foreign Affairs Committee, and the House and Senate intelligence committees that her office’s probe will focus on issues including the State Department’s Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program, the processing and resettlement of Afghans in the US and the evacuation of the American Embassy in Kabul as the Taliban approached the Afghan capital in mid-August.

The Pentagon has also announced reviews of the chaotic withdrawal, particularly a botched Aug. 29 drone strike in Kabul, which killed 10 Afghan civilians including a US-linked aid worker and seven children. The strike was launched in retaliation to the ISIS-K attack. 

Last week, State Department spokesman Ned Price said that at least 129 US citizens and 115 green card holders had been flown out of Afghanistan since Aug. 31.

He did not say how many remain, but insisted that “our commitment to Americans, to [legal permanent residents], to Afghans to whom we have a special commitment, is as strong as ever. And we are continuing to work with them and to facilitate the departure from Afghanistan, again, for those who wish to leave.”

The official number of Afghan allies left behind has not been released, but some organizations working to resettle them in the US have said the number could be as high as 75,000.

Many allies, including an Afghan interpreter who helped rescue President Biden when he was a Senator in 2008, have gone through strenuous journeys to escape the embattled country.

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