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More than 82,300 people have been evacuated from Afghanistan over the last 10 days, Army Maj. Gen. William Taylor told reporters Wednesday, including roughly 19,000 evacuees who departed the Kabul airport over the last 24 hours.
“These numbers are testament to the hardworking and brave service members” on the ground in Kabul, Taylor said, noting that during the past day, approximately one evacuation flight departed Kabul every 39 minutes.
According to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, those who have been evacuated so far include at least 4,500 U.S. citizens and their immediate family members.
“More than 500 of those Americans were evacuated in just the last day alone,” Blinken told reporters at the State Department on Wednesday afternoon.
Blinken said that when the U.S. began its emergency evacuation operation on Aug. 14, following the Taliban takeover of Kabul, “there were as many as 6,000 U.S. citizens in Afghanistan who wanted to leave.”
Over the last 24 hours, he said, the State Department has been in direct contact with approximately 500 additional Americans still in Afghanistan and has provided them with specific instructions on how to get out of the country. He said the department is “aggressively reaching out multiple times a day, through multiple channels,” including phone, email and text messages, to determine whether the remaining 1,000 Americans who previously said they wanted to leave still want to do so.
“Of this list of 1,000, we believe the number of Americans actively seeking assistance to leave is likely significantly lower,” Blinken said, adding that some of these people may have already left the country, while others may not in fact be U.S. citizens.
Biden administration officials have previously been vague about the number of Americans who are in Afghanistan, and the numbers provided by Blinken on Wednesday amounted to the most detailed assessment that the press has received to date on the effort to evacuate U.S. citizens from the country. But, he cautioned, “this is both incredibly complicated and incredibly fluid. Any number I give you right now is likely to be out of date by the time we leave this briefing room.”
“The U.S. government does not track Americans’ movements when they travel around the world,” Blinken said. U.S. citizens who visit or reside in a foreign country are not required to enroll with the U.S. Embassy there, making the exact number of Americans in another country at a given time “difficult to pin down,” he continued.
“There could be other Americans in Afghanistan who never enrolled with the embassy, who ignored public evacuation notices and have not yet identified themselves to us,” Blinken said, noting that the State Department began efforts to repatriate the Americans living in Afghanistan before President Biden announced his plan to withdraw U.S. troops from the country in April.
“Since March of this year, we’ve sent 19 separate messages to Americans enrolled with the embassy in Kabul encouraging and then urging them to leave the country,” he said. Since the evacuation effort began on Aug. 14, the State Department has sent more than 20,000 emails and made over 40,000 phone calls to Americans in Afghanistan to find out if they want to leave the country and, if so, tell them how.
Blinken said that Americans, as well as at-risk Afghans, who want to leave the country will still be able to do so after Aug. 31, when U.S. military presence in Afghanistan is scheduled to end.
"This effort does not end on Aug. 31,” he said. “It will continue as long as it takes to help get people out of Afghanistan who wish to leave."
Blinken did not elaborate on how the U.S. intends to get people out of Afghanistan once the military withdraws, saying only that officials are “currently having those discussions through diplomatic channels.”
Asked about plans to continue helping get Americans and Afghans to safety after Aug. 31, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby told reporters, “I wouldn’t anticipate that there would be a military role in that assistance.”
Biden said Tuesday that the military is on track to complete its evacuation efforts by the Aug. 31 deadline, though he said he has requested contingency plans from the Pentagon and State Department in case an extension becomes necessary. Biden explained that part of the urgency stems from the growing threat that U.S. troops and others at the Kabul airport face from the terrorist group Islamic State Khorasan, or ISIS-K.
“Every day we’re on the ground is another day we know ISIS-K is seeking to target the airport,” Biden said. “The sooner we can finish, the better.”
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