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Blinken: About 1,500 American Civilians Still in Afghanistan

As many as 1,500 American civilians remain in Afghanistan less than a week before U.S. military operations end there, with government officials trying to help them leave, determine whether they want such help or find out whether they have decided to stay, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday.The top U.S. diplomat said there were about 6,000 Americans in Afghanistan on August 14 when Taliban insurgents took military control of the country and evacuations began. Since then, he said, at least 4,500 Americans have been airlifted out of the country, including 500 in the last day.Speaking at the State Department, Blinken said, “Over the past 24 hours, we’ve been in direct contact with approximately 500 additional Americans and provided specific instructions on how to get to the airport safely.””For the remaining roughly 1,000 contacts that we had who may be Americans seeking to leave Afghanistan, we’re aggressively reaching out to them multiple times a day through multiple channels of communication,” he said.Blinken said some of the remaining people the State Department is trying to reach  “may not be American. Some may want to stay. Each has a set of personal considerations.”He said the State Department believes “the number of Americans actively seeking to leave Afghanistan is lower, likely significantly lower,” than the 1,000 or so it has not yet reached.He said Americans are not required to register with the State Department when they are overseas, making it difficult to know exactly how many are in Afghanistan.FILE – Evacuees wait to board a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 23. (US Marine Corps photo)Deadline approachingBlinken said U.S. officials had written 20,000 emails and made 45,000 phone calls trying to track down Americans ahead of President Joe Biden’s deadline of next Tuesday for removing all U.S. troops. The withdrawal comes after nearly 20 years of military operations that started with an invasion to root out the al-Qaida terrorists who attacked the U.S. on September 11, 2001, killing nearly 3,000 people.Now, with the end of U.S. operations, he said “it’s hard to overstate the complexity of the evacuation” effort. Some 82,000 people have already been flown out, about 45% of them Afghan women and children.At the same time, he said, the evacuation has been threatened by what he described as the “very real possibility” of an Islamic State attack on Hamid Karzai International Airport and the people waiting in line to leave the country.Even with the end of U.S. military involvement set for next Tuesday, Blinken said there is “no deadline in getting out Americans and Afghans who want to leave past August 31.”“The expectation of the world is that anyone who wants to leave still should be able to,” he said, promising to use “every diplomatic and economic assistance tool at our disposal” to pressure the Taliban to let people leave the country if they want.The U.S. Defense Department said about 19,000 Americans and Afghans were evacuated in a 24-hour period ending early Wednesday. Even so, officials said, another 10,000 people have crammed into the international airport in Kabul hoping to escape the country controlled by Taliban insurgents.Kabul Evacuations Ramp Up as G-7 Leaders Fail to Shift US DeadlineUS allies say they cannot operate evacuation flights without US firepower, raising fears that many citizens and eligible Afghans may be left behindA total of 90 U.S. military and international flights flew from Kabul in the last day, one every 39 minutes during some periods. In all, about 88,000 people have been evacuated since the operation began a few weeks ago.The scene at Hamid Karzai International Airport remains tense and chaotic, but Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said it “will not be an American responsibility” to control airport security there after August 31, the date U.S. President Joe Biden set for ending U.S. military operations in Afghanistan. Officials said they know there “are a lot of desperate people who want to leave.”For Some Afghan Women, Evacuation a Matter of Life or Death Esin, like other female students, especially those who also worked with Western embassies, missions and NGOs in Kabul, as she did, is desperate to get out of AfghanistanThe Pentagon said that all Afghans who supported U.S. operations over the last two decades and secured visas to enter the U.S. and have reached the airport will be evacuated. That could leave many others behind, unable to reach the airport past Taliban checkpoints.The U.S. military said it plans to continue its evacuation effort from the airport until the Tuesday deadline if needed, but toward the end will prioritize the removal of U.S. troops and military equipment. Kirby said there are currently 5,400 U.S. troops at the Kabul airport.Pentagon officials urged U.S. lawmakers to not travel to Kabul to witness the evacuation after Representatives Seth Moulton, a Democrat, and Peter Meijer, a Republican — both of whom served military tours of duty in the Mideast — made an unannounced trip to the Afghan capital this week to assess the situation.US Congressmen Visit Kabul Airport Amid Evacuation Effort Officials said such trips could be a distraction for military and diplomats“We conducted this visit in secret, speaking about it only after our departure, to minimize the risk and disruption to the people on the ground, and because we were there to gather information, not to grandstand,” the lawmakers said in a joint statement. The lawmakers released their statement after flying out of Kabul on a chartered plane. They said that in their view, after seeing the situation firsthand and speaking to commanders on the ground, “we won’t get everyone out” before Biden’s Tuesday deadline. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a statement Tuesday saying travel to the region by members of the House of Representatives would divert resources from the evacuation operation. “Given the urgency of this situation, the desire of some (lawmakers) to travel to Afghanistan and the surrounding areas is understandable and reflective of the high priority that we place on the lives of those on the ground,” Pelosi said.“However, I write to reiterate that the Departments of Defense and State have requested that (lawmakers) not travel to Afghanistan and the region during this time of danger. Ensuring the safe and timely evacuation of individuals at risk requires the full focus and attention of the U.S. military and diplomatic teams on the ground in Afghanistan.” The Associated Press cited a senior U.S. official saying the Biden administration viewed the visit by Moulton and Meijer as unhelpful, and other officials said it was seen as a distraction to the troops who have been tasked with securing the airport to facilitate evacuation flights. South Korea announced Wednesday it planned to evacuate around 380 people who supported the country’s official activities in Afghanistan. Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.

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