U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken holds a press conference on Afghanistan at the State Department in Washington, DC on August 25, 2021.
Alex Brandon | Swimming pool | Reuters
WASHINGTON – The State Department said Thursday it is in contact with the 1,000 or so US citizens remaining in Afghanistan and that two-thirds of them are actively trying to leave the country.
Another 500 Americans have been evacuated in the past 24 hours, according to a State Department spokesman who requested anonymity to discuss the still-fluid numbers.
Collectively, this group of 1,500 U.S. citizens makes up the last of the roughly 6,000 Americans Secretary of State Antony Blinken said were in Afghanistan when the massive U.S. airlift began on August 14.
“The US government does not follow the movements of the Americans when they travel around the world,” said Blinken on Wednesday. “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.”
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“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 verify.” “
On Thursday, the State Department said that around 500 more people “pretending to be Americans in Afghanistan who want to leave,” and US diplomats tried to contact them.
But the official said the department was skeptical of some of these last-minute claims:
“In our experience, many of them will not turn out to be US citizens in need of our help,” the official said.
Of the roughly 660 US citizens who have been contacted by the State Department in the past day or two and are actively trying to leave Afghanistan, “many, if not most, of these people are almost or already out of the country,” the spokesman said.
The US is now also aware of “dozens more” American citizens “who do not want to leave Afghanistan for a number of reasons”.
The latest State Department figures underscore one of the most complex parts of the US withdrawal: the hunt down of every last American civilian in a country that lacks reliable internet and phone services.
American humanitarian workers and Christian missionaries have been active in Afghanistan for 20 years, often working in remote communities far from the big cities.
It was unclear how exactly the State Department tracked these last 1,000 people. Officials also didn’t say what would become of citizens who fail to leave the country before President Joe Biden’s August 31 deadline for military withdrawal.
Efforts to locate and remove individual US citizens became even more dangerous on Thursday when a suicide bombing outside the gates of Kabul airport killed 12 American soldiers and wounded 15 others.
A splinter group of ISIS in Afghanistan, ISIS-K, claimed responsibility for the attacks, in which at least 60 Afghan civilians were killed.
Biden will speak on Thursday at 5:00 p.m. to discuss the terrorist attacks and ongoing evacuation efforts.