Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters that the Biden administration does not know the exact number of Americans seeking to leave Afghanistan or of those who have been evacuated, suggesting that some U.S. travelers bear some responsibility for not registering with the embassy in Kabul and ignoring public evacuation and no travel notices.
He said there are approximately 1,500 people who may be Americans left in Afghanistan. Still, the Biden administration does not know for sure 11 days after the evacuation operations began August 14, on the eve of the Taliban declaring victory from Kabul, stressing that estimates are fluid.
“These are dynamic calculations that we are working hour by hour to refine for accuracy,” he said of the estimated number of Americans the Biden Administration believes are actively seeking to get out of Afghanistan.
“The specific estimated number of Americans who are in Afghanistan and want to leave can go up … and it could go down,” the top diplomat added.
Blinken also confirmed reports that individuals have attempted to fraudulently claim U.S. citizenship to get out of Afghanistan, adding to the difficulty of calculating a precise number of Americans stranded in Afghanistan.
“We’ve also found that many people who contact us and identify themselves as American citizens … are not, in fact, U.S. citizens, something that can take some time to verify,” the secretary said in justifying why the Biden administration does not have an accurate count of U.S. citizens who want to leave Afghanistan.
Furthermore, Blinken conceded that the estimated 4,500 evacuations of Americans and their families might also be inaccurate, noting:
That [4,500 evacuations] number is also a dynamic one that’s because in this critical stretch we’re focused on getting Americans and their families on planes out of Afghanistan as quickly as possible and then processing the total numbers when they’re safely out of the country. We also verify the numbers to make sure we’re not inadvertently over counting or undercounting.
According to the secretary, an initial population of 6,000 U.S citizens wanted to leave Afghanistan when evacuation operations began on August 14, on the eve of the Taliban declaring victory from Kabul.
After the evacuation of nearly 4,500 of those alleged Americans and their families over the last ten days, approximately 1,500 individuals who may be American remained in Afghanistan, including 500 who were contacted over the past 24 hours and were provided specific instructions on how to get to the U.S.-controlled airport to board an evacuation flight.
“We believe the number of Americans actively seeking assistance to leave Afghanistan is lower [than 1,500] – likely significantly lower,” the secretary indicated.
However, Blinken stressed that the figures he provided for Americans still in Afghanistan and those who the U.S. has evacuated are “dynamic,” adding that accurate estimates are difficult to pinpoint.
In explaining why the Biden Administration still does not know precisely how many Americans are seeking to leave Afghanistan, Blinken said:
The U.S. government does not track Americans’ movements when they travel around the world. When Americans visit a foreign country or if they reside there, we encourage them to register with the U.S. embassy. Whether they do or not is up to them. … Then, when Americans leave a foreign country is also up to them to de-enroll.
Given the security situation in Afghanistan, for many years, we have urged Americans not to travel there. We’ve repeatedly asked Americans who are in Afghanistan to enroll, and 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.
Moreover, he said, some Americans may want to stay either because they are dual citizens who consider Afghanistan their home or they have not made up their minds yet.
When you take into account all of these inputs that we use to arrive at our assessments of the number of Americans still in Afghanistan and who want to leave, you start to understand why this is a hard number to pin down at any given moment and why we’re constantly refining it.
Echoing other Democrats, Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ), a House Foreign Affairs Committee member, noted that Blinken and top military officials have conceded that completing evacuations by the Taliban’s August 31 deadline for foreign military presence is unrealistic.
Nevertheless, Blinken said the Taliban had given the U.S. permission to continue evacuations after foreign forces leave Afghanistan.