The United States has heard from an additional 500 people claiming to be Americans who are in need of evacuation from Afghanistan, the State Department said Thursday, hours after twin explosions killed dozens of people outside Kabul’s international airport.
Facing an end-of-month troop withdrawal deadline, the United States since mid-August has airlifted tens of thousands of Americans and Afghans from Kabul’s international airport to US military installations, including the al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar.
On Thursday, a State Department spokesperson said the United States is in contact with roughly 1,000 Americans believed to remain in the Taliban-controlled country, the vast majority of whom say they’ve taken steps to leave.
Of that group, “We believe many, if not most, of these individuals are nearly or already out of the country,” said the spokesperson. “And, we know that dozens more do not wish to leave Afghanistan for a range of reasons.”
The Biden administration has stressed that it is difficult to know exactly how many Americans are in Afghanistan because they are not required to inform the US Embassy ahead of their travel or when departing.
The State Department on Thursday said it has heard from 500 additional people “purporting to be Americans in Afghanistan who want to leave.”
“Based on our experience, many of these will not turn out to be US citizens in need of our assistance,” the spokesperson said. “The new submissions speak to the realities of the situation we have been addressing over the past 12 days — the situation is dynamic and so is the data.”
The latest evacuation figures come a day after the Biden administration said as many as 1,500 US citizens remained, 500 of whom were evacuated as of Thursday, the State Department confirmed. The administration has not provided estimates on the number of legal permanent residents seeking evacuation to the United States.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that “there is no deadline” on US efforts to evacuate remaining American citizens. He told reporters that the Taliban has made “public and private commitments” to allow safe passage for Americans, third-country nationals and at-risk Afghans.
But complicating the mass evacuation Thursday were separate blasts at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul that were claimed by the Islamic State (IS). The Pentagon said Thursday that 12 service members were killed and 15 wounded; Afghanistan’s Health Ministry told CNN that more than 60 others died at least 140 others were wounded.
In a Thursday evening address, President Joe Biden said the US military will continue evacuation efforts of American citizens, green card holders and vulnerable Afghans, despite the continued threat.
After the US troop withdrawal, “There will be numerous opportunities to continue to provide access for additional persons to get out of Afghanistan,” Biden said, adding that that doing so could involve cooperation with the Taliban.
Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie, head of US Central Command, told reporters Thursday that the IS terror attacks are likely to continue and that the United States is still monitoring “extremely active threats” to the airport.
McKenzie also acknowledged the “temporary suffering” experienced by many evacuees housed at temporary facilities in the Gulf and Europe. In emails leaked to Axios, US Central Command officials describe the al-Udeid base in Qatar as a “living hell” for Afghans, with floors covered by “trash, urine, fecal matter, spilled liquids and vomit.”
McKenzie said the United States is working to expand capacity of its temporary safe havens to ensure they are sanitary and humane, while also looking for ways to expedite processing of the stranded evacuees.