At least 500 U.S. citizens remain in Afghanistan who want to leave the country amid the U.S. military’s evacuations, according to Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Since Aug. 14, over 82,000 people have been evacuated from the country by the U.S. and allies — including about 4,500 Americans, Blinken said at a press briefing on Wednesday.
The U.S. Embassy has been in direct contact with 500 Americans who remain and want to leave, and have provided instructions to do so, but there may still be up to 1,000 additional Americans in the country, according to embassy estimates, Blinken said.
The U.S. is “aggressively reaching out” to see if those up to 1,000 people are in fact correctly identified as Americans, if they are still in the country, and if they want to leave.
Others evacuated include Afghans who have worked with the U.S. during the past 20 years of U.S. military involvement in the country, as well as other Afghans “at risk.”
After two decades of U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, there is now less than a week left until President Joe Biden’s withdrawal deadline of Aug. 31. Biden said the U.S. expects to meet that deadline, but could remain beyond “should that become necessary.”
“This is about real people, many scared, many desperate,” Blinken said, adding that he’d seen the reports of the 2-year-old daughter of an Afghan former translator for an American company who was trampled outside the airport as crowds sought to flee. “We know that lives and futures hang in the balance during these critical days.”
The Taliban said Tuesday that they are no longer allowing Afghans to evacuate. White House press secretary Jen Psaki later clarified that Afghans prioritized by the U.S. would still be able to leave. It is unclear how many Afghans who aided U.S. troops during the past two decades still remain in the country despite wanting to leave.
Blinken said Wednesday that while evacuating Americans was a top priority, the U.S. was “committed to getting out as many Afghans at risk as we can,” including locally employed staff in the embassy, special immigrant visa program participants, as well as “other Afghans at risk.”
Blinken thanked the over two dozen countries who have been helping to transport, temporarily house or resettle evacuees, and insisted that the Aug. 31 deadline would not mean an end to the U.S. and allies assisting people who want to depart from the country.
“Let me be crystal clear about this: There is no deadline on our work to help any remaining American citizens who decide they want to leave to do so, along with the many Afghans who have stood by us these many years and want to leave. … That will continue every day past Aug. 31,” he said, noting the Taliban have made commitments to provide safe passage to Americans, other foreigners and “Afghans at risk” going forward.
Many people have raised concerns about women’s rights in Afghanistan amid the Taliban takeover, after rights were severely curtailed under the group’s rule from 1996 to 2001. At the time, girls were banned from school and women from work, and women were allowed out in public only if fully covered and escorted by a male relative. Though the Taliban has said girls will be able to attend school and women’s rights will be respected “within the framework of Islamic law,” many have expressed skepticism that girls and women will be allowed to live freely under the ultraconservative group’s rule.
Asked about how the U.S. can ensure women’s rights will be protected in Afghanistan after the evacuation, Blinken noted that about 45% of the 82,000 evacuated so far have been women and children, and said the U.S. is “intensely focused on getting women at risk out of harm’s way.”
“Going forward, I will use every diplomatic, economic, political and assistance tool at my disposal, working closely with allies and partners, to do everything possible to uphold their basic rights.”