There are about 175 Americans still in Afghanistan, and some of them are being held captive by the Taliban, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Congress on Thursday.
As the U.S. approaches the two-year mark since the catastrophic withdrawal, GOP lawmakers called that situation “inexcusable.”
Mr. Blinken said there are “several” Americans actively being held by the Taliban.
“We are working to secure their freedom. The families have asked that we protect their identities and don’t speak publicly to their cases,” he said.
The Taliban took control of Afghanistan in the middle of August 2021 as the U.S.-backed government collapsed in anticipation of American troops’ final withdrawal at the end of that month.
U.S. forces held onto the airport in Kabul to facilitate a chaotic airlift that brought out tens of thousands of people — though many of them were not priority cases — and left behind thousands who should have been evacuated.
Mr. Blinken in September 2021 said the State Department was in touch with perhaps a hundred American citizens still inside the country looking to leave.
It soon became clear that his number was a deep underestimate of the situation.
On Thursday, Mr. Blinken said the U.S. has now helped orchestrate about 975 evacuations of American citizens since the U.S. withdrawal.
There are 175 citizens still there, he said. Some of them have been in Afghanistan since the fall of the government, while others had left but went back.
The secretary said 44 Americans are “ready to leave.”
“We are working to effectuate their departure,” he told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Rep. Joe Wilson, South Carolina Republican, said the U.S. needs to do everything it can.
“It’s just inexcusable,” he said, ticking off a litany of ills he said followed from the botched withdrawal, including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and increased Chinese threats to Taiwan.
Mr. Blinken defended the withdrawal.
“I see us ending America’s longest war. I think that’s a good thing for the United States,” he said.
Mr. Wilson countered that the country has re-emerged as a terrorism threat.
“You’ve created a safe haven in Afghanistan. I mean it’s inconceivable,” he said.
In addition to Americans stranded, the U.S. left behind thousands of Afghans who assisted the U.S. military and may have been eligible for the Special Immigrant Visa to give them a permanent place here.
Many of those who were part of the airlift had no such ties. Instead, they were Kabul’s middle class — people who were able to reach the airport amid the chaos of the final weeks.
Mr. Blinken said his department has more than 100 people working on those cases.
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