It is now almost standard for U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price to get a question about how many American citizens and how many green card holders are still trying to get out of Afghanistan in each briefing, and for Price to say a lot without giving much of a number, estimate, or range. During last Thursday’s briefing, Price once again insisted that progress was being made, despite having the same number of evacuees to offer as Monday.
QUESTION: Senator [Richard] Blumenthal [of Connecticut] says that two charter flights have left Mazar-e-Sharif and made it to Doha with 800 Americans and Afghan allies. I wonder, one, what role the State Department played in any of that, and two, how many Americans do you think are still in need of evacuation.
MR PRICE: Well, let me start with that second question first. This is a figure that continues to be dynamic, and it continues to be dynamic because it’s a number that goes down with each flight, with each overland transfer, with each departure of a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident from Afghanistan for those who wish to do so. It also goes up because – especially in recent weeks because we have been quite successful with our efforts to facilitate the departure of Americans and lawful permanent residents and others who wish to depart Afghanistan. You’ve seen that in the context of the flights that have departed from Kabul International Airport; you referenced some of the private charter flights as well. I made a reference to overland transfers additionally.
Since August 31st, we have assisted 105 U.S. citizens and 95 lawful permanent residents to depart.
Price said that an additional number of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents have departed on charters or have independently — on their own — crossed a land border, but that he could offer no figures for those kinds of departures. He later elaborated:
When it comes to the number of Americans who remain in Afghanistan, this is a figure, again, that is dynamic. We said as of a couple weeks ago the figure was around a hundred Americans in Afghanistan who wished to depart at that time. This – of course, since then, several dozen Americans have departed Afghanistan with our assistance or via other means. But we’re also aware that, again, as we have demonstrated our ability to affect the departure from Afghanistan of Americans who wish to leave, others have raised their hands. And so this is a number that is changing by the day and it is a number that is by no means static. So —
QUESTION: Blumenthal says dozens are in contact with his office. So is it dozens? Is that —
MR PRICE: We are certainly in contact with dozens of Americans in Afghanistan who wish to leave, but it is difficult for us to put a firm figure on it, just because people are departing, and as Americans in Afghanistan who previously may not have made themselves known to us or previously may have told us “I am content to stay here” or “I am going to stay here” for various reasons, as they see our ability to facilitate the departure of Americans and LPRs, they are raising their hands for the first time or changing their calculus after seeing that.
One reporter observed that the figure 105 U.S. citizens and 95 LPRs was the same figure as a week and a half ago. When asked why the figure hadn’t changed, and why the State Department had not been able to facilitate more Americans getting out, Price elaborated:
It’s a combination of a number of things. There are – there is a universe of Americans who wish to leave. There is a smaller universe of Americans who are fully prepared to leave in various ways, whether that means they or their family members have travel documents, are ready to leave at this moment. That’s a smaller universe than the universe of Americans that we’re in touch with that have expressed some desire to leave.
On August 31, President Biden insisted that his team and the relevant government agencies had prepared for every scenario: “I instructed our national security team to prepare for every eventuality — even that one. And that’s what we did. So, we were ready when the Afghan Security Forces — after two decades of fighting for their country and losing thousands of their own — did not hold on as long as anyone expected. We were ready when they and the people of Afghanistan watched their own government collapse and their president flee amid the corruption and malfeasance, handing over the country to their enemy, the Taliban, and significantly increasing the risk to U.S. personnel and our allies.”