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U.S. State Department: ‘We’re Not in a Position’ to Say How Many Americans Remain in Afghanistan

A Taliban patrol in Kabul, Afghanistan, October 4, 2021. (Jorge Silva/Reuters)

More than a month after the last U.S. forces departed Afghanistan, the U.S. State Department still cannot offer any specific figures on how many American citizens, green card holders, or Special Immigrant Visas remain in  Afghanistan. At yesterday’s State Department press briefing, with Ned Price:

QUESTION: The Qataris said yesterday that another charter flight had taken off with American citizens on board. Can you confirm whether or not that’s the case? If so, how many were on board and how many in total have now gotten out? And how many U.S. remain behind? Thanks.

MR PRICE: Thanks, Conor. So we continue to fulfill our pledge to U.S. citizens, to lawful permanent residents, and to Afghans to whom we have a special commitment. As you heard us say, we’ll be relentless in helping them depart Afghanistan if and when they choose to do so. Since late last month, we have assisted 105 U.S. citizens and 95 lawful permanent residents to depart.

Now, these are numbers of people whose individual departures we directly facilitated. An additional number of U.S. citizens and LPRs have departed on private charters or have independently crossed via land border, and they are not included in those tallies. There have been private charters that have departed in recent days, but we’re just not in a position to detail those from here.

Then later in the briefing:

QUESTION: Hi, Ned. Thank you. I just wanted to follow up on Afghanistan flights as well, but specifically on SIVs. Last week some SIV holders made it out on a chartered flight, and I’m wondering if – first of all, are you all relying on charter flights for SIVs at this moment? And then just looking ahead, what is the plan for SIVs since you guys have committed to help even after August 31st? Secretary Blinken talked about this in his testimony a bit, about a potential mechanism for people to get documents. I’m just wondering if you have any overall update on SIV relocation.

MR PRICE: Thank you very much. So it does remain a priority of ours, and we’ve spoken about the priority groups we’re assisting should they decide to leave Afghanistan. At the top is, of course, American citizens, lawful permanent residents, and then Afghans to whom we have a special commitment, and SIVs are certainly in that category.

We are continuing to process SIV applications at every stage of the SIV process, including by transferring cases to other U.S. embassies and consulates around the world where applicants are able to appear. We know, of course, that it is currently extremely difficult for Afghans to obtain a visa to a third country or to find a way to enter a third country, but we are developing processing alternatives so that we can continue to deliver these important consular services for the people of Afghanistan.

Yes, the State Department’s position remains that those who wish to leave Afghanistan should make an appointment with a U.S. Embassy outside of Afghanistan. But they’re still “developing processing alternatives.”

As for how many Americans and Afghan allies are left, the State Department offers no estimates, no ranges, no numbers. Once again, American citizens, an unknown but considerable number of U.S. green card holders, and more than one hundred thousand Afghan allies who qualified for Special Immigrant Visas remain trapped in Afghanistan, despite the president’s promise, “if there’s American citizens left, we’re gonna stay to get them all out.”

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