The Corner

National Security & Defense

What, Specifically, Does ‘Want to Leave Afghanistan’ Mean, and Who Qualifies?

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken holds a joint news conference in London on May 3, 2021. (Chris J. Ratcliffe/Pool via Reuters)

Antony Blinken said this afternoon that “the specific estimated number of Americans in Afghanistan who want to leave can go up as people respond to our outreach for the first time, and can go down when we reach Americans we thought were in Afghanistan but have already left.”

Keen-eyed readers will note that “want to leave” language again.

In a tweet reporting Blinken’s address, Idrees Ali of Reuters used the phrase “actively seeking” in describing the “less than 1,000 American citizens” who are yet to be evacuated.

In order to understand what’s going on here, we need a hard definition of what phrases such as “want to leave” and “actively seeking” mean — along with a detailed estimate of how many Americans in Afghanistan qualify for that description and how many do not. Blinken noted that the “number of Americans in Afghanistan who want to leave can go up as people respond to our outreach for the first time.” Does this mean that anyone who hasn’t been able to contact the U.S. government is being counted as a “doesn’t want to leave”? And, if so, how many of those people does Blinken believe there are left?

The press corps, which has been quite effective during this debacle, should make it a priority to find answers to these questions. Without them, the numbers are meaningless.

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