WASHINGTON: As many as 1,500 American citizens may still need to be evacuated from Afghanistan and the Taliban have pledged to allow some departures after US troops leave the country on August 31, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday.
Blinken told reporters that at least 4,500 American citizens of the 6,000 Americans who wanted to leave Afghanistan have departed.
He said officials have been in “direct contact” with another 500 Americans who want to leave and have provided them with “specific instructions on how to get to the airport safely.”
Officials were “aggressively reaching out” to the remaining 1,000 Americans to “determine whether they still want to leave,” he said.
“Some may no longer be in the country,” Blinken said. “Some may have claimed to be Americans but turn out not to be. Some may choose to stay.”
“Of the approximately 1,000, we believe the number of Americans actively seeking assistance to leave Afghanistan is significantly lower,” he said.
The US secretary of state also said the Taliban has agreed to allow Americans and “at-risk” Afghan nationals to leave after the August 31 date set by President Joe Biden for a full withdrawal of US troops.
“The Taliban have made public and private commitments to provide and permit safe passage for Americans, for third country nationals and for Afghans at risk going forward past August 31,” he said.
“They have a responsibility to hold to that commitment and provide safe passage for anyone who wishes to leave the country, not just for the duration of our evacuation relocation mission but for every day thereafter.”
Asked what is being done to keep Kabul airport functioning after US troops leave, Blinken said that regional countries were looking into “whether they can play a role in keeping the airport open.”
“The Taliban have made clear that they have a strong interest in having a functioning airport,” he said.
Asked about future relations with the Taliban, Blinken said the United States “will judge our engagement with any Taliban-led government in Afghanistan based on one simple proposition — our interests.”
“The nature of any relationship depends on the actions and conduct of the Taliban,” he said, citing a need for the fundamentalist Islamic group to “uphold the basic rights of the Afghan people” and not allow the country to be used “as a launching pad for terrorist attacks.”
“If it makes good on its commitments to allow people who want to leave Afghanistan to leave, that’s a government we can work with,” he said.
“If it doesn’t, we will make sure that we use every appropriate tool at our disposal to isolate that government and, as I said before, Afghanistan will be a pariah.”