Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday the Taliban is not blocking those with valid travel documents from leaving Afghanistan but conceded that some outgoing flights, including for a group at an international airport in the northern part of the country, have been stalled.
The flights out of Afghanistan have seemingly been held back, Blinken said, as those eligible evacuees remain intermixed with other people who are seeking to flee the country but are not in possession of the necessary documentation.
“There are groups of people who are grouped together, some of whom have the appropriate travel documents — an American passport, a green card, a visa — and others do not,” Blinken told reporters at a news conference in Doha, Qatar.
“It’s my understanding that the Taliban has not denied exit to anyone holding a valid document, but they have said that those without valid documents at this point can’t leave,” Blinken said. “But because all of these people are grouped together, that’s meant that flights have not been allowed to go.”
Blinken’s remarks came after the State Department confirmed Monday that four Americans had been evacuated from Afghanistan into a bordering country. But reports indicate that more than 1,000 people, including some Americans, are still stranded at Mazar-i-Sharif International Airport in northern Afghanistan.
On Tuesday, Blinken said the State Department had identified “a relatively small number of Americans who we believe are seeking to depart from Mazar-i-Sharif with their families.”
“We have been assured, again, that all American citizens and Afghan citizens with valid travel documents will be allowed to leave,” Blinken said, adding: “It’s my understanding that the Taliban has not denied exit to anyone holding a valid document.”
Blinken also denied claims by Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, that the Taliban was holding American citizens and Afghan allies at the airport hostage until the United States recognized the militant group as the rightful rulers of Afghanistan.
“We are not aware of anyone being held on an aircraft or any hostage-like situation in Mazar-i-Sharif,” Blinken said. “So we have to work through the different requirements, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”
President Joe Biden — asked about potential U.S. recognition of the Taliban upon returning to the White House from Wilmington, Del., Monday night — responded: “That’s a long way off. That’s a long way off.”
America’s two-decade war in Afghanistan came to an end Aug. 30 with the conclusion of the frantic, weekslong evacuation operation out of the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, which saw the U.S. military transport more than 123,000 people out of the country — including roughly 6,000 Americans and 73,500 third-country nationals and Afghan civilians since Aug. 14.
The effort to evacuate the roughly 100-200 American citizens who remain in Afghanistan has now transitioned from a military mission to a diplomatic undertaking led by the State Department, according to U.S. officials.
Following his visit to Qatar, Blinken will travel to Ramstein, Germany, Wednesday to further coordinate with U.S. allies on America’s approach toward the Taliban and the international community’s role in Afghanistan. Both Qatar and Germany helped facilitate the U.S. evacuation of American citizens and Afghan allies from the country.