Up-to 9,000 American citizens were left in Afghanistan when the U.S. military withdrew from the country on Aug. 31, according to a report released Thursday by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
In public statements, Biden administration officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, stated that only 100-150 Americans remained in Afghanistan and had contacted the U.S. government with a desire to leave.
The report, signed by Foreign Relations ranking member Jim Risch of Oklahoma, reveals that State Department officials believed that between 10,000 and 15,000 Americans were in Afghanistan as late as Aug. 17. In the following two weeks, 6,000 Americans were able to escape the country ahead of the Taliban takeover.
In testimony in front of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, however, Blinken claimed that “approximately 100-150 remained in Afghanistan who still wished to depart.”
Estimating the number of Americans residing or visiting a country like Afghanistan is “50% art and 50% science and educated guesswork,” staffers of the former Kabul Embassy reportedly said, since Americans are encouraged but not required to register with the State Department when they enter a country.
The staff noted that host countries are generally able to provide better estimates than the embassy, but that this is not the case with Afghanistan.
Government officials had warned as early as 2007 that plans for withdrawal from unsafe and hostile nations would need a significant overhaul. This issue has not been corrected across four presidential administrations.
“The lack of host nation accounting for Americans is likely not unique to Afghanistan and will be a persistent feature in countries with weak central governments and inefficient accounting systems,” the report notes. “It is exactly these countries that are most prone to rapid onsets of instability requiring the evacuation of Americans.”
The Biden administration has said that its withdrawal efforts were a success. “We completed one of the biggest airlifts in history. With more than 120,000 people evacuated to safety, that number is more than double what most experts thought was possible. No nation – no nation has ever done anything like it in all the history,” Biden said in a speech marking the final withdrawal of American forces and embassy officials.
“The bottom line: 90% of Americans in Afghanistan who wanted to leave were able to leave,” he added.
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