Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday denied claims that the Taliban are holding American citizens hostage in Afghanistan by refusing to allow flights to leave the country.
“We are not aware of anyone being held on an aircraft or any hostage life situation in Mazar-i-Sharif,” Blinken said during a press conference in Doha, Qatar, where he arrived Monday.
He and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin are in Qatar to meet with their counterparts and thank them for allowing the US to use the Gulf state as a hub for evacuating American citizens and Afghan allies.
Blinken acknowledged that some Americans were still awaiting evacuation in Afghanistan and said the Taliban has assured the Biden administration that US citizens and Afghans with the proper paperwork will be able to leave.
“We’ve been able to identify 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.
“And again, we intend to hold the Taliban to that,” he continued.
But, he said, the Taliban is holding back those without the proper travel documents.
“Because all of these people are grouped together, that’s meant that flights have not been allowed to go,” Blinken said.
Rep. Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, claimed on Sunday that the Taliban were refusing to allow six airplanes intended to ferry American citizens out of Afghanistan depart Mazar-i-Sharif airport even though the flights were cleared by the State Department.
“In fact, we have six airplanes at Mazar-i-Sharif airport, six airplanes, with American citizens on them as I speak, also with these interpreters, and the Taliban is holding them hostage for demands right now,” McCaul (R-Texas) said on “Fox News Sunday.”
He said the planes have been sitting at the airport for several days but are “not allowed to leave,” because the Taliban want a quid pro quo.
“We know the reason why is because the Taliban want something in exchange. This is really, Chris, turning into a hostage situation where they’re not going to allow American citizens to leave until they get full recognition from the United States of America,” he said.
Others have blamed the State Department for delaying the planes by not giving the Taliban clearance to allow the flights. A person organizing charter flights out of Mazar-i-Sharif for US citizens and Afghans blasted the State Department.
“This is zero place to be negotiating with American lives. Those are our people standing on the tarmac and all it takes is a f—ing phone call,” the person told Fox News.
“If one life is lost as a result of this, the blood is on the White House’s hands. The blood is on their hands,” the person who is not being identified by Fox News to avoid jeopardizing the rescue efforts said.
“It is not the Taliban that is holding this up – as much as it sickens me to say that – it is the United States government,” the person said.
While in Qatar, Blinken toured a processing center for Afghan refugees at Al-Udeid Air Base.
He and Austin met with Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani and defense chief Khalid bin Mohamed Al Attiyah.
With Post wires