The State Department said it will not formally approve the departure of chartered planes from Afghanistan carrying Americans and allies — complicating efforts by private citizens to complete the evacuation of the left-behind, according to an email obtained by Fox News.
In a Sept. 1 email to attorney Eric Montalvo, a former US Marine who has organized a series of evacuation flights, a State Department official acknowledged that any flights taking Afghan refugees to Europe or the Middle East for initial processing “may require some indication from the USG [US government] that we ‘approve’ of this charter flight” in order to land.
The email continued: “DOS [State Department] will not provide an approval, but we will provide a ‘no objection’ to the destination country government via the U.S. Embassy in that country.”
The New York Times reported last week that Montalvo’s law firm had chartered a flight for 300 people from Afghanistan that landed in Doha, Qatar on Aug. 31. The flight reportedly caused consternation among US diplomatic and military personnel — with Greta Holtz, charge d’affaires at the Doha embassy, reporting that US Central Command (CENTCOM) “didn’t want the wing commander to land the plane because it didn’t have ‘status’. It had already landed.”
The Sept. 1 email from the State Department to Montalvo warned him that “no charters are allowed to land at an [sic] DoD base and most if not all countries in the Middle Eastern region, with the exception of perhaps Saudi Arabia will [not] allow charters to land.”
“You need to find another destination country,” the email went on, “and it can’t be the U.S. either.”
Since the American military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan ended Aug. 30, private citizens and nonprofit groups have scrambled to arrange transportation out of Taliban-controlled territory for the dozens of American citizens and estimated thousands of Afghans who assisted US-led NATO forces during the two-decade-long war.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki argued last week that the notion that the Biden administration was stopping such initiatives was incorrect.
“Anyone who’s suggesting we are preventing these flights, that’s not accurate,” she said during a briefing Sept. 2.
“We couldn’t prevent a charter flight from taking off, but what’s important for people to understand is where we have some concern, and that is the fact that we do not have reliable means to confirm the basic details of charter flights — including who may be organizing them, the number of American citizens and other priority groups on board, the accuracy of the manifest and where the plane may land, what security protocols they’re taking into place,” added Psaki, who cited “active” threats from the terror group ISIS-K in Afghanistan as the reason for the administration’s stance.
“We know ISIS-K has a keen interest in attacks against aviation targets and our personnel on the ground in our military bases and these are among the risks that we take into account,” the press secretary said.
On Friday, Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) blamed the State Department for blocking a rescue mission he had sponsored from landing at Hamid Karzai International Airportin Kabul and told Fox News he had heard that “there are five planes sitting at [Mazar-i-Sharif] with AMCITS [American citizens], SIVs [Special Immigrant Visa holders], and refugees on it … but they can’t get clearance to get out because no country is willing to help them.”
Mullin also told Fox that he knows of 50 Americans who were unable to get on evacuation flights before the deadline and had to be “ran out of Kabul and put in safe houses around Afghanistan.”d
“[T]here’s going to be some that’s going to die because of the failure from President Biden, I promise you that,” Mullin told Fox News host Bret Baier. “At some point they’re [the Taliban] going to lose patience and aren’t going to keeping letting us drive past these checkpoints and paying them off … and when I say that blood is on his hands, that means President Biden’s hands, I mean that with everything in my heart. It’s his fault.”
On Monday, Mullin blasted the State Department again, calling the agency’s claim that it had “facilitated” the evacuation of an American mother and her three children from Afghanistan “a lie.”
“It wasn’t until the second day that we almost had her out that the State Department came in, and when they came in, they did come in to help, I’ll give you that,” he said. “They showed up a few hours after she got across. For them to say they facilitated, that’s a lie.”
On Sunday, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee told Fox News that six airplanes carrying Americans and Afghan interpreters were stuck at the airport in Mazar-i-Sharif awaiting the OK from the Taliban to take off.
“Well, they are not clearing airplanes to depart. They’ve sat at the airport for the last couple days, these planes, and they’re not allowed to leave,” Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Texas) told “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace.
“We know the reason why is because the Taliban want something in exchange,” McCaul alleged. “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.”