The Biden administration is concerned about “active” threats from the terror group ISIS-K as it seeks to bring home dozens of American citizens who were left behind in Afghanistan by President Biden’s military withdrawal earlier this week, White House press secretary Jen Psaki acknowledged Thursday.
On Wednesday, State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters the number of US passport holders stuck in Taliban-controlled territory is “likely closer to 100, perhaps considerably closer to 100” after Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken estimated earlier this week that between 100 and 200 Americans remained in Afghanistan.
Psaki claimed Thursday that the State Department is “in close touch” with those left behind and “working in close coordination with them to determine how they can leave the country [or] if they’ve left the country.” The press secretary then threw cold water on the idea that chartered planes could be used to get the remaining Americans out of the country.
“We do not have personnel on the ground, nor do we have air assets in the country, and we don’t control the airspace. So anyone who’s suggesting we are preventing these flights, that’s not accurate,” she said.
“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.”
Psaki added that she thought it was “understandable we have concern about flights where we don’t have that level of information and understanding about the manifest, what the protocols are that are underway.
“There are active, there continue to be active ISIS-K threats, and there’s also a question of where these flights go, where they land,” the press secretary went on. “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.”
ISIS-K, the notorious terror group’s affiliate in Afghanistan, has been blamed for the Aug. 26 suicide attack at one of the gates of Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport, which killed 13 US service members and at least 169 Afghans.
Administration officials have estimated that 6,000 Americans were flown out of Afghanistan on military planes between Aug. 14 and Aug. 30, along with more than 73,000 others classified as third-country nationals and Afghan allies. In all, more than 123,000 people were evacuated by US and coalition forces between the end of July and Aug. 30.
Late Wednesday, Politico reported that hundreds of those Americans and Afghan allies were flown to the airport after rendezvousing at a secret CIA base three miles north of the terminal. The outlet reported that those evacuees included more than 1,000 members of the Afghan special forces and their families, who would have faced certain death if they had been located by Taliban fighters.
The compound, known as Eagle Base, was destroyed on Aug. 27 to prevent sensitive equipment and information from falling into the hands of the Taliban.
US officials have not provided an estimate on the number of legal permanent US residents who remain in Afghanistan, nor have they given a count of the number of Afghan allies who received or applied for so-called Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) and were subsequently left behind. However, a State Department official told The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday that it is likely the “majority” of the latter group have been forced to fend for themselves in their newly hostile homeland.