The State Department said on Sunday it does not have the “reliable means” to confirm a claim made earlier by a Republican lawmaker that flights out of Afghanistan carrying some U.S. citizens were being prevented from taking off by the Taliban because it has no information on the ground about charter flights following the U.S. military withdrawal from the country.
Rep. Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulSunday shows preview: States deal with fallout of Ida; Texas abortion law takes effect Biden faces unfinished mission of evacuating Americans Biden hands GOP rare unity moment in post-Trump era MORE (R-Texas), the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said on Sunday that six airplanes have been sitting at Mazar-i-Sharif International Airport in northern Afghanistan “for the last couple of days” but have been unable to leave because the Taliban is preventing them from doing so.
McCaul said the Taliban is “holding them hostage for demands right now” without going into detail about what the Taliban was seeking. The Texas Republican said the flights had been cleared by the State Department.
When reached for comment and any other information on McCaul’s claims, a State Department spokesperson told The Hill that because it does not have personnel on the ground, air assets in the country or have any control of the airspace over Afghanistan or elsewhere in the region, they do not have “reliable means” to confirm details of any charter flights.
“Given these constraints, we also do not have a reliable means to confirm the basic details of charter flights, including who may be organizing them, the number of U.S. citizens and other priority groups on-board, the accuracy of the rest of the manifest, and where they plan to land, among many other issues,” the spokesperson told The Hill.
“We understand the concern that many people are feeling as they try to facilitate further charter and other passage out of Afghanistan,” the spokesperson added.
The spokesperson said the department would still “hold the Taliban to its pledge to let people freely depart Afghanistan.”
“As with all Taliban commitments, we are focused on deeds not words, but we remind the Taliban that the entire international community is focused on whether they live up to their commitments,” the spokesperson added.
The U.S. completed its troop withdrawal from Afghanistan on Tuesday, ending America’s longest war after 20 years of military involvement.
A number of U.S. citizens, however, still remain in the country.
McCaul on Sunday said “hundreds of American citizens” are still in Afghanistan, but Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenOvernight Defense & National Security — Out of Afghanistan, but stuck in limbo Blinken: Taliban must uphold commitments to international community Has Biden’s Afghanistan debacle sown the seeds of another 9/11? MORE last week said that “under 200 and likely closer to 100” U.S. citizens remain in the country.
When asked on Sunday how many U.S. citizens are still in Afghanistan, White House chief of staff Ron KlainRon KlainSunday shows preview: States deal with fallout of Ida; Texas abortion law takes effect Changing Joe Biden’s mind is no easy task Top Pakistani security official calls for engagement with Taliban MORE said the administration believes “it’s around 100.”
“We’re in touch with all of them who we have identified on a regular basis,” he added.
The Hill reached out to McCaul’s office for additional information.