Since August 14, the Biden administration has evacuated “at least 4,500 US citizens and likely more,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday, including more than 500 who were evacuated between Tuesday and Wednesday this week.
Blinken said more than 82,300 people have been evacuated from Kabul, with at least 19,000 people flown out of Afghanistan in the last 24 hours. Among those 19,000 evacuees were 11,200 evacuees on 42 U.S. military aircraft and an additional 7,800 on coalition flights.
On Wednesday, Blinken said the administration believes there were as many as 6,000 Americans in Afghanistan when the evacuation operation started in mid-August. That number differs significantly from the 11,000 to 15,000 Americans that U.S. officials estimated were in Afghanistan last week.
A Senate aide who participated in a State Department briefing for lawmakers told CNN on Wednesday that there are still around 4,100 Americans left in the country, as opposed to the approximately 1,500 left in the country as suggested by Blinken’s evacuation estimates.
The Senate aide told CNN evacuated around 4,400 Americans had been evacuated as of Wednesday and said the remaining 4,100 Americans will be more challenging to retrieve because they are not located in and around Kabul, where other Americans have been.
When asked if the Biden administration is willing to take responsibility for any shortcomings in the withdrawal and evacuation efforts, Blinken said the Biden administration is accountable but that the administration is also part of a broader effort spanning nearly two decades.
“I take responsibility. I know the president has said he takes responsibility. And I know my colleagues across government feel the same way. And I can tell you that there will be plenty of time to look back at the last six or seven months, to look back at the last 20 years, and to look to see what we might have done differently, what we might have done sooner, what we might have done more effectively,” Blinken responded. “But right now, my entire focus is on the mission at hand.”
On Wednesday, The Defense Department noted that over 10,000 people are currently at the Kabul airport and waiting to evacuate before the Taliban gain control of the airport.
On Tuesday, President Joe Biden addressed the press on the situation in Afghanistan. During his speech, Biden said he plans to stick with his August 31 withdrawal timeline.
“We are currently on a pace to finish by August 31,” Biden said in an address that was delayed by about four hours. “The sooner we can finish, the better. Each day of operations brings added risk to our troops, but the completion by August 31st depends upon the Taliban continuing to cooperate and allow access to the airport for those who we’re transporting out and no disruptions to our operations.”
“I’ve asked the Pentagon and the State Department for contingency plans to adjust the timetable should that become necessary,” Biden added. “I am determined to complete our mission.”