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Pentagon refuses to say how many Americans it has rescued from Afghanistan

U.S. Marines assist with security at an Evacuation Control Checkpoint during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 20, 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Victor Mancilla)
August 24, 2021

The Pentagon is not providing specific numbers as to how many U.S. citizens the U.S. military has evacuated out of Afghanistan.

During a Tuesday press briefing, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said “Several thousand we know, several thousand Americans have been safely evacuated from Afghanistan.”

“I understand that’s not the degree of specificity that you want,” Kirby added, “but that is as far as I’m going to be able to go today.”

The exact number of Americans remaining in the country is unclear. Last week, U.S. officials estimated between 11,000 and 15,000 Americans were still in Afghanistan.

The calls for more transparency about how many Americans have been evacuated and how many remain in Afghanistan come as the Taliban has demanded President Joe Biden sticks to his deadline to have all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by August 31. CNN reported on Tuesday, citing an unnamed senior administration official, that Biden would stick with the August 31 deadline, despite previously suggesting he could keep troops in Afghanistan past that date if there were still Americans needing evacuation.

On Tuesday, Reporters continued to press Kirby for more specific details about the number of Americans that have been evacuated from Afghanistan.

One reporter asked if Kirby even had a percentage estimate for the number of Americans that have been evacuated from Afghanistan.

Kirby said he can’t give a percentage estimate either “because I don’t think there’s a perfect number that we know with certainty of all Americans in Afghanistan.”

Kirby reiterated remarks made earlier by the State Department, that U.S. diplomats have asked Americans who have travelled to Afghanistan to notify them when they arrive in the country and when they leave but that not all Americans choose to self-report.

“We want to know when Americans are there, but they don’t have to tell us,” Kirby said “So that’s why it’s difficult for us to give you the denominator here, how many are there.”

When asked how many of the Americans who have told the State Department they were in Afghanistan have been evacuated, Kirby said reporters would have to ask the State Department. “But I think even they would tell you. . . that that is an imperfect database.”

CNN Pentagon reporter Barbara Starr asked, “Can this administration tell the American people how many Americans it has evacuated from Afghanistan? And if you cannot, can you please explain — not the denominator — why can’t you just say the number?” 

Kirby responded, “We are just going to leave it at several thousand right now.”

Kirby went on to say he knows his response is “not a satisfying answer.”

Kirby said, “the number literally changes almost by the hour.”

Starr responded, “So does everything else.”

Kirby also declined to answer Starr’s questions about any efforts by U.S. troops to rescue Americans trapped outside the security perimeter they have set at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.

Kirby has previously acknowledged at least two instances in which U.S. military helicopters have flown Americans who were trapped outside of the Kabul airport and brought them onto the U.S. military-controlled airport.

“There are no additional operations to speak to that I’m aware outside the airport,” Kirby said. “We continue to facilitate safe passage for Americans and [special immigration visa applicants] as they need to get to the airport.”

Kirby said that “several hundred” Americans and SIV applicants were able to get to Kabul airport on Tuesday.

“With U.S. government assistance though?” Starr asked.

“I’m just going to leave it at that Barb,” Kirby responded.