Pentagon spokesman John Kirby defended the fact that U.S. citizens have been left behind in Afghanistan, saying such circumstances are commonplace for Americans.
During an interview with MSNBC on Tuesday, Kirby faced questions about how Americans will be able to leave Afghanistan now that the final U.S. troops have left the country. Kirby said, “It’s not completely unlike the way we do it elsewhere around the world, I mean we have Americans that get stranded in countries all the time.”
Kirby could not provide an exact figure when asked how many U.S. citizens were left behind in Afghanistan after the final U.S. military flight departed the country on Monday. One report estimated around 250 Americans were still in Afghanistan, on Monday, unable to make the last flights out of the country.
Kirby’s characterization of Americans left behind as “stranded” comes days after White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki criticized a reporter who referred to Americans unable to reach evacuation flights as “stranded.”
In an exchange with Fox News reporter Peter Doocy on August 23, Psaki said, “I think it’s irresponsible to say Americans are stranded” and added, “I’m just calling you out for saying that we are stranding Americans in Afghanistan, when I — when we have been very clear that we are not leaving Americans who want to return home. We are going to bring them home. And I think that’s important for the American public to hear and understand.”
As the last military flight left the Kabul airport on Monday, U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the commander of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), said “While the military evacuation is complete, the diplomatic mission to ensure additional U.S. citizens and eligible Afghans who want to leave continues.”
During his interview with MSNBC, Kirby said the U.S. military will not play a continued role in evacuating Americans from Afghanistan, but that the U.S. will have a “whole of government” approach to making sure Americans can continue to leave Afghanistan.
“We have made it very clear what our expectations are to the Taliban,” Kirby said. “And if the Taliban want to govern, and they say they do, and if they want to not retaliate, and they say they do, obviously we’re going to hold them to their deeds, not just those words. And so there are leverage tools available to us to hold them to account.”
Kirby said that while President Joe Biden had previously expressed a willingness to keep troops in Afghanistan until all Americans were evacuated, “You also saw . . . in the last couple days, just how dangerous and perilous the environment was getting, not just for our troops at the airport or the operations at the airport, but for local citizens near and around the airport.”
“There was a very credible, very specific, increasing threat stream by ISIS that was making the entire operation more perilous,” Kirby added. “And we had to make some decisions in the last couple of days to make sure that we could get everybody out as safely as possible and not imperil civilians any more than they already were.”