Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that the Taliban is refusing to allow charter flights with Americans and Afghans to depart Afghanistan because they don’t have the mandatory documents to do so.
“As of now, the Taliban are not permitting the charter flights to depart. They claim that some of the passengers do not have the required documentation,” Blinken said at a joint press conference alongside German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
Blinken added that the U.S. is limited in its ability to intervene in the crisis in Afghanistan without having personnel on the ground, but insisted that the U.S. is “working to do everything in our power to support those flights and get them off the ground.”
The flights were organized by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and individuals who “don’t have all of the documentation required,” Blinken said, though he praised their efforts.
“The Taliban has said repeatedly that any Afghans who want to travel and have the appropriate documents will be able to do so, and more than a hundred countries have affirmed their expectation the Taliban will honor that pledge. And of course, it’s also enshrined now in a UN Security Council resolution,” Blinken said, adding that the U.S. will continue to push the Taliban to abide by their agreement.
On Tuesday, Blinken had said the State Department was working with the Taliban to verifying the accuracy of manifests, identifying passengers, meeting aviation security protocols and securing places to land. He said that approximately 100 Americans remain in Afghanistan.
On Sunday, Rep. Michael McCaul had said on Fox News that six planes were attempting to leave Afghanistan but were being prevented by the Taliban.
“We have six airplanes at (Mazar-i-Sharif International Airport) with American citizens on them as I speak, also with these interpreters, and the Taliban is holding them hostage for demands,” McCaul said.
Six of the airplanes – two Airbus 340s and four Boeing 737s – are Kam Air jetliners chartered for evacuations by Mercury One, a charity founded by conservative figure Glenn Beck, according to Newsweek. Three more Kam Air planes were charactered by American corporation Goldbelt, Inc., and international organization Sayara.
Two non-government organization (NGO) officials confirmed the flights to Newsweek, adding that the Taliban had grounded the flights over stalled negotiations with the State Department. One official said the move may have been done to extort money from the U.S.
“I have more than 1,000 people on the master manifest that want to fly, of which 123 are Americans and the rest are Special Immigration Visas,” the official associated with the Mercury One-charactered flights said. Another 19 Americans were on flights chartered by Goldbelt and Sayara.
A satellite image from Maxar Technologies from Sept. 3 showed six commercial airplanes on the tarmac at the airport.
An unspecified organizer of the commercial flights told Reuters that the flights were unable to leave because of U.S. State Department failures. According to the organizer, the State Department didn’t tell the Taliban it had approved the flights to depart from the airport.
“They need to be held accountable for putting these people’s lives in danger,” the organizer said.