As many as 1,000 people – including up to 100 Americans – are stranded at an airport in Mazar-i-Sharif located in northern Afghanistan – and it’s not clear whether the Taliban or the State Department is responsible for blocking their airplanes from leaving.
Rep. Michael McCaul said during an interview on Fox News Sunday that the Taliban was holding hostage Americans and Afghan allies who were attempting to leave the country on commercial flights. Numerous other media reports citing administration officials also alleged the same.
“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.
Additionally, McCaul, who is the senior-most Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, said he received classified intel on the remaining Americans left in Afghanistan, which revealed the number to be “in the hundreds.”
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.
A U.S. official told Reuters the U.S. was unaware of Americans attempting to leave the airport. However, a State Department email viewed by CBS “acknowledged that charter flights are still on the ground at the Mazar-i-Sharif airstrip and have permission to land in Doha ‘if and when the Taliban agrees to takeoff,’” according to CBS foreign affairs correspondent Christina Ruffini.
White House chief of staff Ron Klain claimed on Sunday that just 100 Americans remained in Afghanistan. “We are going to find ways to get them – the ones that want to leave – to get them out of Afghanistan,” he said.
On Monday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken lauded the evacuation efforts, noting that the U.S. and its partners and allies evacuated more than 124,000 people from Afghanistan – 6,000 of which were U.S. citizens.
Nearly 40,000 of those evacuated had arrived in the U.S., Blinken said.