As much as 9,000 Americans were left in Afghanistan when the military pulled out from the nation August 31, according to a new report published Thursday.
In public comments, Biden White House officials, including Sec. of State Antony Blinken, said only 100-150 Americans were left in Afghanistan and had contacted officials with a desire to leave the country. The State Dept. and Defense Dept. officials stuck to this number, even as the government admitted that large amounts of Americans were still leaving the middle eastern nation.
The report, signed by top Foreign Relations member Jim Risch from Idaho, shows that State Dept. officials thought between 10,000 and 15,000 people were in Afghanistan as of August 17. In the two weeks after, just 6,000 Americans escaped the country before the Taliban takeover. In his testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Blinken said that “around 100-150 were in Afghanistan who still want to depart.”
Estimating the amount of Americans residing or visiting a nation like Afghanistan is “50% science and 50% art and guesswork,” staffers of the former Kabul Embassy said, since Americans are encouraged but not forced to register with the State Dept. when they come to the country. The staffers said that host nations are generally able to give better estimates than American embassies, but that Afghanistan could not do so.
Officials such as Blinken and General Kenneth McKenzie frequently mentioned the number of Americans staying in-country and that they were in contact with smaller groups who “wished to leave.”
Contributing to this failure was the Biden White House’s lack of preparation for the withdrawal. National security officials were still creating a withdrawal plan the day before Kabul fell, despite Biden announcing that American forces would leave from Afghanistan four months before the fall of the U.S.-allied government. The National Security Council would not coordinate withdrawal operations between the State and Defense depts., and fast troop withdrawals exacerbated the ruined evacuation process, according to the new report.
Despite these complete failures, and the death of 13 Americans in a terrorist attack, the Biden White House said its withdrawal efforts were a success.
“The bottom line is 90% of Americans inside Afghanistan who wanted to get out were able to leave,” he said.