The US State Department says it doesn’t know what is happening to Americans in Afghanistan, adding that it has no “reliable means” to confirm if the Taliban are preventing them from leaving the country.
A Republican congressman said on Sunday that the Taliban were “holding hostage” six airplanes carrying American citizens and Afghan allies at an airport in the country.
Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the airplanes have been at Mazar-i-Sharif International Airport in northern Afghanistan “for the last couple of days.”
McCaul said the Taliban are “holding them hostage for demands right now” without going into detail about what the militants were seeking. The Texas Republican said the flights had been cleared by the State Department.
A State Department spokesperson told The Hill newspaper on Sunday evening that because it does not have personnel on the ground, air assets in the country or have any control of the airspace over Afghanistan or elsewhere in the region, they do not have “reliable means” to confirm details of any charter flights.
“Given these constraints, we also do not have a reliable means to confirm the basic details of charter flights, including who may be organizing them, the number of US citizens and other priority groups on-board, the accuracy of the rest of the manifest, and where they plan to land, among many other issues,” the spokesperson told The Hill.
"We understand the concern that many people are feeling as they try to facilitate further charter and other passage out of Afghanistan," the spokesperson added.
The spokesperson said the State Department would still “hold the Taliban to its pledge to let people freely depart Afghanistan.”
“As with all Taliban commitments, we are focused on deeds not words, but we remind the Taliban that the entire international community is focused on whether they live up to their commitments,” the spokesperson added.
McCaul said "hundreds of American citizens" are still in Afghanistan, but Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week claimed "under 200 and likely closer to 100" American citizens were still in the country.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Blinken said that the department was in “constant contact” with Americans in Afghanistan still and want to leave.
“Most of the remaining American citizens are dual nationals whose home is Afghanistan and whose extended families live there. So, it’s no surprise that deciding whether or not to leave the place they call home is a wrenching decision,” he noted.
White House estimates 100 Americans in Afghanistan
Meanwhile, White House chief of staff Ron Klain estimated on Sunday that about 100 Americans were still left in Afghanistan waiting to be evacuated by US forces.
“We believe it's around 100. We're in touch with all of them who we have identified on a regular basis,” Klain told CNN.
“Obviously, we're hopeful that, in the coming days, the Qataris will be able to resume air service out of Kabul. And, if they do, we're obviously going to look to see if Americans can be part of those flights. We are going to find ways to get them -- the ones that want to leave, to get them out of Afghanistan,” he added.
Some rescue groups told the media that they are concerned that some Americans and individuals are missing from the White House’s count of people who are waiting to be evacuated.