“Several hundred” Americans remain in Afghanistan following the complete US troop withdrawal, the Pentagon spokesman announced Tuesday, as military leadership failed in its stated mission to remove all Americans from the Taliban-controlled nation by the end of August.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told MSNBC’s Willie Geist that he doesn’t think there is an “exact figure” for the number of Americans left in Afghanistan, sticking to vague language.
“We believe we got the vast, vast majority of American citizens out, something to the tune of 6,000 of them,” he said. “And we think it’s probably in the low hundreds that are still there. And there were also several hundred others that didn’t want to leave.”
On Tuesday, the last C-17 plane had left Kabul’s airport at 11:59 p.m. local time, just ahead of the Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw troops from the country.
US troops helped evacuate more than 79,000 civilians from the airport since Aug. 14 — including 6,000 Americans and 73,500 Afghans and third-country citizens, per US officials. Every single US service member is now out of the country.
Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of US Central Command, on Monday estimated the number of Americans remaining in the country was probably in the “very low hundreds.”
Despite US troops having left the country, Kirby remained firm in the US’ commitment to remove Americans who remain, adding that he is “heartbroken” about having left Americans stranded in the country now controlled by Islamist militants.
“As Gen. McKenzie said yesterday, we’re heartbroken that we couldn’t get everybody out, but they still have our commitment, they still have the commitment of this administration and the United States and we’re going to do everything we can to continue to try to get them out of that country and out safely,” he said.
Kirby cited lack of time as a reason for failing to remove more allies or American citizens.
“We certainly would prefer to get more people out if we could, but the time just wasn’t there,” he said. “And I don’t just mean the time on the clock, I mean the time in terms of the threat.”
Evacuation efforts were briefly halted last Thursday when an ISIS-K suicide bomb attack shook the Kabul airport, killing 13 US service members and nearly 200 Afghans. Evacuation flights resumed Friday morning.
In a Monday statement, President Biden appeared committed to helping remove any Americans who “want to leave Afghanistan” following the deadline.
“I have asked the secretary of state to lead the continued coordination with our international partners to ensure safe passage for any Americans, Afghan partners, and foreign nationals who want to leave Afghanistan,” he said. “This will include work to build on the UN Security Council Resolution passed this afternoon that sent the clear message of what the international community expects the Taliban to deliver on moving forward, notably freedom of travel.”
“The Taliban has made commitments on safe passage and the world will hold them to their commitments.”
Thousands of Western allies also remain in the war torn country.
Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau estimated roughly 1,250 Canadian citizens, permanent residents or family members remain in the country.
“We are going to be talking with Pakistan to tell them that if anybody does arrive at that border or other neighbouring countries, we would like them to facilitate their entry. And, of course, our embassies and consulates are waiting to process them to get them to Canada,” he said, per CTV news.
On Friday, British Defense Minister Ben Wallace estimated around 800 to 1,100 Afghans who worked with the British and eligible for evacuation would not make it out of the country.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced on Tuesday that there are between 10,000 and 40,000 local staff working in Afghanistan that are able to be evacuated to the European country.
“For us the focus at the moment is local staff and that’s not 300 people, that’s probably more like 10-40,000 people, and we will have to see how many of them want to leave the country and how many not,” she said.
“As we’ve seen, nobody takes the decision to leave their home lightly.”