Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), whose office has been working to evacuate two elderly U.S. citizens from Afghanistan, said it’s likely that about 500 Americans remain stranded in the country, a figure that’s at odds with estimates provided by White House officials.
“Unless we continue and get the rest of our American citizens, and all those otherwise eligible out, we won’t have done our job,” Issa told The Associated Press (AP), confirming the number.
When including the family members of U.S. citizens, Issa said the number of people stranded in Afghanistan could be as high as 1,000.
Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) stated to the news agency that the Biden administration needs to provide the full number of those left behind in the South Asian nation.
“The problem is, it doesn’t include families,” he said. “They’re lowballing the numbers.”
White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain told CNN on Sept. 5 that he believes around 100 Americans remain inside Afghanistan, while President Joe Biden said last week that about 100 to 200 U.S. citizens remained. The final U.S. military evacuation flight was carried out from the Kabul airport one week ago, officially ending the 20-year-long U.S. involvement in the country.
“We believe it’s around a hundred. We’re in touch with all of them who we’ve identified on a regular basis,” Klain, a top Biden deputy, told CNN.
Some U.S. citizens and Afghan nationals are “coming out” of Afghanistan “by land” travel, he said.
He noted that the White House is “continuing to work on efforts to get them out by air as well. We’re going to continue to move those [Special Immigrant Visa holders] out of the country.”
Other than Issa, some veteran-led rescue groups told AP that the estimate that no more than 200 Americans were left behind is too low.
Mike Jason, who runs a rescue operation known as Allied Airlift 21, told the news outlet that he believes the figure is far higher, saying it’s also misleading because it doesn’t include family members of Americans trapped there. Alex Plitsas, an Iraq War veteran who’s part of a rescue network known as Digital Dunkirk, said that in one day, he received calls from six Americans stuck in the country earlier this week and that none registered with the U.S. Embassy.
The White House figure could be off by hundreds, Plitsas, a former intelligence officer in Afghanistan, told AP.
“Those names are starting to trickle out now,” he said. “I expect that number to rise significantly.”
Before the Afghan government and army full collapsed and the Taliban took over the country, White House officials estimated that between 10,000 and 15,000 Americans were in the country. Biden said last week that more than 120,000 people, including Afghans and Americans, were evacuated from the Kabul airport.
Representatives for the U.S. State Department didn’t respond to a request for comment by press time.