WASHINGTON – Four more Americans have safely left Afghanistan, departing the country via an overland route with the acquiescence of the controlling Taliban, a State Department official said Monday.
Even as the Taliban insurgents who now control Afghanistan have blocked air flights carrying more Americans and Afghans who want to leave the country, a senior State Department official said the Taliban did not impede passage of the four individuals and were aware of their departure.
The official announced the operation shortly before Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Doha to thank Qatari officials for their assistance in acting as a first departure stopping point for thousands of Americans and Afghans who were flown to safety out of Kabul in late August.
“We have facilitated the safe departure of four Americans via overland route,” the official said, with the individuals greeted by embassy personnel after crossing the Afghan border.
But the official did not say to which country they transited in the first overland evacuation facilitated by the State Department. Afghanistan is bordered by Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Pakistan.
After a stop in Qatar, Blinken is on a trip that will also take him to Germany for talks with important U.S. allies on the end last week of the nearly two-decades-long U.S. war in Afghanistan.
“Departing for Doha, Qatar, and Ramstein, Germany, where I’ll have the opportunity to thank our Qatari and German friends in person for the outstanding support they’ve given to safely transit U.S. citizens, Afghans, and other evacuees from Afghanistan,” Blinken tweeted late Sunday.
Qatar was a key hub for the massive U.S. airlift out of Kabul and a first point of landing for thousands of Afghan refugees following last month’s Taliban takeover.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is also visiting U.S. allies in the Middle East to thank them for their help in the evacuations from Afghanistan. His stops include Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
“I’m on my way to the (Persian) Gulf to personally thank our partners there for supporting the Afghanistan evacuation effort. Operation ALLIED REFUGE would not have been possible with our friends in the Gulf. Their support saved lives,” Austin tweeted Sunday.
Blinken told reporters Friday that while in Germany he will head to Ramstein U.S. Air Force Base to thank the U.S. troops and meet with Afghan refugees.
Blinken also said he will head a virtual 20-nation ministerial meeting on Afghanistan on Wednesday alongside German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas. He said the 20 countries “all have a stake in helping to relocate and resettle Afghans and in holding the Taliban to their commitments.”
The Taliban have promised to grant safe passage to those Afghans and others who want to leave the country, but many Afghans doubt the reliability of their pledges. Officials in Afghanistan say four potential Afghan refugee flights have been blocked from leaving the airport at the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, while U.S. Congressman Michael McCaul told the “Fox News Sunday” show that six planes have been stopped, including some with Americans.
In his remarks Friday, Blinken again defended the U.S. departure from Afghanistan, saying a relatively small number of American citizens remain in the country and the State Department is in active contact with all of them. White House chief of staff Ron Klain told CNN on Sunday that about 100 Americans remain in Afghanistan, but McCaul said “hundreds of Americans” are still there.
Blinken said the U.S. remains committed to helping any American who wants to leave and to assisting Special Immigrant Visa candidates and other Afghans who helped the United States during the 20 years it fought in the country.
The Biden administration has come under criticism from Republican lawmakers, human rights groups and others for its handling of the evacuation from Afghanistan after the Taliban took control in Kabul on August 15.
Source: Voice of America