As Western nations rush to evacuate people from Afghanistan with less than a week until foreign troops leave, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday there are still about 1,500 U.S. citizens In the country and the government is working to either contact them or has already given them instructions on how to get to Kabul airport.
BLINKEN: “Over the past 24 hours, we've been in direct contact with approximately 500 additional Americans and provided specific instructions on how to get to the airport safely.” (flash) “For the remaining roughly 1000 contacts that we had, who may be Americans seeking to leave Afghanistan, we're aggressively reaching out to them multiple times a day, through multiple channels of communication.”
Blinken said at a news conference that Washington has so far evacuated 4,500 U.S. citizens and their families as President Joe Biden's deadline of Aug. 31 to withdraw U.S. troops is fast approaching.
Biden's administration has struggled for days to provide specific figures on Americans leaving Afghanistan and how many remain.
Blinken cautioned they may change by the hour. He also stressed that there was no deadline on the effort to help people who want to leave Afghanistan.
BLINKEN: "We will use every diplomatic, economic assistance tool at our disposal working hand-in-hand with the international community, first and foremost to ensure that those who want to leave Afghanistan after the 31st are able to do so..."
In the 10 days since the Taliban swept into Kabul, the United States and its allies have mounted one of the biggest air evacuations ever.
The U.S. military says planes are taking off the equivalent of every 39 minutes.
But some Western officials admit many Afghans who have helped NATO countries in 20 years of war will be left behind to face an uncertain future under the Taliban.
BLINKEN: "We're operating in a hostile environment in a city and country now controlled by the Taliban, with the very real possibility of an ISIS-K attack..."
President Joe Biden was briefed on Wednesday on contingency plans for the Afghanistan evacuation, as well as the threat from the ISIS-K militant group, according to the White House.
Britain's Foreign Office on Wednesday said in a statement that there was a "high threat of a terrorist attack."