Several hundred American decisions are yet to decide whether to leave Afghanistan, the State Department said on Friday – despite the deadline for U.S. military withdrawal being only four days away.
Ned Price, the State Department spokesman, said that some people were changing their minds every time they were asked, as they agonized over their decision.
He said that since August 14 – the day before Kabul fell to the Taliban – at least 5,100 American citizens have been evacuated, including 300 in the previous 24 hours.
‘There are approximately 500 American citizens we are currently working with who want to leave and with whom we are communicating directly to facilitate their evacuations,’ Price said.
Ned Price, the State Department spokesman, said on Friday that several hundred U.S. citizens have yet to decide whether to leave Afghanistan
A U.S. soldier holds a sign indicating a gate is closed as hundreds of people gather – some holding documents – at Kabul airport on Thursday
‘We are communicating with several hundred American citizens who have not yet determined whether they want to leave for various reasons.’
Some were weighing up leaving behind homes and relatives, while others thought about the long-term implications for their safety.
U.S. officials have been telling them since March, in 19 separate messages, that the window for them to leave safely was closing in.
Price emphasized that they were speaking regularly to those still unsure whether they wanted to leave.
‘When we say that we were in regular contact, we mean regular contact multiple times a day, sometimes hearing one answer, other times hearing another as the remaining Americans make these decisions,’ Price said.
A Marine gives a high five to a child outside Kabul airport on Thursday
The number who don’t want to leave because they may have family in the country is ‘relatively small,’ he added.
Anthony Blinken, the Secretary of State, said on Wednesday that the department was still trying to reach 1,000 potential citizens to confirm their status.
‘Some may no longer be in the country. Some may have claimed to be Americans but turn out not to be. Some may choose to stay,’ Blinken said.
He said registering with the U.S. embassy and informing them of their whereabouts, arrival and departure was optional.
Blinken stressed that every effort had been made to encourage U.S. citizens to leave.
‘We even made clear that we would help pay for their repatriation, and we’ve provided multiple communication channels for Americans to contact us if they’re in Afghanistan and want help in leaving,’ Blinken said.
Anthony Blinken, the Secretary of State, is seen holding a briefing on Wednesday
He said many of those who have previously chosen to stay are dual citizens, who have lived there for many years and have deep ties to the country.
Blinken said during the brief Wednesday that some had indicated they were still deciding whether to stay ‘based on the situation on the ground that evolves daily – in fact, that evolves hourly.’
He added: ‘Some are understandably very scared.
‘Each has a set of personal priorities and considerations that they alone can weigh. They may even change their mind from one day to the next, as has happened and will likely continue to happen.’
Evacuees are escorted onto planes on Wednesday to fly out from Kabul
Sher Jan Ahmadzai, director of Center for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska Omaha, told USA Today that some U.S. citizens of Afghan descent may stay behind because they are politically aligned with the Taliban and do not feel threatened.
Yet Mustafa Babak, a board member with the Afghan-American Foundation and a diaspora researcher, told the paper he would not recommend any U.S. citizens stay after August 31.
‘The situation is so uncertain and volatile,’ said Babak.
‘I think anyone caught with a U.S. passport would face a lot of risks.’
Babak said the danger is not just from Taliban – which currently is believed to hold hostage Mark Frerichs, a civil engineer from Illinois – but from the rival ISIS-K extremist group.
ISIS-K has claimed responsibility for the Thursday bombing of Kabul airport which killed 13 U.S. service members and 170 Afghans.
Two women are escorted by a U.S. Marine towards a U.S. Air Force plane, to depart Kabul on Tuesday
Soldiers assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division escort a group of people to the terminal at Hamid Karzai International Airport on Monday
A soldier stands guard on the perimeter of Kabul airport on Tuesday
Vicki Aken, an American who runs the International Rescue Committee’s office in Kabul, told NPR that she is staying in Afghanistan to support the organization’s staff, 99% of whom are Afghans.
The IRC began working in Kabul in 1988 and continued its work there when the Taliban governed Afghanistan from 1996-2001.
They work on development projects such as schools in rural areas and providing access to clean water.
‘They’re feeling like the world has abandoned them and that after August 31, no one will care,’ she said.
‘And I know that’s not true. I’m an American myself. I know my people care.’
Aken told NPR she was contacted by the American embassy and offered a chance to evacuate but she declined.