WASHINGTON — In the final hours before the Aug. 31 deadline for the U.S. military to withdraw from Afghanistan, roughly 350 American citizens who want to leave remain in the country, the State Department said Saturday.
Some of the 350 individuals are thought to be “nearly or already out of the country,” a State Department official said. The department has been in contact with an additional 280 “self-identified” Americans in Afghanistan who say they do not want or plan to leave the country.
The Department has attempted to reach American citizens in Afghanistan via thousands of calls, emails, texts and WhatsApp messages. At least 5,400 Americans have been evacuated from Afghanistan since Aug. 14, the official said, including nearly 300 Americans in the last day.
Evacuation efforts were disrupted Thursday when a suicide bomber attacked a crowded checkpoint outside the Kabul airport. Thirteen U.S. military personnel and more than 110 Afghans were killed. U.S. military forces conducted a drone strike on Friday against the Islamic State terrorist group in Afghanistan who claimed credit for the suicide bombing.
President Joe Biden set Aug. 31 as the deadline to complete the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and committed to evacuating all Americans who wish to leave as well as Afghan allies. But it appears increasingly unlikely that the president will be able to uphold that promise to Afghans.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Saturday that some military personnel had already begun to leave Afghanistan ahead of Tuesday’s withdrawal. The thinning number of troops on the ground will likely lead to a slower pace in evacuations, even as thousands of Afghans who worked with U.S. are still trying to leave the country.
The Taliban have warned any delay in the withdrawal would cross a “red line” and threatened consequences.
The State Department acknowledged for the first time on Friday that they do not expect the Kabul airport to function under normal operations after the U.S. leaves. The Biden administration has not announced any agreement with any third country or private company to keep the airport online, making the future of evacuations for anyone who remains very uncertain.