State Department accused of holding up evacuation flights from Afghanistan
An organizer for chartered flights to evacuate Americans and Afghan allies from the Mazar-i-Sharif airport accused the State Department of holding up the planes — saying “blood will be on the White House’s hands” if any of the people waiting are injured or killed by the Taliban.
Another organizer told Reuters that about 1,000 people, including Americans, are being held in Afghanistan awaiting the State Department to provide clearance for their flights.
An individual involved in chartering private planes to ferry people out of Afghanistan put the onus solely on the State Department for holding up the flights.
“This is zero place to be negotiating with American lives. Those are our people standing on the tarmac and all it takes is a f—ing phone call,” the person told Fox News.
“If one life is lost as a result of this, the blood is on the White House’s hands. The blood is on their hands,” the person who is not being identified by Fox News to avoid jeopardizing the rescue efforts said, adding, “It is not the Taliban that is holding this up – as much as it sickens me to say that – it is the United States government.”
The person suggested that the State Department is embarrassed that private charters are helping Americans escape Afghanistan after the Biden administration left them stranded following the US military withdrawal last week.
The flight organizer who talked to Reuters also blamed the State Department for failing to inform the Taliban that it approved of the departures from Mazar-i-Sharif.
“They need to be held accountable for putting these people’s lives in danger,” said the organizer, who asked the wire service not to reveal his identity.
Rick Clay, who operates the private group PlanB that is trying to rescue people in Afghanistan, told Fox News that he’s been trying to get clearance to land in Doha, Qatar.
The military commanders of Al Udeid Air Base in Doha have told those seeking clearance that they must go through the State Department.
Clay said he has a manifest of 4,500 names of American citizens, green card holders, and Afghans with special immigrant visas wanting to leave Afghanistan.
He’s given the State Department 800 names of people who will be passengers on the first flights.
“It is imperative that we get into Doha where there [are] other refugee centers,” Clay told Fox News in a text message. “That is where I’ve asked for clearance.”
Clay said PlanB is “having problems getting permission” from the State Department for the flights leaving Afghanistan to land in a neighboring country.
He said the State Department is not allowing the private charters to “land anywhere” and said agency officials are blaming the absence of traffic controllers and radar issues for the delays.
“If we can get aircraft in and pick up people and bring them out, why can’t we take them to Doha to the refugee center or other refugee centers?” Clay said. “This makes no sense.”
“We still have Americans we can get out,” he continued.
While some blamed the State Department for the delays, Rep. Michael McCaul, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Relations Committee, accused the Taliban of holding Americans “hostage.”
The chaotic situation and conflicting reports at Mazar-i-Sharif reflect the conditions on the ground near Hamid Karzai International Airport outside Kabul after the Taliban took control of the capital city last month and mobs of Afghans stormed the airport seeking to escape the rule of the extremist group.
McCaul said six airplanes at Mazar-i-Sharif have been cleared by the State Department but the Taliban are refusing to allow them to leave.
“Well, they are not clearing airplanes to depart. They’ve sat at the airport for the last couple days, these planes, and they’re not allowed to leave,” McCaul told host Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.”
“We know the reason why is because the Taliban want something in exchange. This is really, Chris, turning into a hostage situation where they’re not going to allow American citizens to leave until they get full recognition from the United States of America,” McCaul of Texas said.
The White House disputed claims that more than 1,000 Americans are still in Afghanistan, putting the number “around 100.”
“We are going to find ways to get them — the ones that want to leave — to get them out of Afghanistan. We know many of them have family members, many of them want to stay, but the ones that want to leave, we’re going to get them out,” White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin are expected to meet with US troops and diplomats in Germany and the Middle East this week amid the evacuation efforts.
As the planes sit on the tarmac at Mazar-i-Sharif, Clay said he’s been getting messages from Afghans waiting for his flights who fear a knock at their door from the Taliban.
“Please save us as soon as possible,” a message said. “My family and I are facing a lot of problems. My children’s health is deteriorating day by day due to many worries.”
“On the other hand, there are reports that the Taliban have recruited people in the Ministry of Technology and Communications to find people who will cooperate with US forces,” the person wrote to Clay. “If they find out anything about me, they will kill me and my family.”
McCaul said the retaliation by the Taliban against Afghans who worked with the American military during the 20-year war has been “severe.”
“You have stories of interpreters being taken home to their families and watching, you know, their wives and families being beheaded, executed before they execute the interpreter. This is not a new and improved Taliban. This is the same old Taliban. They’re reverting back to the same brutal practices,” he said on Fox News.
He also said the Taliban are in a stronger position militarily than they were when they last held power between 1996 and 2001.
“It’s worse because now they’re fully armed with our weapons, our helicopters and pallets of our cash,” he told Wallace.
He questioned President Biden’s claim that the US retains “over the horizon” capability to strike terrorists in Afghanistan from bases in neighboring countries.
“This over the horizon capability is greatly exaggerated because we don’t have anything near Afghanistan. It’s a landlocked country surrounded by our enemies, Russia, China, Iran, who have now been emboldened by this foreign policy, you know, blunder,” he said.
“I think we have to establish that ISR. You know, somewhere over the horizon capability means flying from a gulf, probably countries like Qatar, which would be anywhere from six to eight hours, having to fly around Iran, over Pakistan, get refueling. When I talk to anybody in the military, they tell me this is not adequate for us to have ISR capability,” McCaul said, referring to intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.