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tv   Sec. of State Blinken Holds Briefing on Afghanistan  CSPAN  August 26, 2021 4:48am-5:22am EDT

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week from today which will be thursday, june 3. for all of our witnesses, you have 45 days to respond to any questions for the record. thank you again. with that, this hearing is adjourned. >> partisan lame
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game -- blame game. >> good afternoon.
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i would like to go and update on the situation in afghanistan and ongoing efforts there. particularly as they relate to u.s. citizens and i am happy to take westerns. let me -- questions. let me begin with profound appreciation for our diplomats and servicemembers who are working around the clock in the airport in kabul to facilitate the evacuation of americans, families, citizens of allied and a partner nations, afghans were partnered with us, and other afghans at risk. they are undertaking this mission under extremely difficult circumstances. with incredible courage, skill, and humanity. since august 14th, or the eighth 2000 people have been flown out
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of -- 82,000 people have been flown out of kabul. only the united states could organize and execute a mission of this scale and complexity. as the president has made clear, our first priority is the evacuation of american citizens. we have evacuated at least 4500 u.s. citizens and likely more. more than 500 of those americans were evacuated in the last day alone. many of you have asked, how many u.s. citizens remain in afghanistan want to leave? based on our analysis, when our evacuations began, there was a population of his many avenue -- of as many as 6000 who wanted to
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leave. roughly 4500 of these americans have been safely evacuated along with immediate family members. over the past 24 hours, we have been in direct contact with approximately 500 additional americans. and provided specific directions on how to get to the airport safely. we will update you on our progress. for the remaining 1000 contacts that we had who may be americans seeking to leave afghanistan, we are aggressively reaching out to them multiple times a day through multiple channels of communication. to determine if they still want to leave, and to get the most up-to-date information and instructions to them for how to do so. some may no longer be in the country. some may claim to be americans and turn out not to be.
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some a two tuesday, -- some may choose to stay. from this list of approximately 1000, the number of americans actively seeking assistance is lower, likely significantly lower. having said that, these are dynamic calculations. we are working by our hour to refine -- hour by hour to refine. i want to explain why they are hard to pin down at any given moment. let me start with americans who are in afghanistan and want to leave. i think all of you know, the u.s. government does not track americans movement when they go around the world. we encourage them to enroll with the u.s. embassy. whether they do or not is up to
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them. it is voluntary. when americans leave a foreign country, it is up to them to the enroll. -- de-enroll. for many years, we have urged americans not to travel there. we have asked americans who are in afghanistan to enroll. since march of this year, we have sent 19 separate messages to americans it enrolled, urging them to leave the country. we have amplified this message is on the state department website and social media. even make clear that we would pay for their repatriation. late provided multiple medication channels for them -- we provided multiple medication channels if they wanted help in leaving. the estimated number of americans who wanted to leave can go up as people respond to
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our updates each time. it can go down as americans tell us they already left. there could be other americans in afghanistan who never enrolled with the embassy. who ignored public evacuation notices and had not yet identified themselves to us. we also found that many people who contact us and identify themselves as american citizens, including by submitting repatriation assistance forms are not u.s. citizens. something that can take some time to verify. some americans may to to stay in afghanistan. some who are enrolled and some were not. some are dual nationals, who consider afghanistan their home who want to stay close to accident family. there are americans who are evaluating if they want to leave that evolves hourly. some are understandably very
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scared. each have a set of personal parities and considerations. -- personal considerations. it will likely continue to happen. over the past seven days -- 10 days, we have been moving american citizens out of afghanistan every day. some cases by us, in other cases with the help of third countries. we crosscheck our list against flight manifests, arrival records, and other databases. there is a lack of 24 hours for us to verify status. when you take into account all of these inputs we use to arrive at our assessment of the number of americans still in afghanistan and want to leave, use or to understand why this is a hard number to pin down. why we are constantly refining
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it. that is also why we continue to be religious in our outreach -- relentless in our outreach. he reached out to every american enrolled with us in afghanistan multiple times. hundreds of staff in washington and embassies around the world are part of what has been an unprecedented operation. they are phone banking, text banking, writing and responding to emails, working around the clock to communicate with americans on the ground. since august 14, we have sent more than 20,000 emails to enrolled individuals, initiated more than 45,000 phone calls and other means of communication. updating our list repeatedly. we are also integrating information in real time that is provided to us by government,
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and u.s. citizens about americans who may be in afghanistan and want to get out. these contacts how weight determine the whereabouts of americans who may be in -- we determine the whereabouts of americans who may be in afghanistan and give them instruction on how to leave with emergency contact numbers to use should they need it. let me turn to the number of americans who have been evacuated. we believe we have evacuated more than 4500 u.s. passport holders as well as their families. that number is also a dynamic one. that is because in this critical stretch, we are focused on getting americans and their families on the plains, out of afghanistan, as quickly as possible. and then processing the total numbers when they are safely out of the country. we verify our numbers to make sure that we are not undercounting or double counting. a lot of us lay that out because
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it is a fundamental question you had. it merits going through the information and explanation of how we arrive at it. while effectuating americans is our top priority, we are also committed to getting out as many afghans at risk as we can before the 31st. the source are our locally employed staff -- that starts with our locally employed staff at our embassies and teams. it includes our allies and afghans at risk. we cannot understate the complicity and danger of this operation. we are working in a country that is controlled by the taliban was the very real possibility of isis k attack. we are taking every precaution.
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this is very high risk. as the president said, we are on track to complete our mission by august 31 provided the taliban continue to cooperate. there are no disruptions to this effort. the president has asked for contingency plans in case he determines we must remain in the country past that date. let me be clear about this, there is no deadline on our work to help any remaining american citizens who decide they want to leave to do so. along with the many afghans who have stood by us over the many years and want to leave and have been unable to do so. that effort will continue every day passed august 31 -- past august 31. the taliban has allowed safe passage for those 22 leave afghanistan past august 31 -- who want to leave afghanistan
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past august 31. -- that they have the response ability to hold to that commitment -- responsibility to hold the commitment and provide safe passage for anyone who wants to leave the country. not just for the duration of our mission, but for every day thereafter. we are developing detailed plans for how we can continue to provide support and facilitate the porters for those who wish to leave after august 31 -- facilitate the departure for those who want to leave after august 31. those who want to leave should be able to do so. we will do everything we can to see to that expectation. let me close with a note on the diplomatic front. in all, more than two citizen countries -- it doesn't countries are contributing to the effort to transit, house,
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and resettle those who we are evacuating. that did not happen. it is the product of an intense mimetic effort to -- mimetic effort. we are deeply -- diplomatic effort. we are deeply grateful. this is one of the biggest airless in history. humanitarian undertaking. it leads to the strength of the u.s. strength and the strength of our alliances. we will be building upon that strength moving forward as we forge a unified manic approach to afghanistan -- a unified diplomatic approach to afghanistan. it is one that i and other members of the state department have made in our constant communication with allies and partners in recent days to ensure that we are aligned and united as we move forward. not only when it comes to the
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immediate mission, but also what happens after august 31. on our expectations of a future afghan government. that diplomatic work is ongoing as we speak. will continue in the days and weeks ahead. i talked a lot about numbers this afternoon. even as we are laser focused on the mission, we know that this is about real people. many, scared, many desperate. i've seen the images. i have read the stories. so much of that reported by you and your colleagues. so courageously. like many of you, i read the report of the afghan translator whose daughter was temple to death on saturday while waiting outside of the airport. -- trampled to death on saturday
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while waiting outside of the airport. it was like getting punched in the gut. all of us across the u.s. government feel that way. deadlines and futures starting with our fellow citizens -- the lives and futures, starting with our fellow citizens light in the balance in these coming days -- lie in the in these coming days. i will take questions. >> thank you. two things. on your numbers of the american citizens, does that include green card holders? if it does not, -- >> it does not. >> it does not. >> have lpr's also been contacted? >> yes. >> what about siv applicants?
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>> we are in contact -- go ahead. >> it's ok. i don't expect you have all of them. there's been a lot of criticism of the administration since this all began over how it handled its. there's been a lot of pushback from people with indian ministration about the hand you were dulled by the previous administration, in terms of the broader refugee program. you guys have been in office for almost eight months. it's been five months since the president's decision was made. is there anything about the shortcomings that have been so readily identified by all sorts of people, that you guys are actually willing to take responsibility for yourselves? >> let me say two things, first, with regard to the numbers in the different categories, as you have seen by however laid out
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how we get to the numbers of americans, this is both incredibly complicated and incredibly fluid. in a number i give you right now is likely to be out of date by the time we leave this briefing room. what we're doing is very carefully tabulating everything we have, crosschecking it, using different databases. we will have numbers for the different categories in the days ahead and after this initial phase of efforts to bring people out of afghanistan. with regret to the second part of your question about taking responsibility. -- with regard to the second part of your question about taking this possibility. we take great response ability. the president takes great response ability. i can tell you there will be plenty of time to look back at the last six or seven months, to look back at the last 20 years
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and to look to see what we might've done differently. what we might've done sooner. what we might've done more effectively. but i have to tell you that right now, my entire focus is on the mission at hand. there's going to be plenty of time to do an accounting of this when we get to that mission. >> could you speak today about the future of the u.s. embassy in kabul? whether it will remain or american diplomats will remain in kabul after the military withdrawal the 31st? also more broadly, we are seeing people being attacked, intimidated, being kept from going to the airport. i wonder if you can give us any concrete examples that the u.s. is going to take to assure siv applicants and other high- risk afghans are not going to be forgotten when the military
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leaves? >> with regard to our double medic engagement, we are looking at a series of options. i'm sure we will have more on that in the coming days and weeks. we are looking at a variety of options. as i said earlier, particularly because the effort to bring out of afghanistan those who want to leave does not end with the military evacuation plan, on the 31st, we are very focused on what we need to do to facilitate the further departure of people who wish to leave afghanistan. 10 that is primarily going to be a double medic effort, a counselor effort and international effort, because other countries feel exactly that same way. >> are there any concrete steps you can give to people whether they're going to be left forgotten, -- left behind,
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forgotten, disappeared? >> the short answer is, no. they will not be forgotten. and as i said, 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. as well as to deal with other issues that we need to be focused on, include in counterterrorism and military and assistance and expectations of future afghan government -- of a future afghan government. we got 114 countries around the world to make clear to the taliban, the international expectation that people will be able to leave the country after the military evacuation effort ends. and we certainly have points of
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incentive and point of leverage, with a future afghan government, to help make sure that that happens. but i can tell you again, from my perspective, from the president's perspective, this effort does not end on august 31, it will continue for as long as it takes, to help get people out of afghanistan who wish to leave. >> what is your thought -- what are your thoughts about that the taliban will abide by with the international committed put on them? >> they have made commitments publicly, they have made them privately, and again i think they have a very strong self-interest in acting with a modicum of her sensibility going forward. -- responsibility going forward. >> thank you. the taliban right now are not living up to their
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commitments. people are being stopped trying to get to the airport, i'm talking about women, siv's, other afghans, people with papers, and they are being stopped outside the airport now. there are total bottlenecks that seem to rise to the level of what the president said were a contingency. there are lawyers, there are judges, women, educators. we told them for 20 years, you can live up to your potential. and now, they feel abandoned. i would like to ask you about the local hires. we evacuated our embassy and
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there are teams of people who feel completely betrayed. these are people we have allowed and embassies around the world. the message is going forward that they were not told about evacuation, they were not put on those [indiscernible] with american staff. forced to find their own way through the taliban checkpoints. they get turned away from the airport. some even got turned away once they were inside. what is the message to people working for the u.s. government? veteran groups are angry about the siv's. and then there are the millions of afghan women who have been raised under this premise of a future. there are horrifying examples of people being targeted door-to-door, people and safehouses being set out. all this promise of you will be
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safe, a taliban spokesperson said, stay in your home, because we haven't told all of our people how to treat women, how to respect women. they also say you can go to school, you can work as long as you can practice sharia law, which under their interpretation is the most extreme example of the islamic code seen anywhere in the world. >> of the people who have been evacuated, about 45% or 46% were women and children. we have been intentionally focused particularly on making sure that we can get women at risk out of harm's way. second, with regard to women and other afghans at risk going forward, we will use -- i will
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use every diplomatic, economic, political, and assistance tool at my disposal, working closely with allies and partners who feel very much the same way to do everything possible to uphold their basic rights. along with american citizens, nothing is more important to me as a secretary of state than to do right by the people who have been working side-by-side with american diplomats in our embassy. and i can tell you that we are relentlessly focused on getting staff out of afghanistan and out of harm's way. let me leave it at that for now. >> thank you.
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>> here spokesperson indicated in recent days that the fact that the taliban are in charge in kabul, but there is no legal recognized government by the united states at this moment. and it kind of begs the question, why does the u.s. even have to pay attention to what the taliban wants? it is sanctioned by many organizations. it is already losing access to afghan government resources, because of its past and current behavior. why should the u.s. even care what the taliban wants to be done at the airport or frankly any where else in the country since they are not legally recognized government in the u.s.'s eyes? thank you.
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>> our focus right now is on getting our citizens and partners, afghan partners, third country partners who have been working in afghanistan with us, out of the country and to safety. for that purpose, first, the taliban, whether we like it or not, it is in control of a country, certainly in control of the city of kabul. and it's been important to work with them to facilitate and insure the departure of all those who want to leave. and that has actually been something that we have been focused on from the beginning of this operation. as a practical matter, it advances our interests. second, we have been engaged with the taliban for some time to blow medically, going back
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years -- diplomatically, going back years, to advance the peaceful settlement of afghanistan to but there are still conversations underway, even now, between the taliban and former members of the afghan government, with regard for example to a transfer of power. and some inclusivity in a future government. i think it is in our interest, where possible, to support those efforts. going forward, we will judge our engagement with any taliban-led government in afghanistan based on one simple proposition. our interest. and does it help us advance some are not? -- them or not? engagement with the government can advance the enduring interest we will have an counterterrorism -- in counterterrorism. helping the afghan people who need humanitarian assistance.
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ensuring all afghans, women and girls, i helped, then we will do it. but fundamentally, the nature of that engagement and the nature of any relationship depends entirely on the actions and conduct of the taliban. if a future government upholds the basic rights of the afghan people, if it makes good on its commitments, to ensure that afghanistan cannot be used as a launching pad for terrorist attacks directed against us and our allies and partners, and in the first instance, if it makes good on its commitments to allow people who want to leave afghanistan to leave, that's a government we can work with. , if it doesn't, we will make sure that we use every appropriate tool at our disposal to isolate that government and, as i said before, afghanistan
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will be a pariah. >> will the u.s. keep any diplomatic and/or any other kind of presence in kabul? who will run the airport? -- are there discussions with the taliban on the airport? >> there are very active efforts on the way -- underway on the part of regional countries, to see whether they can play a role in keeping the airport open, once our military mission leaves, or as necessary, reopening it if it closes for some period of time, and that is happening very actively right now. the taliban have made clear they have a strong interest in having
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a functioning airport. we and the rest of the international committee certainly have a strong interest in the. primarily for the purpose of making sure that anyone wants to leave can leave -- who wants to leave can leave past the 31st using the airport. and so, that is a very active effort that is underway as we speak. and again with regard to our own potential presence going forward, we are looking at a number of options. >> thank you very much. >> thank you all very much.
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