- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 27, 2021

A senior State Department official told a Senate panel Wednesday that all American citizens left in Afghanistan “will have an opportunity to depart in the next couple of weeks.”

Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Brian McKeon told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the State Department has coordinated with airline companies to charter flights from the Kabul airport and expects flights to transport “several dozen Americans” out of Afghanistan this week.

“At the current pace, if we continue to have success with these charter flights, I think all of these people who say they are ready to depart will have an opportunity to depart in the next couple of weeks,” Mr. McKeon testified.

The State Department announced last week that the U.S. government has facilitated the departure of 234 U.S. citizens and 144 lawful permanent residents, more than double the number of citizens the Biden administration had previously estimated wished to leave and were left behind as U.S. troops departed Afghanistan at the end of August.

Mr. McKeon said the State Department is working daily to relocate Americans still trapped in Afghanistan, coordinating among airlines willing to fly into Kabul, where he says there is still no normal commercial airline service.

Still, the confusion remains over the exact number of American citizens left behind after the end of the 20-year U.S. combat mission there.

On Tuesday, Under Secretary of Defense Colin Kahl told the Senate Armed Services Committee that, all told, 439 U.S. citizens remained in Afghanistan — far higher than the total figure of 363 Americans Congress was told were left behind last week.

Of the 439, Mr. Kahl said 196 have told the State Department they want to leave. He said the State Department is in contact with the remaining 243, who have not expressed a desire to relocate.

On Wednesday, Mr. McKeon presented slightly different figures.

He said that “as of a couple of days ago” the State Department had been in contact with “a little over 400” U.S. citizens, of whom 225 are “ready to depart” and “a little south of 190” who say they are not ready to depart.

“And these numbers change all the time,” he said. “Even somebody who told us last week they were ready to depart, if we call them today and said there was a flight in two days say, ‘Oh well, we’re not ready this week. Can we go next week?’”

Stephen Dinan contributed to this story.

• Joseph Clark can be reached at jclark@washingtontimes.com.

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