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Biden administration officials are reportedly at a loss for what to do in response to the current “hostage” situation in Afghanistan, telling reporters they “do not control the airspace” as several planes holding Americans have been prevented by the Taliban from leaving the country.
What’s the background?
News surfaced on Sunday that as many as six planes holding American citizens have been stranded at the Mazar-i-Sharif international airport for days as Taliban leaders seek to extract concessions from the U.S. government before allowing them to leave.
In a document sent to members of Congress over the weekend, the State Department said the flights have been cleared to depart for Doha, Qatar, and will do so “if and when the Taliban agrees to takeoff.”
“The Taliban is basically holding them hostage to get more out of the Americans,” a congressional source told CBS News.
It’s the latest blunder in the administration’s bungled withdrawal from Afghanistan late last month, which concluded with hundreds of Americans and thousands of Afghan nationals still stranded in the Taliban-controlled country.
Having ended its military mission, the U.S. now reportedly lacks the military force or diplomatic personnel to ensure that those stranded Americans can complete their chartered passage out of the country.
What is the administration saying?
In response to questioning from TheBlaze on Monday, the State Department effectively threw its hands in the air and conceded there’s not much it can do at this point.
“We understand the concern that many people are feeling as they try to facilitate further charter and other passage out of Afghanistan. However, we do not have personnel on the ground, we do not have air assets in the country, we do not control the airspace — whether over Afghanistan or elsewhere in the region,” a State Department spokesman said.
The spokesman added that the department also does not have a “reliable means” to verify the identity of the passengers.
“Given these constraints, we also do not have a reliable means to confirm the basic details of charter flights, including who may be organizing them, the number of U.S. citizens and other priority groups on-board, the accuracy of the rest of the manifest, and where they plan to land, among many other issues,” the spokesman said.
Despite all of this, the spokesman noted the State Department will continue to “hold the Taliban to its pledge to let people freely depart Afghanistan.”
The administration’s apparent inaction contradicts the message it relayed to the American people following the conclusion of its incomplete evacuation in late August.
At the time, Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth McKenzie acknowledged, “We did not get out everybody we wanted to get out,” but insisted that “our Department of State is going to work very hard to allow any American citizens that are left” to obtain passage out of the country.
Others in the administration likewise promised that the U.S. would work tirelessly to get the remaining Americans safely home.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby, while admitting he did not “foresee a military role” in evacuating the remaining Americans, stressed that the administration would “use other tools available to us as a government to help the safe passage of Americans get out of that country.”