Roughly 1,500 U.S. citizens likely still in Afghanistan

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said about 4,500 Americans have been evacuated so far

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that as many as 1,500 Americans may be awaiting evacuation from Afghanistan, a figure that suggests the US may accomplish its highest priority for the Kabul airlift — rescuing US citizens — ahead of President Joe Biden’s Tuesday deadline.

Untold thousands of at-risk Afghans, however, still are struggling to get into the Kabul airport, while many thousands of other Afghans already have been flown to safety in 12 days of round-the-clock flights.

On Wednesday, several of the Americans working phones and pulling strings to get out former Afghan colleagues, women’s advocates, journalists and other vulnerable Afghans said they have seen little concrete US action so far to get those Afghans past Taliban checkpoints and through US-controlled airport gates to promised evacuation flights.

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“It’s 100% up to the Afghans to take these risks and try to fight their way out,” said Sunil Varghese, policy director with the International Refugee Assistance Project.

Biden’s administration has for days struggled to provide a specific figure for both the number of Americans evacuated so far and those who are still in Afghanistan. Blinken, while providing the figures, cautioned they may change by the hour.

“From this list of approximately 1,000, we believe the number of Americans actively seeking assistance to leave Afghanistan is lower, likely significantly lower,” he said.

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He also said 45 percent to 46 percent of the more than 82,000 people who have so far been evacuated have been women and children.

In the 10 days since the Taliban swept into Kabul, the United States and its allies have mounted one of the biggest air evacuations on record, bringing out more than 88,000 people, including 19,000 in the last 24 hours. The U.S. military says planes are taking off the equivalent of every 39 minutes.

Although the airlift is due to last until Tuesday, the United States military said it will shift its focus in the final two days from assisting fleeing civilians to evacuating troops.

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The Pentagon does not expect U.S. military involvement beyond Aug. 31, spokesman John Kirby said.

Blinken said the State Department estimates there were about 6,000 Americans wanting to leave Afghanistan when the airlift began Aug. 14, as the Taliban took the capital after a stunning military conquest. About 4,500 Americans have been evacuated so far, Blinken said, and among the rest “some are understandably very scared.”

The 6,000 figure is the first firm estimate by the State Department of how many Americans were seeking to get out. US officials early in the evacuation estimated as many as 15,000, including dual citizens, lived in Afghanistan. The figure does not include US Green Card holders.