See no evil: We're not aware of any hostage crisis in Mazar-i-Sharif, Blinken claims

No wonder even Democrats are getting pissed off about the standoff at the airport in that city. Not only are Americans being held against their will, our own Secretary of State is making excuses for the people holding them.

On Sunday Republican Michael McCaul dropped a bombshell in an interview with Fox News, claiming that six planes tasked with transporting Americans and Afghan friendlies were being bottled up at the airport in Mazar-i-Sharif and not allowed to leave. McCaul alleged that the Taliban were holding them as bargaining chips to pressure the U.S. government into formally recognizing the new regime but it wasn’t clear if he was guessing at that or if a demand had been made behind closed doors. Either way, jihadis preventing our citizens and legal permanent residents (whom the administration keeps forgetting about) from leaving sure sounds like a hostage crisis.

Yet there was Blinken this morning insisting that he’s unaware of any situation that might fit that description. Huh.

Per the clip, it seems like he’s being lawyerly in describing what’s happening. It’s not that anyone’s being held “hostage,” Blinken says, it’s that some of the passengers looking to leave lack valid travel documents, which sounds like a quotidian bureaucratic snafu. But why would the Taliban prevent U.S. citizens and permanent residents who do have valid documents from leaving just because others waiting to depart don’t? It should be easy enough for the State Department to verify for the Taliban that a given passenger is one of ours and should be put on a plane for Qatar immediately. Preventing everyone from leaving because particular passengers don’t have their papers reeks of an excuse to hold the “dozens” of Americans and LPRs still in the country.

For that matter, if State and the Qatari regime are willing to accept all of the passengers waiting in Mazar-i-Sharif whether they have the proper documents or not, why should the Taliban bar them from leaving? Passports verify that the carrier is who he says he is; that’s a security concern chiefly for the country where the passenger is arriving, not the one from which he’s departing. “Afghans with valid visas and passports stranded in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif and waiting to take chartered evacuation flights out of the country will be allowed to leave, a Taliban official at the city’s international airport said Tuesday,” the AP reported this morning. But since we’re relying on the Taliban’s judgment on whether someone’s papers are “valid” or not, it’d be child’s play for the new regime to scrutinize and ultimately deny departure to any passenger whom they have reason to believe worked with the U.S. military.

Which is probably what this week-long delay in Mazar-i-Sharif is really about, right? The Taliban is probably checking to see which passengers collaborated with the U.S., fought for the Afghan army, or served in the now defunct government. They have plans for people like that.

Because the two sides are still negotiating, and because it’d be a new political disaster for Biden if they called this what it was, State and its allies are bending over backward to say that this isn’t a hostage situation.

[T]he State Department and organizers on the ground in Qatar countered Mr. McCaul’s description of the situation, saying that the planes had received necessary clearance and were awaiting final approval from the Taliban…

Marina LeGree, the founder and executive director of Ascend, a nonprofit organization that provided athletic and climbing training to women, said 34 people from her group, which includes girls aged 16 to 23, had traveled from Kabul to Mazar-i-Sharif in hopes of boarding a plane last week.

Still, she denied that the evacuees were being held hostage, saying that they were free to leave to the airport, as some have. The situation, she said, is growing more dire by the day.

So passengers (or at least some passengers) aren’t being confined to the airport and there may have been no formal ransom demand made by the Taliban (yet), but the people waiting to depart have been cleared to do so by the U.S. and Qatar — and yet aren’t being allowed to do so by the new government.

What should we call that situation? Would it make Biden and Blinken feel better if we called it a kidnapping?

Whether or not the Taliban has requested anything in return for the passengers’ safe passage, the U.S. government is apparently viewing this as a transaction: “U.S. officials say that allowing the exit of Americans and vulnerable Afghans is the primary requirement for the U.S. to consider rolling back sanctions on Taliban officials, restarting government aid, freeing up funds and potentially normalizing relations with a Taliban-led government someday.” Since Blinken’s uncomfortable with the term “hostage crisis,” some reporter should ask him if he’d feel better describing it as a purchase.

Exit question via Jim Geraghty: Given how eager State was to wrongly take credit for the evacuation of four Americans, just how badly is the evacuation process going? Are those the only four U.S. citizens who’ve made it out over the past week?