Blinken: The Taliban still aren't letting the chartered flights carrying Americans depart

In case you’re not keeping track, this is now Day 8 of our definitely-not-a-hostage-crisis crisis in Mazar-i-Sharif.

Blinken still won’t use the H-word in the clip below, presumably for the contrived reason that passengers reportedly aren’t being forced to remain at the airport. They’re free to move about!

As long as they don’t leave Afghanistan, it seems.

Blinken has a curiously flat affect in his public statements (not the worst thing for a diplomat, I suppose) but the fact that he’s noting that State hasn’t made headway on getting the chartered planes out suggests U.S. patience is starting to run thin. To which the Taliban might say: So what? What are you going to do about it?

As long as there are Americans in harm’s way, we have to play nice. Which is a strong incentive for the Taliban to keep Americans in harm’s way. Watch, then read on.

Recent estimates of how many Americans are waiting to depart from Mazar-i-Sharif have pegged the number at around 19 but RCP claims that it’s much more than that. Susan Crabtree’s sources say there are 143 Americans in all, although that number may include legal permanent residents, not just citizens. Supposedly the Taliban are willing to let anyone with U.S. documents leave, which is a problem if (a) you have an American passport but your spouse and/or children don’t, as it would mean leaving them behind, or (b) you have SIV documentation proving that you aided the U.S. in its war against the Taliban over the past 20 years. Show that paperwork and you might not make it out of the airport alive.

Instead of spending time disputing whether the grounded flights amount to a hostage crisis, the private groups would like more effort out of the State Department identifying Afghans who have applied for Special Immigrant Visa, or SIV, status and don’t have the documents proving their roles in helping the U.S. Many Afghans desperately wanting to leave aren’t carrying their documents either out of fear they will be searched by the Taliban and killed for having helped Americans — or because they never received proof from the U.S. government that they had applied.

“[The Taliban] want people only with passports to leave, but unfortunately many of the folks are with their families, and you have one passport holder and a bunch of family members – and others that have applied for SIV visa status that have not been cleared by the State Department and have been waiting 14, 16 months with no answer whatsoever,” said a source with direct knowledge of the situation playing out…

Those familiar with the impasse say the State Department has rebuffed their offers to provide the documents to evacuees who lack them, as well as provide the names and ID cards of Afghans claiming SIV status so they can run the information through State Department databases of those who have applied for the special status.

Those databases, er, might not exist anymore, Crabtree reports. They may have been destroyed when the U.S. abandoned the embassy in Kabul.

As for why State might not be willing to provide papers to Afghans, they’re trying to manage a security risk created by a massive on-the-fly airlift out of Afghanistan. If the evacuation had taken place months ago in an orderly way, as it should have, there would have been time to vet passengers before letting them depart. But because the administration badly overestimated the Afghan army’s ability to hold off the Taliban, the White House had to take a “fly first, vet later” approach, ushering people onto aircraft by the thousands in their haste to beat the August 31 deadline and holding them at bases abroad while their backgrounds are checked. “[I]nitial findings suggest that while some who escaped were locally employed staff, many got out because they were part of the initial crush of people who made it to Kabul’s airport as the city fell to the Taliban,” Bloomberg reported over the weekend. Some Afghan men who arrived in the U.S. reportedly did so with “child brides.”

Which means the Kabul evacuation resembles U.S. immigration policy writ large. The people who did everything by the book, applying through legal means and then waiting patiently for approval, may end up stranded for years in their home country. Whereas the people who simply pushed their way into American jurisdiction, legally or not, will probably be allowed to stay in the U.S. for reasons of “compassion.”

State is sufficiently worried about bad actors ending up on a chartered flight that they allegedly told the groups behind the charters last week that they weren’t cleared to land in Qatar or at any other U.S. military base. “U.S. officials have pointed to possible security threats from landing charter planes at military bases, saying that they lack the resources on the ground to fully verify flight manifests,” Fox News reported this morning. I assume that ban has now been lifted in the interest of getting Americans out of Mazar-i-Sharif. At a certain point, the political risk in letting a plane land that may be carrying a jihadi is overtaken by the political risk of a protracted hostage crisis in which Americans are stranded (yes, that’s the proper term, Jen Psaki) in Afghanistan for weeks or months.

Here’s a little more of Blinken babbling about the Taliban’s lack of “inclusivity” and the “challenging” history of some members of the new government, which is bloodless diplo-speak for saying they’re terrorists.

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