The Biden administration desperately wants to move on from Afghanistan. So would a large number of American citizens and legal permanent residents (LPRs or green-card holders), but the Biden administration abandoned them behind Taliban lines. Associated Press reporter Matt Lee pressed State Department flack Ned Price on the matter, telling Price that LPRs feel like the Biden administration “screwed” and “lied to” them and betrayed them by bugging out.
Lee wants to know how many there are still left in Afghanistan, and Price can’t answer for any of it. Lee keeps demanding “how many?”, and Price keeps avoiding the question and shifting back to American citizens. It picks up at about the 25-minute mark:
QUESTION: Great. Thanks, and I just want to drill down a little bit into this 100 to 200 who remain, U.S. citizens. These are passport holders, right? This does not include LPRs?
MR PRICE: That is correct.
QUESTION: Well, what’s, then – you must have some estimate of LPRs who are still there who want to get out, and if you don’t, why not?
MR PRICE: Well, Matt, we – let me first start with this issue of the 100 to 200. And to reiterate a couple pieces that Under Secretary Nuland said, we’ve been at this point of 100 to 200 over the past couple days. You heard this from Secretary Blinken, you heard this from the President as well. But it is also true that over the past couple days – and, in fact, overnight – we have been in touch with everyone in that remaining 100 to 200, and we do have a little bit more fidelity on that group that we’ve been able to garner over the past couple days. We have said that the number is likely closer to 100. Everything we have seen over the course of the past 48 to 72 hours indicates that is, in fact, the case. The number is likely closer to 100, perhaps considerably closer to 100.
Again, this number is dynamic. It will go down, and in fact, we have received confirmation that some of the individuals we initially included in this range of 100 to 200 were, in fact, never in Afghanistan or were not in Afghanistan when we were doing that outreach, or have safely returned home in recent hours.
QUESTION: It all has to do with – I’m asking about green card holders.
MR PRICE: Right.
QUESTION: Who you also have a responsibility to, along with the SIVs and other – but now I’m just asking about green card holders. Was there a decision made at some point to forget about those people —
MR PRICE: No.
QUESTION: — and only allow U.S. passport holders in and onto – into the airport through your checkpoints, not the Taliban checkpoints, but through your checkpoints and onto planes? Because a lot of them feel like they frankly got screwed here and that they were lied to, because they had been told by people on the task force – this is what I mentioned to Toria – that we know where you are, we’re not going to let you – we’re not going to strand you, don’t worry, stay tight – hold tight. And now, what do they do? I mean, are you in touch also with the green card holders?
MR PRICE: So, Matt —
QUESTION: In the last 24 hours?
MR PRICE: So let me start by saying we have a special responsibility to American citizens, and that is spelled out in 22 U.S. Code Section 4802. It is spelled out in some detail there the special responsibility we have to U.S. citizens. We also do have a commitment to LPRs, to lawful permanent residents, and we have been in touch with those – with LPRs. We had good reason at the time to be in Afghanistan as the evacuation operation was underway. So when we first started messaging American citizens, SIVs, other at-risk Afghans, we absolutely did and continue to message lawful permanent residents.
QUESTION: How many?
MR PRICE: So let me just make another point here. We have been consistent in that messaging that we will do during the course of the evacuation everything in our power, and space permitting, to bring them to safety on a U.S. military airplane. Now, of course, our commitment has not expired; that commitment endures. And now we remain committed to bringing them out of Afghanistan if they should choose to do so.
When it comes to the number, we have gone to some pains to explain how we arrived at the figure of approximately 6,000 when it comes to American citizens. That is a figure where we have the greatest fidelity, again, because our first responsibility and our first commitment in all of this has been to American citizens and American passport holders. The number, when it comes to LPRs, is, of course, going to be larger. It is going to be a more – and it has been a more complex endeavor to determine with any specificity what that number may be. We’ve been able to refine it, we believe that we have effectively been able to message this universe of individuals, but we’re just not able at present to give you a firm figure as to how many LPRs may be in Afghanistan who wish to leave.
But again, our commitment to them remains. If there is an LPR in Afghanistan who indicated a desire to leave before or who changes his or her mind in the coming days, weeks, months, or beyond, we will help that person. We will help that person depart Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Right. The family that I’m referring to and possibly the family that Humeyra was referring to, I mean, they were told. You guys do know. It defies logic to think that you guys don’t have even a rough estimate of the number of LPRs who are out there.
MR PRICE: We have endeavored throughout this to provide only numbers in which we have a high degree of confidence. That is why many of you have asked about reports that the number of Americans was much higher than it actually was. There have been a lot of numbers thrown around. We have done everything we can to provide you with information that is both timely, but that is also accurate. And given the complexities involved in boiling down a number like that, not only taking the number of LPRs but then boiling it down to how many of those LPRs may wish to leave the country, that is something that will take time for us to offer publicly with some degree of precision.
Price gain trots out the CYA formulation about those “wishing to leave the country.” How many have told the State Department “hey, never mind, we’re cool”? They certainly aren’t saying that to their elected representatives in Congress. The Washington Examiner reports this morning that those offices are getting calls from Americans abandoned by Joe Biden desperately hoping for some help from their own government:
Congressional staff and members frantically working to help U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents, and family members escape from Afghanistan after the Taliban took over the country have received harrowing reports of the chaotic situation in the final days before and after the military’s withdrawal.
From being on the phone with individuals dodging gunfire to messages describing Taliban beating U.S. citizens, lives are on the line as an ever-changing security landscape hamstrings staff members working long hours to assist those stranded. …
Nebraska Rep. Don Bacon’s Deputy chief of staff Felix Ungerman, a retired Air Force colonel, has worked cases since Kabul fell to the Taliban. Earlier this week, he was on the phone with a U.S. citizen in Kabul reporting to a citizen’s access point, which he had tried to access for days. Then, the Taliban started to fire.
“He goes, ‘Oh my god, he’s shooting.’ And I said, ‘Please get away from there, go get to safety,’” Ungerman said. “His phone cut off while I could hear gunshots going off, and I couldn’t get in touch with him again. I tried calling his cellphone every couple of hours to see if I could get him, tried an email, sent him a text message. And it wasn’t until [Tuesday] morning that he actually texted me back and said, ‘Yeah, I’m OK, but now what do I do?’ I’m like, ‘You get to somewhere safe, and you stay there until we can — our government can offer some solutions to help you.’”
Another citizen he worked with heeded the U.S. Embassy’s recommendation earlier this year to make plans to leave the country on a commercial flight, but she booked a ticket for the first week of September — not expecting the country would fall to the Taliban weeks before her departure date. She didn’t think she could get to Kabul safely as a single woman. Now, she doesn’t know what to do or how to leave.
They seem pretty anxious to leave, no? And yet their own government not only can’t account for them, they’re busy pretending that Americans might have chosen to stay and see what Taliban rule looks like. It’s a national disgrace, and kudos to Matt Lee for holding Price at least somewhat accountable for it.