State: We're beginning to think the Taliban's unreasonable when it comes to the hostages we left them

What was your first clue, Ned Price? This turd in the Foggy Bottom punchbowl also comes from yesterday’s press briefing at the State Department, where reporters have tried mightily to keep the Biden administration’s feet to the fire on Afghanistan and the Americans they abandoned to the Taliban. While State’s flack tries desperately to change the subject — to North Korea, no less — reporters want answers on why the US has still not gotten its own people out of Mazar-e-Sharif despite promises to exhaust every piece of leverage.

The answer? They’re pulling all the levers they can, but the Taliban just isn’t responding:

Here’s the transcript for the entire exchange, in which the reporter questions how many “levers” we have, and what the effect of pulling them has been:

QUESTION: Can I ask a question about Afghanistan?

MR PRICE: Final question on Afghanistan, sure.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask if there have been any movement on the flights out of Mazar. A week ago the Secretary said, quote, “Those flights need to move.” And also the Secretary had said State would be coordinating with veterans groups who are doing their own evacuation and extraction efforts. Has that been formalized? And if so, what does that look like now?

MR PRICE: So when it comes to the various groups – and certainly veterans groups have played an important and welcome role in this, but other advocacy groups, humanitarian groups, lawmakers, NGOs, private companies, media organizations, a constellation of actors have come to the support of the people of Afghanistan. And that is certainly something that this department is playing a leading role in coordinating. I can tell you not a day goes by, not an hour goes by, I would venture to guess not a minute goes by that many of us are in touch with individuals who are outside of the U.S. Government who are helping to coordinate these efforts. And there is a lot of activity focused on the potential for charter flights out of Mazar-e-Sharif.

I am not aware that any international flights, charter flights or otherwise, have left Mazar-e-Sharif. Of course, we have had a couple charter flights from Kabul International Airport that departed last week, including with U.S. citizens onboard. I know that the Turks and the Qataris, and if you listen to what the Taliban are saying publicly, the Taliban as well want to see not only charter flights, but normal commercial activity resumed at Kabul International Airport on an expedited basis. And it’s our hope that that will be able to happen in the not-too-distant future so that in addition to the charter flights that our Qatari partners have very generously administered to date, there will be additional options for individuals to leave from Kabul International Airport. So we will continue to work on this, just as we continue to work on these overland routes as well.

North Korea?

QUESTION: Sorry, what is the problem in Mazar? What’s the hold-up? Is it the same issue? I mean, we talked about documentation; you guys said that it wasn’t an acceptable reason, given the circumstances, to hold the flights. And then just nothing?

MR PRICE: We have been very clear that the individuals who have expressed a desire and a willingness to leave via Mazar-e-Sharif should be allowed to leave the country. There – the fact that to my knowledge a charter flight has not departed Mazar has nothing to do with anything that the State Department has or has not done, and in fact, quite the contrary. The State Department, as we have said, has pulled every lever available to us. We have gone to extraordinary lengths with not only our engagement with the Taliban, but also with these other constellation of groups on the ground and operating from afar, and also with countries in the region. And to our minds, these flights, these individuals, there is no reason they should not be able to depart. And that’s what we’re continuing to focus on.

All the promises of having enough “leverage” to protect the Americans left behind by Biden have been exposed as empty braggadocio. Rather than let Price change the subject to North Korea, the reporter presses him on Joe Biden’s other promise — to use that leverage to defend women’s rights in Afghanistan. How can Biden promise to “hold them accountable,” she asks, when Biden can’t even get Americans on a plane out of Mazar-e-Sharif?

Well, we don’t have those levers, Price replies:

QUESTION: And Ned, can I circle back to what my colleague said when she was asking about women’s rights and Taliban alleged abuses? You said the U.S. will hold them accountable. How are you going to do that? If you can’t even – you said you’ve used every lever you’ve had, and you can’t address this issue that’s much smaller.

MR PRICE: I said I – I said we’ve used every lever we’ve had in the narrow and specific issue of charter flights leaving from the Mazar-e-Sharif airport in northern Afghanistan. The question of holding the Taliban accountable is a much broader question, it’s a much more strategic question. And we’ve talked about this before. We do have levers available to us; the international community has levers available to it collectively. We, working in tandem with our allies and partners, have profound sources of leverage to hold —

QUESTION: And why can’t you use those sources of leverage on this issue? You see what I’m saying? It’s one way or the other.

MR PRICE: So we, as you know, Christina, we have been able to facilitate the departure of Americans from Afghanistan. We are continuing to work on that. And just yesterday, in fact, there was another case. So this is something where we have had some success – several dozen Americans, a couple dozen LPRs. We are pulling levers that are appropriate, and in doing so we’ve been able to safely effect the departure of these individuals.

What a disgrace. Biden sold his abandonment of our allies in Afghanistan on the claim that the US would retain leverage over the Taliban, an absurd claim on its face. It hasn’t taken long for the Taliban to demonstrate its absurdity, too, along with other administration belches about the Taliban’s lack of inclusiveness in its leadership, its standing in the international community, and so on.

Most absurd of all, however, has been the Biden administration’s spin on the abandoned Americans and legal permanent residents, numbering in the thousands. They have suggested — and still do — that many of them preferred to stay after the Taliban takeover. Price and others within the administration have also insisted that they could work with the Taliban even apart from the myriad of “levers” that Price keeps attempting to conjure. All of this spin has served one purpose — to set up a denial strategy that a hostage crisis exists. Biden and his team knew damned well who the Taliban were and what it would mean to leave Americans behind. They just didn’t give a s*** about it.

For now, that strategy has worked with the national media, which has all but ignored the Americans abandoned in Afghanistan without any exit. It hasn’t worked with reporters at the State Department beat, thankfully. Not only should the issue of abandoned Americans be featured in congressional hearings with State, Pentagon, and White House officials, it should be the only topic — until we finally get answers on how many we abandoned, and what the Taliban has in mind for them.