4:38 p.m. EDT
You just heard directly from the President regarding the context, the current situation, and what the United States is seeking to do in the coming hours and the coming days.
Let me offer just a few additional details from the Department of State.
The safety and security of U.S. Government employees and U.S. citizens overseas is our top priority. All remaining U.S. direct hire embassy personnel, including the ambassador, have relocated to Hamid Karzai International Airport, where they are secure.
The Department of Defense is working to restore a safe and secure environment so that military and commercial flights can resume.
Now, of course, the situation is evolving quickly, and we will communicate information to U.S. citizens as rapidly as possible. In the meantime, we are asking U.S. citizens to shelter and not to travel to the airport until they hear otherwise from the Department of State.
We also continue to pursue all options to relocate interested and qualified Afghan SIV applicants and their immediate families, as well as other vulnerable Afghans.
We remain closely coordinated with our international partners on the ground and around the globe.
We’ve been engaging tirelessly with our partners and the international community. You may have seen last night the United States organized a joint statement with 98 signatories, calling on all parties to respect and facilitate the safe and orderly departure of foreign nationals and Afghans who wish to leave the country.
Today, Secretary Blinken spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, PRC State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Pakistan Foreign Minister Qureshi, UK Foreign Secretary Raab, NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg, Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu, and EU High Representative Josep Borrell.
Yesterday he spoke with Australian Foreign Minister Payne, French Foreign Minister Le Drian, German Foreign Minister Maas, and Norwegian Foreign Minister Soreide. Other senior officials have been making calls to their counterparts as well around the clock.
Additionally, the UN Security Council issued a joint press statement earlier today calling for a new government that is united, inclusive, and representative – including with the full and meaningful participation of women. The council spoke with one voice to underscore that Afghanistan must abide by its international obligations – including to international humanitarian law – and ensure the safety and security of all Afghans and international citizens.
The situation will continue to remain fluid in the coming hours and likely in the coming days. Nevertheless, we are operating on multiple fronts and around the clock to protect our people, those who have worked side-by-side with the United States over the years, and other vulnerable Afghans.
Now before I take your questions, I do want to speak to one additional issue that is of great importance to us, and that is the U.S. response to the earthquake in Haiti. The United States is closely monitoring the situation following a magnitude 7.2 earthquake that struck the southwestern part of the country on August 14th. We offer our deepest condolences to all who suffered the loss of loved ones or saw their homes or businesses destroyed. We are in close contact with Haitian authorities to respond to the earthquake and any requests for assistance.
On Saturday, USAID deployed a Disaster Assistance Response Team – or a DART – to lead the U.S. Government’s humanitarian response efforts. And yesterday, at the request of the Government of Haiti, USAID deployed members of Fairfax County Fire Department’s Urban Search and Rescue – USAR – team to join the DART.
So far, the DART conducted an aerial assessment and is continuing to assess the damage. They will also identify priority needs and coordinate with the Government of Haiti and humanitarian partners.
U.S. Coast Guard aircrews are transporting medical personnel and supplies from Port-au-Prince to Jeremie and Les Cayes, and are evacuating injured citizens to higher level of care facilities in Port-au-Prince.
At the request of USAID, SOUTHCOM is sending two UH-60 and two CH-47 helicopters from Joint Task Force-Bravo to provide critical airlift support to ongoing relief efforts.
We are also closely tracking Tropical Storm Grace, which is expected to reach Haiti today, potentially exposing people to further devastation.
The United States remains a close and enduring friend to the people of Haiti, and we will continue to provide assistance in the aftermath of this tragedy. We are committed to helping the Haitian people build a better future.
With that, I’m happy to take your questions.
One, other than the threat – I guess you would call it – to respond militarily if the Taliban interfere or get in the way of any of the evacuation efforts, do you – is there any kind of agreement that’s been reached or any kind of an arrangement that has been reached with them about the presence of the U.S. military at the airport, or are they just basically there at kind of the pleasure of the Taliban, as it were, until they decide that they’ve had enough and they start – I don’t know if they will or not, but when they start to resist the fact that the airport is not under their control?
MR PRICE: Well, let me take the opportunity to offer a bit of context on our diplomatic efforts over the past 72 or so hours. Ambassador Khalilzad and his team remained in Doha. They still remain in Doha following consultations that we talked about last week with a number of countries from the region – the UN and countries much farther afield. They continued and they still continue to engage with the Taliban. They continue to engage with the Islamic Republic, that is to say, the Government of Afghanistan representatives.
When it became clear that the Government of Afghanistan was on the verge of collapse, that President Ghani had fled, and that the Taliban were encroaching on Kabul, the focus, of course, changed. It shifted from supporting peace negotiations along with the international community to working assiduously and urgently to do all we can with the international community on an urgent basis to avert violence, to attempt to maintain order in Kabul, and very, very importantly, to guarantee that the Taliban would not seek to threaten our people or our operations.
It was a very fluid situation. The situation changed markedly when President Ghani left the country and as the Taliban continued to encroach on Kabul. We do continue to engage with Taliban representatives in Doha from the State Department team. The U.S. military has spoken to engagement with the Taliban on the ground in Kabul. And again, we are working on a couple different fronts: First and foremost, to seek to preserve calm in Kabul, to maintain a semblance of security, and very importantly, to underscore that any effort, any attempt to target, to threaten, to intimidate our personnel or our operations would be met with a swift and decisive response.
QUESTION: But other than that, there’s no agreement with the Taliban for the U.S. military to run the airport, to run the airspace, to be in control? And if there is an agreement, for how long does that agreement last?
MR PRICE: We have engaged with the Taliban. We have had discussions. I would say that some of those discussions have been constructive. But again, when it comes to —
QUESTION: So there’s no agreement.
MR PRICE: — when it comes to the Taliban, we are going to look for their actions rather than listen to their words.
QUESTION: And then secondly, the logistical thing is on the embassy compound itself, which is now abandoned, do you have – have you taken any measures to secure that place, or are you just basically letting – it’s just – is there a protecting power? Is it an open area that anyone can get into now if they can get over the fence?
MR PRICE: Well —
QUESTION: Are you prepared to leave it to just sit there?
MR PRICE: Well, as you know, Matt, we confirmed last night that as of late night Eastern, all of our civilian personnel located at the embassy – chief of mission, those operating under chief-of-mission authority – had safely relocated from the embassy compound to Hamid Karzai International Airport.
As you also know, the embassy is in an area that has been heavily fortified. So we do not have an American presence on the ground.
QUESTION: Is there any presence on —
MR PRICE: We do not have an American presence on the ground at the embassy. Our ambassador is and has been at the embassy – at the compound, the Hamid Karzai International Airport, since late last night our time, and that remains the case.
QUESTION: Yeah, but there – so there isn’t any protecting power? There’s nobody there? It’s wide open for anyone who wants to go in there?
MR PRICE: As you know —
QUESTION: Regardless of whether it’s in a built-up, barricaded area or not, you basically just took off and left it empty?
MR PRICE: As you know, it is a heavily fortified area.
QUESTION: Last – my last one is that in the Doha agreement, which the President mentioned several times as having kind of tied his hands, there are 16 times in that agreement where it refers to “the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban.” Sixteen times it mentions that. And you’ve said before that you will not recognize any government or assist any government that comes to power by force.
MR PRICE: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Since the Taliban basically walked into Kabul and the president fled, are you in a position to say whether or not you might be willing to recognize a government that emerges from this, aside from the UN calls?
MR PRICE: Well, this is something that we have spoken to before. We have spoken to it before events of recent hours and recent days. Secretary Blinken spoke to this yesterday morning. We are still taking stock of what has transpired over the past 72 hours and the diplomatic and the political implications of that. We are – as you have seen in any number of venues, we are coordinating closely with Afghanistan’s neighbors. As we’ve said, the Secretary, other senior officials in this building, our ambassadors in their respective capitals around the world have engaged governments in the region and much farther afield on an aligned approach to the evolving situation. And you’ve already started to see some of the fruits of that.
I think most notably – and I mentioned this at the outset – you saw the statement that emanated from the UN Security Council. Obviously, the UN Security Council has a permanent set of members, several of whom are among our closest allies in the world, and a couple countries where our interests are rarely aligned. Nevertheless, this document, it is quite strong, it is quite clear. I think it is reflective of the broad consensus that has emerged from the international community about not only our thinking, what the United States may or may not do going forward as we assess ultimately what has come to pass, but what the international community will do. This statement says that the “sustainable end to the conflict can only be achieved through an inclusive, just, durable, and realistic political settlement that upholds human rights, including for women, children, and minorities.” The Security Council, speaking with one voice – which, as you know, is not always an easy feat – called on all parties to adhere to international norms and standards on human rights and to call for an immediate cease to any abuses in that regard.
The – ultimately, when it comes to our posture towards any future government in Afghanistan, it will depend upon the actions of that government. It will depend upon the actions of the Taliban. We are watching closely. But as you heard from this UN Security Council statement and as you’ve heard from any number of governments that have issued their own unilateral statements, the world is watching closely.
The fact is that a future Afghan government that upholds the basic rights of its people, that doesn’t harbor terrorists, and that protects the basic rights of its people, including the basic fundamental rights of half of its population, its women and girls, that is a government that we would be able to work with. The converse is also true. We are not going to support a government that does not do that, a government that disregards the rights, the guarantees enshrined in basic documents like the Universal Declaration on Human Rights – that is not a government that the United States would be able to work with. That itself is important. It becomes all the more important when you account for the fact that you have a statement from the UN Security Council that was adopted by all of its members that says exactly that.
QUESTION: Following up on that and one other issue as well. Social media is just filled with desperate appeals from girls, from women: Taliban going door to door, ripping girls out of their mothers’ arms; women who have been told for 20 years they should get schooling, learn to code, learn to teach, become engineers, become doctors, become lawyers. It’s simply heartbreaking. And the question remains: There are Democrats as well as Republicans on the Hill, including veterans of the Afghan war and Iraq war, saying that there should have been arrangements made months ago that before the withdrawal – the withdrawal was signaled by the date in April – that for months we should have been moving people out, we should have been moving on the evacuation not only of the special visas but of other people as well, and that this chaotic vision of people, thousands of people at the airport climbing onto C-17s as they are rolling down the tarmac was completely avoidable given the withdrawal.
Secondly, let me ask you about a question regarding the President’s speech. He said that we can accomplish the same – the mission we accomplished 10 years ago of not only getting bin Laden but preventing Afghanistan from becoming a haven for terrorists against the homeland, the original mission of 20 years ago, that we can accomplish this from over the horizon. Intelligence experts, including former Obama DCI, say that’s just not true, that once the withdrawal was completed and Bagram dismantled and turned over and now taken over by the Taliban, we don’t have eyes on the ground, that we can’t – we cannot fight terror from over the horizon in a place like Afghanistan, as we perhaps do in other countries. If you could address both points.
MR PRICE: Let me take those questions in turn. Let me start with your first question. And the images that we have all seen emanating from the international airport in Kabul, HKIA, they’re searing. They are painful. They are difficult to see. They are difficult to watch. And I say that on a couple different levels. One – the most basic level – we are all human. We share a common humanity with these Afghans, whose desperation, whose fear, whose concern, is – they wear it on their faces. And so on that level, it is deeply moving to all of us.
There’s another level, though, that I think is especially relevant to this building. I’m a relative newcomer here. I have spent seven months here. There are people in this building, hundreds if not more, who have dedicated years and years of their lives to effecting a better life for the people of Afghanistan, including the women and girls. We have Foreign Service officers who have served multiple tours in Kabul in the two decades that the United States has been there. We have many more who have served in functions back here to support that mission. There are – and this I can speak personally to – there is a generation of public servants in this country who entered public service in the weeks, months, couple years after the 9/11 attacks. In my case, I was a freshman in college, and I knew on that day as I climbed to the roof of a dorm here in Washington and watched the smoke rise from the Pentagon that I wanted to pursue public service. So many of my colleagues are – have a similar story. It unites us. It unites many of us as public servants. So it’s also painful on that level.
Right now, what we are doing is a couple things. We are working around the clock in the first instance to maintain, to regain positive control over the airport compound. This is something that our colleagues at the Department of Defense have been working urgently to re-establish for a couple reasons. One, to be able to resume U.S. military flights, and my colleague John Kirby will be briefing shortly, and he’ll be able to give you an update on that. But importantly, this is also a civilian airport. We are seeking to re-establish positive control in order so – so that commercial travel can also resume so that many of these Afghans whose images we have seen, whose images have been so searing, will be able to reach safety. In many cases, that will be with a helping hand from the United States Government.
We have spoken to our effort on behalf of SIVs, so-called Special Immigrant Visa applicants. You ask why we didn’t – why we haven’t done more. Let me just offer a bit of context. Through the course of this program, the United States has resettled, brought to their new lives, more than 75,000 Afghans who have in various ways assisted the United States Government over the years. The Special Immigrant Visa program provides – well, as it was initially conceived and legislated by Congress, it provides a visa to the United States. When this administration recognized that the security situation was becoming – was quickly evolving, many weeks ago we launched Operation Allies Refuge. This was something that was never envisioned in any SIV program, including the one we had in Afghanistan or the one we had in Iraq; that is to say, a gargantuan U.S. effort not only to process, adjudicate, and to grant visas to these so-called special immigrants but to actually bring them to the United States with a massive airlift operation.
It’s been through that operation that 2,000 Afghans have been able to reach the United States. Most of those Afghans have now been able to start their new lives through resettlement agencies. Just – it was a month or so ago we recognized that the need could be even greater for Afghans who are vulnerable, who may be at risk. That is precisely why we initiated a so-called Priority 2, P-2 refugee status program that went beyond – beyond the statutory definitions of who could apply for and be eligible for the SIV program, to include those brave Afghans who not only have helped the U.S. Government over the years but have helped the American people.
We know that there are other vulnerable Afghans – some for the work they have done, some for the things they have said, some for nothing more than their gender – and we are also working and planning to bring as many as we can to safety.
Right now, we are, again, in the process of re-establishing control over the airport. The military has been able to surge resources and will surge additional resources to the theater to allow us to bring, on a large scale, a number of these Afghans who will be able to start new lives in the United States or who will be able to reach safety elsewhere in the world. We are committed to that. We have been flexible. We have been ambitious in our effort to do just that.
You asked a second question about counterterrorism and what this means for our ability to detect and to thwart terrorist plotting. A couple points on that. Number one, the United States has built up the capacity to detect, disrupt terrorist plotting, terrorist networks, in ways that were in some cases unimaginable prior to 9/11; that is to say, our tactics are effective, they are proven, and they go well beyond what this government would have been and was able to do prior to 9/11.
We also recognize that the center of gravity of the threat we face from terrorist groups, whether it’s al-Qaida, whether it’s an al-Qaida affiliate, whether it’s ISIS, whether it’s an ISIS affiliate, it has shifted over the years. Of course, the center of gravity, the locus of activity, was in Afghanistan on September 11th, 2001. It hasn’t been there in years. It hasn’t been there in years precisely because we have been able to employ these effective tactics over the course of the past 20 years to do precisely what our forces went into Afghanistan to do in the first place; that is, to decimate the network that launched, that conceived of, directed, and launched the 9/11 attacks and ensure that they can’t regroup on Afghan soil.
We are confident, but more importantly, the military and our Intelligence Community leaders have spoken and even testified to the fact that we will have capabilities in the theater – so-called over-the-horizon capabilities – that will allow us to use the technologies, to use the tactics that we have deployed and improved upon over the past 20 years to detect and to disrupt any terrorist plotting that may seek to reach our shores.
We’ve also been very clear with the Taliban – and I said it just a moment ago – that the willingness of a future government of Afghanistan to allow any terrorist group to operate on its soil and to pose a threat to the United States, it’s unacceptable to us and we will demonstrate that using the fierce power of the U.S. military.
QUESTION: So to follow up on that and also to let you know I have kind of three buckets of questions. I’ll be succinct in asking them. What is the – when the United States, when Ambassador Khalilzad talks to the Taliban and says these are the actions we expect the Taliban to adhere to in order to be considered a legitimate government, what is your level of confidence that the Taliban will agree to that, especially when it comes to the fate of women and girls in Afghanistan?
So that’s question one. If you want, I can give you the other ones.
MR PRICE: Please.
QUESTION: Great, okay. So number two: I’m curious about – you started off by saying that the State Department is urging, the embassy has urged Americans in Kabul to not come to the airport for evacuation, to shelter in place. But as we’ve discussed in this room, there are tens of thousands of Americans, probably dual citizens, who are spread across Afghanistan who have no ability to get to the airport in Kabul in the first place. So what plan or what assurances can the United States offer them that they will not be left there, since they can’t get to Kabul to even try to come to the airport?
Third, when the Secretary spoke to President Ghani on Saturday, I’m curious if he knows where President Ghani was at that time and if he was aware that President Ghani was about to – was either going to flee the country or at least step down from government.
MR PRICE: Let me take those in turn. Again, we have made very clear – abundantly clear – to the Taliban in Doha, but in some ways just as importantly, publicly speaking with a single voice with the international community what the United States, what our closest allies and partners expect, but also what other regional stakeholders – again, including some stakeholders with whom we share very few interests, where our interests are rarely aligned. The fact that this UN Security Council statement emerged today is a clear indication that there is decisive consensus within the international community on this front. It means a lot when the United States says something and when we put our voice and actions behind a statement, but it means even more when much of the world and certainly the key stakeholders come together and say the same thing.
We will be watching very closely as any new government in Afghanistan takes shape. Of course, we have all seen various statements that have emanated from the Taliban, not only in recent hours and recent days but in recent weeks and recent months. We take those for what they are. They’re statements. Again, we will be watching actions. That’s what will be important to us.
Beyond watching, beyond galvanizing the international community, as we did with the statement signed by 98 countries, from Albania to Zambia, just last night, we are going to be marshaling the international community, because we now know it is incumbent on all of us, including the United States, to use every conceivable lever that we have – diplomacy, our political leverage, and, importantly, economic leverage – and economic leverage can take different forms. It is patently obvious that the Government of Afghanistan would not have endured 20 years were it not for the broad and generous support of the international community and the United States, the United States being the largest donor, both on a bilateral basis and to the humanitarian needs of the Afghan people.
This is a positive source of leverage. If the Taliban or any government that is to emerge seeks to have the level of international assistance that was needed to sustain the Afghan Government over the past 20 years, the words on the paper that emanated from New York today, from the Security Council, will have to mean something – that their actions will have to match some of the words that we have seen emanate from the Taliban.
There are other forms of economic leverage, and those are – if you talk about carrots, you can also talk about sticks. And United States, the UN, the international community has the ability to impose fairly dramatic costs on any regime that were to take shape that would not – that does not recognize the basic and fundamental rights of the people of Afghanistan; importantly, the basic and fundamental rights of half of the Afghan population, the women and girls.
The United States, as I’ve said before, has done more than any country in the world over the last 20 years to support Afghanistan’s women and girls. We are – you can believe, you can bet that we will do all we can, and I would muster to say probably lead the charge, certainly lead the charge in working with the international community to make sure and to see to it that we are doing everything we can, speaking with one voice, and acting according to one script to preserve those gains because they are that important to us.
When it comes to Americans who – and others, I should say – who are – seek to leave the country, we have been in regular contact with American citizens in Kabul. The embassy is providing both public messages, is communicating via email with Americans who have indicated and expressed an interest in leaving the country. We will continue to provide clear messaging about what they should do and when they should do it. Again, people should shelter in place and not attempt to come to the airport until they are explicitly told otherwise by an appropriate authority, including the U.S. embassy.
QUESTION: But beyond Kabul is what I’m – was – the question was about American citizens who are not in Kabul and can’t get there in the first place. And then also if you could talk to the Ghani question.
MR PRICE: We are going to continue to do all we can to bring as many eligible individuals as we can to safety. When we talk about our priorities, our first priority is always going to be the American people – that is to say, the Americans who are serving and who have served in Afghanistan. That includes private American citizens, some of whom are in Kabul, many of whom are in Kabul, some of whom may not be in Kabul, of course. That also includes our locally engaged staff – that is to say, Afghan nationals who were working in our embassy compound and who have expressed an interest in relocating. We have talked about SIVs. We have talked about so-called P-1 – those applying for P-1 refugee status and P-2 status, and then other vulnerable Afghans, people who may be exposed to risk because of the work they’ve done or merely because of their gender.
QUESTION: The Ghani question?
MR PRICE: The Secretary did have an opportunity to speak to President Ghani on Saturday and late last week. We read out that call. I don’t think we have anything to – additional to offer.
QUESTION: You don’t know if he was leaving at the time the call happened? Did he – did the Secretary have any heads-up that the president was about to flee the country?
MR PRICE: He was – it was a very fluid situation. The security situation was evolving very quickly. The political situation was evolving very quickly. We’ll leave it to President Ghani to characterize what he may have told the Secretary.
QUESTION: You still call him President Ghani?
MR PRICE: We will leave it to him to characterize what he told the Secretary.
QUESTION: So no?
MR PRICE: Please.
QUESTION: Is he —
MR PRICE: There has not been a formal transfer of power. There has not been a formal transfer of power.
QUESTION: I guess who does the United States recognize as the leader of Afghanistan, then?
MR PRICE: So this is something that we are working, again, with the international community. You saw in this statement from the UN a clear consensus emerge that a political settlement will be in everyone’s interests, that a political settlement will be best positioned to achieve what it is manifestly in our collective interests. And by “our” I mean the United States, I mean that of our allies and partners, but also, importantly – probably most importantly – the interests of the people of Afghanistan. A political settlement is what we are still pushing for.
We are not doing this alone. We are working in close collaboration with the international community. All throughout this process, together with the UN and our international partners, we have been supporting the Afghans in their intra-Afghan dialogue. That intra-Afghan dialogue remains ongoing. The Taliban continues to be represented in Doha. Representatives from the Government of Afghanistan continue to be represented in Doha.
QUESTION: And just logistical questions about the SIVs: How many SIVs will the U.S. aim to relocate to the United States? And how many of those SIVs will the U.S. relocate before leaving the airport?
MR PRICE: So we are going to maintain a diplomatic presence in Kabul for as long as it is safe and responsible for us to do so. You’ve heard from this President. You heard from him today that his top priority is the safety and the security of the American people. And so we will seek to maintain a presence on the ground right now at the Hamid Karzai International Airport for as long as it is safe to do so. As I said before, DOD is working urgently, around the clock, to re-establish positive control over the airport so that both U.S. mil aircraft and commercial aircraft can land and take off. The U.S. mil aircraft is important for our SIV relocation efforts. The commercial side of the airport is also incredibly important for the capacity that it would lend for other third-party nationals, for Afghans, and anyone who may not be affiliated with a U.S. Government program to be able to leave the country if they should choose to do so.
So we are going to maintain a presence on the ground for as long as it is responsible and safe for us to do so. During that time, our – the Department of Defense working in tandem with the Department of State, we will be working around the clock to relocate as many eligible individuals as we can.
QUESTION: So you don’t want to give a specific number at this time?
MR PRICE: So we’re not in a position to give a specific number at this time.
MR PRICE: Because it is a fluid situation, and it will be dependent on the security situation on the ground. The forcing function here, the guiding principle will be the safety and security of our people. As long as we deem that our – that our public servants serving at HKIA are safe and secure, we will be engaged in an ambitious and an aggressive and around-the-clock effort to relocate as many individuals as we possibly can.
QUESTION: I want to follow on that. How many U.S. citizens and possible dual citizens are in Afghanistan? There’s a number floating around, about 10,000 or so.
And then following on that, yes, the U.S. State Department is committed to taking care of U.S. citizens – I appreciate that personally – but if things really go sideways, is this government willing to not transport any Afghan citizens, any citizens who perhaps are working for NGOs or for the United Nations, and focus solely on getting Americans out? Should people be getting their hopes up, I guess is what I’m asking?
MR PRICE: One, on the question of how many U.S. citizens may be in Afghanistan, it is not a tally that we keep in the context of Afghanistan or any other country. We have files, the embassy has been in touch with many of these individuals, but it is not a figure that is readily available to us precisely for the reason that you mentioned: It is incumbent on Americans in any given country to reach out to the embassy, to notify the embassy of their presence. There are many dual-nationals who are also part of the equation as well. So we’re just not in a position to give a firm figure.
When it comes to our relocation efforts, again, we are going to be guided by one criterion, and that is the safety and security of the American people. As long as the U.S. Government, calling on all the information at our disposal, deems that it is safe for Americans to remain and to be operating on the airport compound, we are going to be engaged in this ambitious, in this aggressive, in is around-the-clock effort to relocate as many individuals as we possibly can.
QUESTION: One more.
MR PRICE: I’ll take a couple final questions.
QUESTION: One more. Nick Kristof, the New York Times columnist, said basically every person who ever cooperated with the U.S. in any form or fashion over the last 20 years, the U.S. should just round everyone up, get them out of harm’s way, and then figure out the visa situation later. Is that an outside possibility?
MR PRICE: Well, that’s a generalization, obviously, but it is not that dissimilar from what we are engaged in. As I said before, we – there are several different classes of individuals we are, on an urgent basis, making preparations to relocate. In the case of SIVs, that has been in process for some time now. In terms of other individuals, some 1,600 individuals, not including the 2,000 SIVs, have been airlifted out of Afghanistan on U.S. military aircraft in recent days. We are, of course, prioritizing American citizens. We are – of course, first and foremost, Americans who had been serving at our embassy who are departing the country, private American citizens, SIV holders, P-1, P-2 applicants, as well as other vulnerable Afghans.
We have stood up a task force here at here at Main State. It is operating 24-7. It is coordinating the department’s planning, management, logistics related to this rather large, rather complex, and undeniably urgent operation. There are – Acting Assistant Secretary Dean Thompson, the acting assistant secretary of our Bureau of South and Central Asia, is heading that task force. There are multiple sub-components of that task force. They are all being led by senior department officials. The various lines of effort include SIV relocation, logistics, embassy staff, U.S. citizens, Afghans at risk. This is, again, an ambitious, aggressive effort to bring to safety as many individuals who might be interested in doing so for as long as we can.
QUESTION: Yeah, does that 1,600 include American embassy personnel? Have any of those left? How many of those are at Hamid Karzai Airport? And are there other U.S. personnel who don’t respond – don’t – up to the chief of mission who are not at the airport but at other parts of the city? Just wondering for kind of a breakdown as best as you know, or as a given time, how many American personnel are at the airport, how many have left, how many might still be in the city?
MR PRICE: As you know, whether the context is Afghanistan or whether the context is a less challenging, less complex security environment, we typically don’t offer breakdowns like that. As we said last night, all of the Americans under chief of mission authority who had been operating the embassy had been safely relocated to Hamid Karzai International Airport. It is also worth noting that our efforts to reduce the civilian footprint of our embassy, they did not start last week or the week before or even last month. April 27th the U.S. embassy went on ordered departure. Since April 27th, we have conducted several drawdowns to responsibly reduce the size of our civilian footprint. So the size of our embassy prior to that ordered departure was much larger, certainly larger than it was a week or two ago.
So this has been a phased —
QUESTION: What was the size of that —
MR PRICE: Again, we’re – we don’t offer numbers when it comes to this —
QUESTION: For the sake of transparency —
MR PRICE: — but it has been a phased and deliberate drawdown of U.S. personnel.
I know my colleague at the Pentagon is going to be briefing so I’m going to cede the —
QUESTION: He started.
MR PRICE: He has started. So I will cede the floor to him. Thank you all very much. We’ll see you tomorrow.
(The briefing was concluded at 5:23 p.m.)