2:36 p.m. EST
MR PRICE: Good afternoon. As you can see, we have a special guest with us today. I’m very pleased to have Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman here with us to speak about Afghanistan. She’ll offer some words at the top and then take a couple questions, and then we will resume with our regularly scheduled programming. So, without further ado, Deputy Secretary.
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: Thank you very much. Good afternoon.
The State Department, I can tell you from personal experience, has been working around the clock to respond to an enormously challenging and fluid situation.
This is absolutely an all-hands-on-deck effort to ensure the safety of our personnel and citizens, rally our allies and partners, and organize the evacuation of thousands and thousands of Afghans.
In the last 24 hours, U.S. military flights evacuated approximately 2,000 more people.
Over the last several days, we have processed more than 4,840 people for evacuation.
We have communicated directly with all U.S. citizens who enrolled with Embassy Kabul with specific instructions about when and where to go for evacuation flights.
Shortly, we will invite more than 800 Afghan Special Immigrant Visa holders to board flights to the United States.
We are beginning to expand our notifications, and are expanding them, to transmit information about evacuation options to each group.
We will also continue to accelerate our efforts, including by working with our allies and partners, NGOs – and NGOs to identify and assist Afghans eligible for P-1 or P-2 refugee status and other Afghans at risk.
We are continuing to surge resources here in Washington and at our missions around the world – including in Kabul, where our outstanding charge d’affaires and other staff remain on the ground, working tirelessly and with very little sleep – if any – to help American citizens, third-country nationals, and Afghans who fear for their lives and wish to leave the country.
Our former ambassador to Afghanistan, John Bass, will be on the ground in Kabul very shortly to support these efforts. He’s already in the region.
Major General Chris Donahue, the commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, is also on his way if not already in Kabul to help facilitate the evacuation.
Additional consular officers arrived in Kabul today, and we will nearly double the number of consular officers on the ground by Friday.
Our diplomatic and military personnel are working in lockstep toward the same goal:
To get as many people who want to leave Afghanistan and who are vulnerable to Taliban reprisals because they helped the United States and our allies and partners, or who are otherwise at risk because of who they are, or what they do, or what they believe, out of the country as quickly and as safely as possible.
The events and images of the last week have been wrenching for all of us. I’m sure for you as well.
Thousands of State Department personnel have served in Afghanistan over the last two decades, many more than once.
An entire generation of diplomats were called to serve – to join the Foreign Service after the September 11th attacks.
And even those of us who haven’t served in Afghanistan ourselves know many who have.
The men and women of the State Department have built deep, enduring relationships with Afghan citizens who want the same things that people everywhere want:
Education and economic opportunity for themselves and for their children.
A free press that can speak truth to power.
Freedom to live without fear of violence or oppression.
Equality for women and girls.
A good life.
We will stand with those who have stood with us.
From the State Department and across the federal government, we are simultaneously pursuing multiple lines of effort to respond to the situation on the ground in Afghanistan.
We are in contact with our locally-employed embassy staff, and are offering the opportunity to evacuate with their families if they choose to do so.
We are continuing to process visas for Afghans eligible for SIV status and their families.
For those who are early in the process, we are working with our allies and partners to move them to third countries while their paperwork is completed.
We are also urgently accelerating our efforts to assist eligible Afghans under the Priority 1 and Priority 2 – P-1 and P-2 – referrals to U.S. Refugee Admissions Program and humanitarian parole.
And we are working on our own, with our allies and partners, and with NGOs, to identify and assist other Afghans at risk, including women and girls, human rights defenders, journalists, and other civil society actors.
We have seen reports that the Taliban, contrary to their public statements and their commitments to our government, are blocking Afghans who wish to leave the country from reaching the airport. Our team in Doha and our military partners on the ground in Kabul are engaging directly with the Taliban to make clear that we expect them to allow all American citizens, all third-country nationals, and all Afghans who wish to leave to do so safely and without harassment.
A majority of the world’s nations – this morning – as of this morning, 109 governments and counting – have come together to underscore the same message.
The State Department is tirelessly pursuing diplomatic efforts with our allies and partners in every region of the world to mobilize resources to save Afghan lives. As you know, Secretary Blinken has spoken to more than a dozen of his counterparts in recent days – some of them multiple times. I have been doing the same.
This morning, Under Secretary of State Nuland and I convened the deputy foreign ministers and political directors from more than a dozen allies – I think we had 20 on the phone – and partners to encourage everyone to take additional steps to help the Afghan people.
Our ambassadors are working day and night in capitals around the world. Our under secretaries, assistant secretaries, senior bureau officials, desk officers are doing the same. Our support staff are doing the same. As I said, this is an all-hands-on-deck effort, and we aren’t going to let up.
On the political front, we saw a very strong statement on Monday from the UN Security Council, including China and Russia. They reiterated the need for an inclusive, just, durable, and realistic political settlement that protects human rights, including for women, children, and minorities.
President Biden and Prime Minister Boris Johnson agreed yesterday to hold a virtual G7 leaders’ meeting on Afghanistan next week. And earlier today, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced he is convening a virtual meeting of NATO foreign ministers on Friday to discuss our common approach.
The United States and the international community have also been extremely clear: We remain committed to combating terrorism in Afghanistan, and will not tolerate a government that allows Afghanistan to once again become a safe haven for terrorists.
As President Biden said, the United States will maintain a laser focus on our counterterrorism mission in Afghanistan and in other parts of the world. And we will hold the Taliban accountable to the commitments they made in the 2020 agreement – and those they have made since – that they will not allow terrorist groups that threaten the United States or its allies to operate on Afghan soil.
Before I take your questions, I want to speak to a situation that’s very personal to me: facing Afghan women and children. Yesterday, the Taliban held a press conference where they claimed they intend to allow women to work and study – but only within what they called their, quote, “frameworks.”
The United States and the international community will be vigilant in monitoring how any future government in Afghanistan ensures the rights and freedoms that women and girls in that country have come to expect. The United States joined 20 other nations this morning in jointly affirming that commitment.
As I said, this is personal for me, as it is for many people here at the State Department and across the federal government.
In 1997, I joined then-Secretary of State Albright when she visited Afghan women and girls in a refugee camp in Peshawar, Pakistan. Secretary Albright told them, quote, “It is impossible to modernize a nation if half or more of the population is left behind.”
That was one of the most searing meetings I have had as a diplomat. I had a teenage daughter at the time. A young teenager told me about watching her sister being raped and thrown out a window. Women who were doctors and teachers, and homemakers, talked about how they couldn’t do and have their lives anymore. That memory will never be wiped from my mind.
Societies could not flourish and prosper without the full participation of women and girls back then, and they cannot and flourish – they cannot flourish and prosper without women and girls now.
In the last 20 years, Afghan women and girls have embraced their freedom. Millions have gone to school. They have become doctors, lawyers, journalists, parliamentarians, and entrepreneurs. They have built the lives that Secretary Albright encouraged them to imagine all those years ago – and so much more.
When I was Under Secretary for Political Affairs, during the Obama administration, I traveled to Kabul and to Herat. I met with women and girls in both cities and saw the amazing things they’d accomplished – their talent, their drive, the vibrancy of the society they were working so hard to build. And I have met with Afghan women leaders in my time as deputy secretary of state as well, to hear from them about their tireless efforts to educate women and girls.
These ambitions, these dreams, and above all, the concrete progress they have made for themselves, their families, their neighbors, and their country are all things I carry with me every single day.
The United States and our allies and partners will continue to fight for Afghan women and girls. And Secretary Blinken and the President of the United States join me in that drive. We are working with the international community to help those who are vulnerable Taliban – who are facing Taliban reprisals to get to safety. And we will use every economic, diplomatic, and political tool we have to hold the Taliban accountable to their words and more.
With that, I’ll take your questions.
MR PRICE: We’ll start with Nazira. Please.
QUESTION: First of all, thank you very much. I tried to be good person today; I shouldn’t cry. The other day I was crying at the Pentagon for sadness. Now thank you very much for your good message for Afghan women. I’m one of them. You mentioned good things about Afghanistan.
I was the journalist. I escaped from the Taliban – many, many Afghan, as you said. Thank you so much. Behalf of Afghan suffered women, thank you for the United States, thank you for you. Thank you for you, Mr. Price, to invite me today. Appreciate.
Many, many Afghan go to the airport to leave Afghanistan. Still Taliban tried to beat them. But as long as they expect from me – they have expectation is very high that Nazira Karimi is somebody. They think that I do – can do anything, but I’m ordinary journalist. Just I am voice for the voiceless Afghan suffered women. And thank you so much for your opportunity. I will pass them. Of course, they know. They listen too. Appreciate it. Thank you so much.
MR PRICE: Thank you.
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Matt.
QUESTION: Thank you.
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: Matt, it’s been so long.
QUESTION: It has been so long. And I guess I can’t call you Wendy anymore. I’ll have to call you Madam Deputy Secretary even though —
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: That sounds good.
QUESTION: (Laughter.) It’s a bit of a mouthful. Listen, on the —
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: You’ll get used to it.
QUESTION: I’m sure. On the immediate question, you said you’re surging the number of consular officers at the airport. People are going in. Well, all of that, great. But if people can’t get to the airport – and I realize you mentioned this in your – the issue – if people can’t get to the airport, it doesn’t really matter, right, how many people you have there. So, my question is: What exactly are you telling the Taliban that is going to happen to them if they don’t start letting in, not just Americans and LPRs, but Afghans who are at risk and potentially even Afghans who are at risk who don’t have all of the necessary paperwork that they might need to get out?
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: So, thank you, Matt. I think we know each other well enough for you to know that I’m not going to tell you the ins and outs of the diplomacy that is going on. I will say that we are in discussions, trying to ensure that there is not only safe passage for American citizens, for diplomats of third countries and third-country nationals, but for everybody who is trying to get to the airport. That work is ongoing. The Taliban has said it will not have reprisals. It has established an amnesty that the roads are open, that people can move. We have heard all of the stories that have – many journalists in Afghanistan are reporting about checkpoints, about harassment, about difficulties, about jammed traffic. And so, we are trying to work through those issues as best we can.
I will tell you this: In spite of the obstacles, many, many Afghans in all of the categories that you cited are finding their way to the airport. And we will continue to do what we can through diplomacy. And you know it’s not just us. It’s the international community, as I’ve said, over 109 countries who have called on the Taliban to do this. The Taliban are hoping to create a government in Afghanistan. They seek legitimacy. We are all watching their actions. Their actions will speak to whether in fact they are going to protect the basic human rights and the basic rights of the Afghan people. And their actions in these days will tell us whether there is reality to what their words say, or whether there is not.
MR PRICE: Shaun.
QUESTION: Thank you. Could I ask you – you’ve spent a lot of time with the Chinese, of course, in the past few months.
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: Lately, yes.
QUESTION: (Laughter.) Could I ask you whether you think the United States and China, along with other powers, are on the same page in Afghanistan? What are the messages you’re receiving from Beijing and from Moscow, and other capitals, but also from Islamabad? Is there some push that you have to not recognize – for no country to recognize the Taliban right now?
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: Each country, of course, makes its own decisions about its national security and its foreign policy. That said, I think that the UN Security Council resolution that was passed by consensus – everybody on board, earlier this week speaks to the fact that we are all in the same place, which is calling on the Taliban to ensure justice and equal rights and inclusion, for there to be no violence, for people to be able to leave when they can. So, I think right now there is very strong unanimity, as I think has been reported out. Secretary Blinken has spoken to many, many ministers, presidents, and prime ministers, and this week he has spoken to both Foreign Minister Lavrov and Foreign Minister Wang Yi to continue our conversations to try to all head in the same direction.
MR PRICE: Lara.
QUESTION: Hi, Deputy Secretary.
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: Hi, Lara.
QUESTION: Good to see you. What is the fate of the U.S. embassy facility at the airport post-August 31st? And, also, I’m sure you’ve seen that Ashraf Ghani is in the UAE. Did the United States know about this ahead of time, play any part in that passage? And what is the United States message to him today?
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: Sorry, Lara, I’m having a hard time getting past your mask.
QUESTION: I’m – well, it’s from Ghana.
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: It’s pretty cute. It’s pretty cute.
QUESTION: Western Africa.
QUESTION: And there’s no reaction? I mean, does the United States —
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: He is no longer a figure in Afghanistan.
QUESTION: How does this play into your relationship with the UAE?
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: We have a fine relationship with the UAE.
QUESTION: Okay. And the fate of the embassy past August 31st?
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: So, I think we now have a functioning embassy out at the airport. It will continue to function as long as it possibly can, providing services to not only American citizens but our international partners, to SIVs, to Afghans at risk. That is our mission right now, and that is what we are focused on.
MR PRICE: Simon.
QUESTION: Yeah. You talked about these images that we’ve seen coming out of Kabul, and the impact that has on diplomats and on everyone who’s seeing them. I’m wondering – this also relates to your role with China – the impact that this is having on U.S. credibility around the world. We’ve seen Chinese outlets trying to kind of make play on this, talking about a lesson about abandonment for Taiwan. From the UK, lawmakers are saying this is a failure of intelligence, leadership, and moral duty. Kind of similar criticisms to what we saw in the previous administration regarding the Syrian Kurds. So, is this a repeating pattern of abandonment by the U.S. – leaving allies, vulnerable people, and women at the mercy of notorious human rights abusers, as is happening now? So, what can you say to your allies – potential future allies and existing allies – about whether the U.S. is a reliable partner in the world after what we’re seeing in Afghanistan?
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: I think we have said to each other, as we did on the conference call this morning that I hosted; I think we have said it to each other at the NAC meeting that was held in Brussels, I think just yesterday, and will be said again at the NAC ministerial on Friday; I think it is what we have said to each other in the over 109 countries who have signed on to the statement we put out I guess earlier this week – I can’t even remember the days anymore since I don’t go home anymore – that we all share a focus right now on making sure that our countrymen and women, that Afghans at risk in all categories, are able to leave the country should they so choose.
That is our mission. We are not focused on the after-action report, which we will all be doing. We will do one here at the State Department. Our government will do one. We will assess what happened, what didn’t happen. As Admiral Kirby said the other day, as every good general knows, you put a plan together and after the first step, you have to create a new plan because there are always events you didn’t expect.
When we put many SIVs through our system, and then our embassy was hit with COVID so that we had to lock down and stop our consular services, that couldn’t have been planned for, that we – that COVID would hit our embassy as hard as it did in Kabul. So, you have to begin anew, figure out a new plan, what you can do online or what you can do without face-to-face interviews, how fast you can get back up and running. We have done all of that. We have already, through the existing SIV program, put through 76,000 SIVs. I think since we’ve started this next round – I have to check my notes a minute – I think we have done more than 2,000. The SIV legislation gave these folks visas, but what this administration has done that no administration has done before is to provide the airlift out of Afghanistan to come to the United States.
So, I think we have picked up the ball and kept running, because our focus is on getting the people who want out of Afghanistan out to safety. It is also holding the Taliban accountable as it tries to stand up a transitional government for what is expected of them to ensure that it is a just, inclusive society.
MR PRICE: Let’s take a final question or two. Kylie.
QUESTION: Thank you for doing this. I’m wondering about this security alert that went out to Americans just recently. It said that the U.S. cannot ensure safe passage to the airport for those Americans. So, I’m wondering what this says about the competency of this mission and also the U.S. confidence in the Taliban’s commitment to provide a safe passage to the airport that you’re telling these Americans, “You can go to the airport if you want, but you’re not necessarily going to get there safely.”
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: First of all, we had many, many, many Americans show up when the notice went out. All Americans have now been notified to the extent we have them in our email system. Americans are not required to register with the State Department. So, the only emails we have are those Americans who signed up with our system. We’ve also put it on our website. We’ve also made public announcements – Ned has from the podium – to try to make sure American citizens know they have this option. The Taliban made a commitment to safe passage for American citizens. I don’t know of – my colleagues may know of – an incident where an American got harassed or hustled or wasn’t able to get to the airport. I have not heard of that yet. That’s not to say there aren’t any stories like that. I’m sure out there somewhere, given everything that’s going on, there probably may be some. But so far, it appears Americans have been able to get to the airport.
Kabul – I don’t know if you’ve ever been there – is an enormous city. Enormous. And it has, in fact, had more and more people come to Kabul because they thought it was the safest place to be in Afghanistan. So, it is difficult under any circumstances, and I don’t know of any government that would be capable of reaching out to where everybody might be, particularly those who have not signed up to us to help them.
As I said, so far the track record is quite good for Americans getting to HKIA, and it appears that the Taliban’s commitment for safe passage for American citizens has been solid. Again, I don’t know every case, so I’m not making a bottom-line assessment here. But, so far the experience seems to be one that has worked.
MR PRICE: Let’s take a —
QUESTION: And can I just ask you one —
MR PRICE: Just in the interest of fairness, Conor —
MR PRICE: — and then we’ve asked enough of the deputy secretary.
QUESTION: Deputy Secretary, to your point about no other administration has done this kind of airlift before, no other administration had to do this kind of airlift before. And the operation that you’ve begun didn’t begin until late July. So far, it’s only brought 2,000 Afghans through Fort Lee in Virginia. Was this a failure of the administration to prioritize this issue, and to bring Afghans to security while you still had the chance before Kabul fell?
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: As I think you’ve heard it said from several podiums already, including by high officials in our government, there was a concern that if we moved too quickly that it would undermine the confidence that – of the Afghan Government and it would lead to a collapse even faster. I appreciate that in hindsight people are saying: “Why didn’t you do this? Why didn’t you do that? Why didn’t you do this?” As I said, we will do our after-action report. The focus now today is getting all those SIVs out. We are working day and night to make that happen. The President has said he has made a commitment to do so, and we will do exactly the job he has set out as our mission.
QUESTION: Is that all 20,000 principal applicants and all of their family members?
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: We have SIVs who have come through the process. There are others who have not yet completed the process. The ones who have completed the process, we are moving out. As I said, 800 SIVs have been notified to come to the airport. Others will be notified shortly, I am sure.
MR PRICE: Thank you very much.
QUESTION: And is there a ceiling on that number?
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: Thank you. We’re going to keep doing our work. Thanks very much.
MR PRICE: Thank you very much.
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: Thank you all. Take care.
MR PRICE: Okay, under the assumption that you may have a question or two remaining, I’m happy to entertain those.
QUESTION: Can I —
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on a couple of things —
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: — that the deputy secretary said, what happens after August 31st if your intention is still to go ahead with the complete withdrawal, if you haven’t completed a full processing or evacuation of Afghans who want to get out? I’m not just talking about American citizens or SIVs, but that much broader category of potential P-1 and P-2 applicants, anybody who wants to get out – what happens to them after August 31st?
MR PRICE: Well, we have made the general point that we are going to do as much as we can for as many people as we can for as long as we can. As you know, the President a number of weeks ago indicated and the Department of Defense indicated that our military forces would leave Afghanistan by the end of August. I’d make a couple points. Number one, even when we no longer have a military presence in Afghanistan, our humanitarian support for the people of Afghanistan will endure, it will persist. And we’ve talked about how we have capable partners on the ground, many of which remain present in Afghanistan despite the uncertain security situation, who are able to operationalize that humanitarian assistance.
It was just on Monday night, in fact, when President Biden authorized another $500 million in emergency funding, and that would include for internally-displaced people in Afghanistan, Afghan refugees in the region, but it also could potentially include funding, for example, SIVs – Afghan SIVs who have relocated to the United States. So, it is a funding source that is quite flexible and that we expect to put to good use.
Now, back to your question, you asked about August 31st. The fact of the matter is we are going to do as much as we can for as long as we can. If the window is two weeks, we will make the most of that window. If the window is slightly longer, we will make the most of that window. We are in the first instance always going to prioritize the safety and security of our diplomats on the ground, of the service members who are providing force protection, who are facilitating many of these operations. But we know that with every passing day, we will be in a position to bring to safety, whether through repatriation or transfer to a third country, potentially thousands of additional Afghans. So, we know that time is of the essence. We will do everything we can in the first instance to make the most of the time we have, but to potentially even explore if there is more time that we may have.
And we will do that in any number of ways. You’ve heard the deputy secretary, you’ve heard me talk about the channels of communication we have – excuse me – with the Taliban, that first was primarily conducted through Doha. That channel continues to exist. Now we have an additional channel. The U.S. military has a channel with the Taliban, as well, that Admiral Kirby has talked about with Admiral Vasely. These channels have been constructive. We have used these channels to good effect. It is our intent to continue to use these channels to pursue what is in our interest, of course, but also what is in the interest of the Afghan people. And if we can find additional time, if we can find additional ways to bring additional people to safety, whether that is in the United States, a third country, anywhere else, we will absolutely do just that with the imperative of the safety and security of Americans always top of mind.
QUESTION: Two more for me, then. One is: Is it still going to be your policy for anyone seeking this P-2 status that they would have to apply from a third country?
MR PRICE: So, as you know, there are several different categories of individuals that we are looking at and seeking to either repatriate or bring to safety in a third country. We’ve talked about – well, first, of course, American citizens, repatriating them. That process is ongoing. With the notice that has recently gone out, our locally-employed staff. That is —
QUESTION: I’m asking specifically about the group that you mentioned a week or two ago where you offered to – you were expanding this category, but we had a long conversation about this, that the requirement was that they would – could only seek that status from a third country. So, is that still the case? Is there some sort of humanitarian exemption or other possibility that would allow you to airlift those folks out, or are they going to have to – is – are they going to be responsible for making their way to a third country before they seek that status?
MR PRICE: In all of this, we have explored every avenue that we can to bring as many people to safety as we can. That includes those who have been referred for P-2 status. If there are individuals who have been notified who fall within that P-2 status and have been notified to come to the airport, we will work to get them on a plane. Yes, we will work to relocate as many individuals in the so-called Priority-1 status, in the so-called Priority-2 status, other Afghans at risk who may fall in various categories. The answer is yes, we are going to do everything we can.
But I want to reiterate one very important point. We are being very deliberate in our communications with American citizens in Afghanistan, private American citizens, with the LES community, with the SIV community, with those in other categories to include Priority-1 and Priority-2 U.S. Refugee Admissions Program referrals. In all of this, it is very important that all of these individuals follow the precise instructions that will be provided to them, and in some cases have been provided to them by the embassy. We have done this in a systematic way to ensure that this process is as orderly but ultimately as effective as it can be managed. Because we know with that effectiveness, with that order, we will be able to bring as many people to safety and security as we can.
QUESTION: This is the last one for me. On the issue of women’s rights that the deputy secretary mentioned, I mean, you mentioned that the U.S. would not recognize a Taliban government that supports terrorism. Is its respect for women’s rights a redline for you?
MR PRICE: Well, women’s rights, to quote someone who has spent quite a bit of time in this building: Women’s rights are human rights. Human rights are women’s rights.
QUESTION: But will you recognize them if they do not – if they do not keep to the supposed commitments that they’ve made about women being able to exercise at least some rights?
MR PRICE: What we are going to be looking for, beyond words, beyond proclamations, beyond press conferences are deeds, are – is the follow-through. Will the Taliban uphold their responsibility that the international community recognizes to uphold and protect the rights of all of their citizens? So yes, women’s rights are human rights. For us, that is absolutely vital.
But I should say it is not just us. This is the broad international community speaking with one voice. We’ve talked – and you probably don’t want to hear me talk anymore – about the UN Security Council press statement that was issued just recently by members of the Security Council —
QUESTION: We don’t.
MR PRICE: — including our closest allies, but also countries with whom we share very little else, including Russia and China.
But let me just spend a moment on some other data points. The European Union minister of foreign affairs – ministers of foreign affairs – that is to say, the foreign affairs ministers of the EU —
QUESTION: Ned, is any of this changing conditions on the ground at all? I mean, you’ve been reading statements for days here.
MR PRICE: Rich. Rich, this is all part and parcel of our efforts to forge conditions on the ground, to help shape conditions on the ground; importantly, to send a very clear signal to the Taliban that their behavior, that their actions will have concrete consequences.
We can say that. Our partners, our likeminded partners can say that. But when the rest of the world says that, it does send a very important message. So, yes, this is critically important. This is what the State Department does. This is what in any number of contexts has helped to moderate the behavior of governments, regimes, forces the rest of the world over.
It’s about more than recognition. It’s about more than legitimacy. It is a matter of support. It’s a matter of carrots. It’s a matter of that assistance. But it’s also a matter of accountability. And it is making clear to a group like the Taliban that they will be held accountable in meaningful and profound ways should they not do so.
So let me – I won’t belabor the point, but the European Union – all of their ministers of foreign affairs put out a statement saying they call on all parties in Afghanistan to respect all commitments made and to pursue further an inclusive political solution. The Canadians have been outspoken on this. Prime Minister Trudeau – I’m sure many of you have seen what he says – said. The NATO secretary general has said that there are efforts to establish some kind of inclusive government. Many national actors have called for that. And, of course, if that happens, it will be easier to have some kind of relationship. Heiko Maas, the German foreign minister: We will not give another cent to the Taliban, if the Taliban introduces Sharia law.
QUESTION: But Ned, I think the question – how can the United States or the international community, aside from dangling the aid issue out there, which I know we’ve talked about the Taliban wants – may – they may end up not really caring at the end of the day. And so how can all of these aspirations be enforced?
MR PRICE: They may not care about these ephemeral concepts like legitimacy and recognition.
QUESTION: They haven’t in the past.
MR PRICE: Their past behavior suggests that, correct. What —
QUESTION: So, there’s not a whole lot of confidence that they won’t change their —
MR PRICE: But what this does this – this has prepped —
QUESTION: (Inaudible) to the airport, like, today.
MR PRICE: The question was not about the airport, Rich. I’m happy to talk about the airport.
QUESTION: Yes, let’s talk about (inaudible).
QUESTION: That meeting – the statements out of Brussels, Ottawa, New York —
MR PRICE: I am —
QUESTION: We’re hearing that flights are leaving.
QUESTION: — (Inaudible) and good, don’t mean anything on the ground.
MR PRICE: I am answering the question that was asked of me. If you would like to go to another topic, we certainly can.
QUESTION: In Afghanistan, we are hearing that flights are leaving that are not completely full, are half full. Is this a problem with people getting to the airport? Is this a consular issue? What’s the holdup on that front?
MR PRICE: So, Rich, our goal is to have every single seat filled on every single aircraft that takes off from the airport. Of course, we are most responsible for the U.S. military flights that are taking off, but there have also been commercial charters, as well, that have been part of these repatriation and relocation efforts.
So, as you have heard, it was a couple days ago now that we issued notifications to the first tranche of American citizens that had indicated a desire to be repatriated. Just recently, as you heard from the deputy secretary, we have notified all Americans in Afghanistan who have expressed a desire to be repatriated that they should consider going to the Hamid Karzai International Airport.
So, we are sending very clear, very precise communications to an increasingly large universe of people. We are opening the aperture to see to it that there are people there present with the increasing lift capacity that the U.S. military has provided, so that there is not, to the extent we can help it, a single unused seat on these aircrafts. We are shifting our tactics, we are reaching out to a broader aperture of the community of people, who may be eligible or interested in relocation, And we expect the number of people who are repatriated or relocated to continue to climb in the coming days. That’s certainly our hope.
QUESTION: And climb – do you have a number? How many consular officials are working on this issue now in Kabul?
MR PRICE: So, as you heard from the deputy secretary, by Friday we will have doubled – I think it is nearly doubled – the number of consular officers who are working this on the ground in Kabul.
Let me make one other point.
QUESTION: Do you have a number on —
QUESTION: Can you be a little bit more explicit? Because doubling from two to four isn’t —
MR PRICE: It is – I can be more explicit. It is not doubling from two to four. It is a larger universe, but as you know, especially in these fluid —
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, yeah, but, I mean, are we talking dozens?
MR PRICE: In these fluid security environments, we don’t give precise numbers, but I can tell you it is more than doubling from two to four.
But let me make another point that is relevant to this: Our embassy in Kabul went on ordered departure on April 27th. The security environment even then was fluid. We were taking prudent precautions, minimizing the size of our civilian footprint. With that ordered departure status, the primary functions of individuals at our embassy were really two-fold. Number one was security. We were never going to have any fewer security officials than absolutely necessary, but number two was consular – consular officers. So even as we went on ordered departure on April 27th, we actually sent additional consular officers to our embassy in Kabul precisely so that they could work on this challenge of the SIV processing.
This is a challenge that had vexed numerous, previous administrations. When we came into office, there were more than 70,000 individuals in this backlog. When we came into office, not a single SIV interview had been conducted since March of 2020. Now, of course, COVID had a say in that. It was a difficult operating environment. But within two weeks of this administration taking office, those interviews had resumed. We were able to expedite the processing time for SIV applications over that time. We took the number of visas granted from just over 100 to just over 800, 800 people in that – excuse me, per month. So we were able to do that by surging resources to Kabul, but also surging resources back here, because we knew our commitment to these individuals who have stood by us over the past 20 years, that we would need to do everything we could – even in the midst of the COVID outbreak that has been ongoing since March of last year, and the COVID outbreak that the deputy secretary mentioned, the COVID outbreak that was profoundly impactful on Embassy Kabul in June and July of this month. Of course, that also had a say in our operations.
But we have prioritized this program from day one, and you see that not only in my statements about the priority we attached to that, you see it in the through-put, in the speed with which we have accelerated the processing over time, and you see that commitment now on your television screens almost every single day as we are doing something that no other administration had even conceived of.
QUESTION: So just turning —
MR PRICE: An – but let me just finish – an airlift operation to relocate these individuals. The SIV program is about granting Special Immigrant Visas. When it was conceived in Iraq, it was about granting Special Immigrant Visas. When it was conceived in Afghanistan, it was about the same thing. This administration has done something no other administration did by mounting an airlift operation to physically relocate these individuals to begin their new lives in the United States.
QUESTION: So, our colleague —
QUESTION: Our colleague John Hudson from The Washington Post asks if you can answer whether the United States is willing to resettle up to 200,000 Afghan refugees, whether SIVs or P-2 applicants. This is what refugee groups are asking for. Can you – can the United States commit to that?
MR PRICE: What we can commit to is to doing as much as we can for as many people as we can for as —
QUESTION: Does that go up to 200,000?
MR PRICE: — for as long as we can. I don’t want to put a number on it because we are going to keep running a thousand miles an hour for as long as we can. That’s what we’ve been doing. That’s what we’ll continue to do for as long as we can.
QUESTION: Yes. Just wanted to follow up on what Simon was saying before because, of course, this is being debated in the British parliament today. And I appreciate that Joe Biden spoke with Mr. Johnson yesterday. I appreciate you’re all united about how you feel about the Taliban, and getting people out. But British lawmakers were unhappy with his timeline to begin with, and now they’re obviously very unhappy with the chaotic exit. And they’ve been criticizing what they say is a policy failure that is not only an embarrassment for the United States, but it embarrasses and weakens the West as well as the U.S., and they can’t rely on the U.S. like they used to. And how do you respond to that broader point? Obviously, you’re working together now, but there’s a bigger picture here.
MR PRICE: Well, look, I’m not going to respond to criticism directed at a foreign counterpart. Of course, the Brits have been one of our closest allies —
QUESTION: The Brits are making that criticism of you.
MR PRICE: I thought you were referring to criticism that the —
QUESTION: No, not at all. No.
MR PRICE: — prime minister was receiving.
QUESTION: No, they are saying – they are saying that the United States policy is a failure, which is embarrassing and weakening not only the U.S., but the West. And they’re saying that as a partner of the United States.
MR PRICE: Well, we certainly have an extraordinary partner in the British Government. As you said, President Biden has had an opportunity to speak with the prime minister yesterday. They read out that call. We have worked very closely with our British allies on this. In fact, we’ve worked very closely with our broader NATO Allies on this. You may remember that the Secretary has been to one city more than any other cities during his time as Secretary in the past six or seven months, and that’s Brussels. And we have gone there, multiple times now, number one, in the first instance, to hear from allies in March —
QUESTION: But they’re saying that you heard from them, but you kind of presented them with a fait accompli. They didn’t – they weren’t happy with the timetable and – in the first place, and now it’s kind of gone pear-shaped, and that this is a – this is not only the United States that’s going to suffer its reputation from it, but not – it’s the partners as well.
MR PRICE: Look, I’m going to let the British Government speak to their decisions when it comes to their presence on the ground. What I can say is that our coordination with the British Government, with all of our NATO Allies, has been consistent, it has been clear, and there has been a consensus on this. When we went to Brussels in late March, it was an opportunity to sit down with, to hear from, together with Secretary Austin, our NATO Allies, to hear what the alliance was thinking. When we went there in April, it was to express the mantra that we always knew would be true: in together, adjust together, and out together. The NATO – the NAC put out a unanimous statement that affirmed that principle.
So, we have seen and heard the NATO Alliance speak with one voice on this. I know in the game of politics, whether that’s here or in London, there are always going to be critics and naysayers. You have heard this President speak in clear and decisive terms about the commitment that the United States fulfilled to Afghanistan, about the mission that we went there to pursue, about the conditions that we inherited, and about his profound obligation to the safety and security of the American people. We have been clear about that, other governments have been clear about that, so I will let their words speak for them.
QUESTION: I want to follow up on this question. Are you concerned that your potential adversaries like Russia and China would use this withdrawal, these pictures to encourage them to be more belligerent in their foreign policy? And what’s your message to Taiwan, Ukraine, Iraq?
MR PRICE: Our message to all of our partners around the world is to – is clearly reflected in our actions, in this country’s actions, both over the past two decades and now. No country has done more – and I’ve said this many times – no country has done more for the country of Afghanistan, for the people of Afghanistan – no country has done more in the context of Afghanistan to energize and to concentrate the attention of the international community.
There is nothing more important to us when it comes to our foreign policy and our diplomacy than our systems of alliances and partnerships. They are unrivaled, they are unparalleled, they are the envy of our adversaries. We know that they are a profound source of strength. That is precisely why you have seen us invest in them. You have seen us invest in NATO. You have seen us invest in the Indo-Pacific in ways that go beyond what previous administrations have done. You have seen us stand by our partners, whether that is Taiwan, whether it is Israel, whether it is any other country, any other entity with whom we have a rock-solid partnership and a commitment.
And you will see the United States – you will see the United States, under this administration, standing by those commitments precisely because we recognize how important they are – how important they are for our partners, but also how important they are as a source of strength for us, and that is not going to change.
I’ll take a final question, maybe. Kylie.
QUESTION: Can I ask about logistics?
MR PRICE: Yeah.
QUESTION: So, we have reports on the ground that the Taliban are turning away people at their own kind of impromptu checkpoints, if you will. So what guidance is the U.S. giving to the Taliban about who they should be letting through to the airport? And then in terms of folks getting to the airport, if there’s an Afghan who shows up, and hasn’t been alerted that they should show up at the airport but they’re at some stage in the SIV or P-2 process, are they going to be allowed to get on these flights, or do they have to have received that notification from State to get on an evacuation flight?
MR PRICE: So, our message about safe passage is more than just our message. It is a message that the Taliban and the international community have now heard in the exact same verbiage from more than a hundred countries. I think right now it’s 112 countries. And the wording in there speaks to safe passage for civilians.
QUESTION: No, I’m not talking about the message. I’m talking about what you’re telling the Taliban about who should get through and who should —
MR PRICE: What we are telling them is that civilians should be afforded safe passage.
QUESTION: Any civilian?
MR PRICE: Civilians —
QUESTION: That they should let anyone go through to the airport.
MR PRICE: Civilians should be afforded safe passage. No one’s movements, whether it’s in Kabul or anywhere else should be restricted. Safe passage is important for all civilians in Afghanistan. It is —
QUESTION: She’s talking about to the airport, not talking about going down to the corner market to get some milk or something.
MR PRICE: I understand that. What we have been doing is – and this is the joint statement – the joint statement makes clear that those in a position of power and authority across Afghanistan who bear responsibility and accountability for the protection of human life and property and for the immediate restoration of security and civil order – those in positions of power bear responsibility for the protection of human life and property.
QUESTION: So, you want the Taliban to leave the streets anywhere close to the airport because if they’re preventing people from getting to the airport, they should just leave?
MR PRICE: Safe passage should not be impeded. We have – for our part, we have been sending very specific and direct messages to those we will be in a position to relocate.
MR PRICE: Private American citizens, SIVs, and other vulnerable Afghans. But our message, again, to all of those who may be in a position to be relocated by the United States is that they should not come to the airport unless and until they receive a specific message from the embassy that they should consider doing so.
QUESTION: So –
QUESTION: I believe the deputy secretary said that –
QUESTION: Go ahead.
QUESTION: — that the United States would use every diplomatic, economic, and political tool to ensure that safe passage. She did not mention any military tool, which I believe is a condition of making sure that Americans can get to the airport. So, is there any kind of assurances that Afghans can have that the United States will ensure their safe passage to the airport via military action?
MR PRICE: We have made very clear to the Taliban – first in Doha, more recently on the ground in Afghanistan – that any effort to target, to intimidate, to inflict violence on our people or to impede our operations —
QUESTION: (Inaudible) being Americans, not – not Afghans?
MR PRICE: Correct, correct – American operations, the operations that we are undertaking right now, to relocate, yes, American citizens, but also the broader categories of vulnerable Afghans, that will be met with a swift and decisive response. We’ve made that very clear.
QUESTION: There’s another problem, and that is that there are reports that some people who have gotten through the Taliban checkpoints, but – who – and who are manifested on flights, have actually been turned away by the U.S. military. So, given that we have a situation – a system of government that lets their civilian control the military, what have you guys told the military to do? What are they supposed to do? Are they supposed to let anyone who gets through the Taliban checkpoints into the departure area?
MR PRICE: I’m not in a position to go into the interagency back-and-forth from the podium. What I can tell you is that —
QUESTION: But you did —
MR PRICE: But —
QUESTION: But you’re happy to go into the fact that you’ve talked to the Taliban, but you’re not going to say what you’ve told the Pentagon to —
MR PRICE: About sensitive ongoing operations?
QUESTION: About Afghans who show up, having been told to show up, having been manifested with a seat on the plane, and then being turned away —
MR PRICE: Matt, I —
QUESTION: — by American troops. And I recognize this might be a very small universe of people, because they have to get through the Taliban checkpoints first. But there are cases of this happening.
MR PRICE: Well, it’s – when you look at the number of people we have been able to relocate, more than 2,000 people over the past 24 hours, that is itself an indicator that these individuals have been able to secure safe passage for themselves. What we are working to do is to facilitate safe passage through diplomacy – yes, through every tool. When it comes to the message we have sent – and this is a message that we sent very directly to the Taliban, even as the security situation remained fluid and it continued to evolve – is that when it came to our operations and our personnel, any effort to impede, to potentially put at risk our personnel would be met with a swift and decisive response.
Yes, please, Nazira, and we’ll finish up.
QUESTION: So, Mr. Price, what third country are willing to accept or take refugees now?
MR PRICE: Well, so we have heard – and many of you, I’m sure, have heard – very generous offers of support from countries around the world. These are countries who in some cases in quite moving ways – if you look at the statement, for example, that the Albanian prime minister put out about his country’s pledge to accept vulnerable Afghans, it is quite moving, and it speaks of Albania’s commitment in terms of Albania’s own experience. It’s – it is – has been, and you heard the deputy secretary to speak to this both today in the call that she hosted with 19 of her counterparts, but Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Toria Nuland has been working the phones non-stop, her team has been working the phones non-stop – doing all we can to encourage countries around the world to make good on their generosity, to recognize the common humanity of those who are seeking to flee the violence or the – seeking to flee the unstable and uncertain situation in Afghanistan. This has been something we have been working very hard and very concertedly. We have been gratified by the number of countries that have stepped up, precisely because we know the need is great, and we are – we welcome very much the generous offers that so many countries have put forward.
Thank you all very much.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can you – one non-Afghan question, please? I – thank you. I’m seeing reports that there are some cases of Havana – so-called Havana Syndrome in Berlin, at the embassy in Berlin. Can you speak to that? Are you aware of it? What is the State Department doing to protect its staff?
MR PRICE: So, I am – I have seen these reports, of course. This is something that we vigorously investigate, the so-called anomalous health incidents or unexplained health incidents in coordination with our partners across the government. Any employees who have reported a possible unexplained health incident, they have received immediate and appropriate attention and care.
These health incidents I can tell you have been a top priority for Secretary Blinken. I think I mentioned this before, but he proactively requested two sets of briefings during the transition. This was one of them, because even before he was Secretary of State, he wanted to know precisely what we knew, what this department knew at the time, and what we were doing to respond to this.
He has set clear goals for what we call here the Health Incident Response Task Force to – number one, to strengthen the communication with our workforce, of course, to provide care for affected employees and their family members, and to do what we can to protect against these incidents working together with the interagency, and, of course, to find the cause of what has been afflicting these members of our team. He noted to the workforce – I guess it was a couple weeks ago now – that there is nothing that we take more seriously than the health of our workforce.
And that’s why there is a major effort underway in this department, there is a major effort underway across the interagency to determine the cause and to, of course, provide the level of care, the level of communication, the level of feedback that our employees need and deserve. This is a priority. Ambassador Spratlen, as you know, the – Secretary Blinken named her as the head of the task force. She works very closely with the Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources Brian McKeon on this. They are working very closely in turn with Secretary Blinken. We’ll continue to do that. We’ll continue to work with our interagency partners to ensure that our employees, both those who have been affected by this have what they need, and those who are serving around the world, that we’re doing everything we can to ensure their safety.
QUESTION: So, can you confirm the cases in Berlin or —
MR PRICE: We don’t speak to cases anywhere.
MR PRICE: Yes.
MR PRICE: So right now, there are – there is an effort to establish transit countries. And as you know, the Secretary has been in contact with some of his counterparts to thank them for offering their country as temporary transit countries. But when it comes to the precise lift operations and what that may look like in the days – in the days ahead, that’s not something I’m prepared to speak to now. But thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:38 p.m.)