2:13 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: Hello. So I’ll first start with an update on the situation on the ground in Afghanistan.
First, as you’ve heard from my counterpart at the Pentagon this morning, 12 C-17s departed within the last 24 hours with more than 2,000 passengers who arrived at safe havens. Since August 14th, we’ve airlifted 7,000 total evacuees.
I can also confirm there are 6,000 people at the airport right now who have been fully processed by our consular team and will soon board planes.
Overnight, we significantly expanded how many American citizens, locally employed staff, SIV applicants, and other vulnerable Afghans who were eligible for departure, and we offered them to consider transit to the airport. We’re aware of congestion around the airport. We are working closely with the Department of Defense to facilitate safe and orderly access for consular processing on the airport compound.
U.S. military and other country flights continued throughout the last 24 hours, and American citizens and legal permanent residents will be given the first opportunity to board, with other priority groups filling in seats from there.
We’re continuing to rapidly deploy additional consular officers to ensure we can welcome Americans and others and will continue to do so over the coming days. The department is sending consular staffing teams to Qatar and Kuwait to assist with the transit effort, and we’re preparing teams to surge to other processing locations as well. Additional consular officers have also now landed in Kabul, and we will nearly double the number of consular officers on the ground by tomorrow, by Friday.
I can also announce that Ambassador Bass arrived in Kabul this morning to lead logistics coordination and consular efforts within the personnel who remain at the airport.
As you heard [Deputy] Secretary Sherman say yesterday, our diplomatic and military personnel are working in lockstep towards the same goal, and that is 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 as possible.
Our diplomats around the world are tirelessly engaging with their counterparts to ensure transit and passage for Americans, vulnerable Afghans, and others. 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 individuals.
Additionally, Secretary Blinken spoke today with the G7 foreign ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom, and the high representative of the European Union to discuss the situation in Afghanistan. All leaders underscored the imperative of safe passage for those who wish to leave Afghanistan and the need for an inclusive political resolution that protects the fundamental human rights of all Afghans.
The leaders agreed that the international community’s relationship with the Taliban will depend on their actions, and not their words. Secretary Blinken and the G7 foreign ministers also exchanged views on counterterrorism, on humanitarian efforts, refugee migration, and they agreed to remain in close contact on all fronts going forward. Secretary Blinken thanked his foreign counterparts for their steadfast commitment to supporting the Afghan people.
With that, I am happy to turn to your questions.
QUESTION: Ned, can I ask you – this is an extremely logistical question, and I hope it will be a very short answer. So, but does Operation Allies Refuge now include all of the categories of people who can go out? That means SIVs, P-1, P-2, and this other at-risk category, or does it still just apply – does that term “Allies Refuge” just only apply to SIVs?
MR PRICE: So Operation Allies Refuge is the —
QUESTION: People are getting briefed on different things all over town.
MR PRICE: Understood, understood. It is a military operation, Operation Allies Refuge. It was a term coined by the Pentagon, so I need to refer you there to speak precisely to what that operation now entails. But what I will say more broadly, of course, is that Operation Allies Refuge, in the first instance, was an effort, an airlift operation, unprecedented airlift operation, that no other administration, either in the —
QUESTION: Okay, but —
MR PRICE: No, no, but – I will get there. But that no other administration, either in the Afghan context or —
QUESTION: Ned, you can pat yourself on the back all you want. I just want to know: Does it include all of these categories now, or is it just the SIVs?
MR PRICE: Matt, it was, in the first instance, an airlift operation for SIVs.
QUESTION: Now what is it?
MR PRICE: Now, of course, what we’re doing is offering an airlift operation, we’re in the midst of an airlift operation, for American citizens, for locally employed staff members, for SIVs, for vulnerable Afghans.
QUESTION: So the entire evacuation effort is Operation Allies Refuge?
MR PRICE: My point was that you’ll need to talk to DOD to understand exactly what OAR encompasses, but obviously we have a vast airlift operation ongoing now that encompasses all of those categories.
QUESTION: Yes, true. No one is trying to say that you don’t. Clear – secondly, and I realize that the – and I want to make sure that this is understood. Getting people – I understand that getting people out safely is the most important thing. But are there any COVID protocols for these flights?
MR PRICE: So our first priority is to get as many people out as we can. What we are doing, depending on where these individuals go – and as you know, there are several transit countries – we – there sometimes will be testing in those third countries, but our first priority right now is to bring as many people to safety as we can.
QUESTION: So there isn’t a protocol at the airport? If they are lucky enough to get through and get onto – there isn’t any – there’s no testing that happens beforehand? Because if you look at the pictures of packed transport planes when there were – one or two people who are infected could – that could be a disaster, right? Especially when they arrive someplace. So anyway, you’re saying there aren’t. And —
MR PRICE: When it comes to the transit countries, it is – we are abiding by the regulations of those transit countries.
QUESTION: No, I’m talking about in Kabul. So there isn’t any testing that happens before you get on a plane?
MR PRICE: In Kabul at the airport, we don’t at present have the capacity to test everyone on the —
QUESTION: Last thing, and I’ll be really brief because it was kind of answered last night. But there were a bunch of reports last evening about this Contingency and Crisis Response Bureau proposal that had been made by the previous administration. And I just want to know if you guys still think that getting rid of it was the right thing to do. Was it a necessary – was it a necessary element of the bureaucracy?
MR PRICE: Well, I just want to correct something you said. We didn’t get rid of any bureau. The —
QUESTION: Well, I know. It had never been created, but —
MR PRICE: The bureau was never created. The bureau was proposed by the previous administration in its final days. It was – importantly, when it was conceived, it was not proposed to introduce any new capabilities whatsoever. And that may have been the cause for concern on a bipartisan basis on Capitol Hill. As you know, there were holds on this idea on a bipartisan basis. Republicans and Democrats opposed this. And in fact, the memo that explains what this proposal was to do actually was explicit in saying that it would not bring any new capabilities on board.
So when this administration came in, we studied the issue. And we determined, just as lawmakers on a bipartisan basis had determined, that a new bureau, a whole new structure, was not the right way to go, that we could make improvements in other areas. And that’s what we’ve continued to do.
QUESTION: Okay, just numbers here. How many Afghans – SIVs, P-1, P-2, however they’re being considered – have been evacuated since August 14th? I know we have the 7,000 number in total for people, but how many Afghans are in that group?
MR PRICE: Well, the 7,000 figure, at this point, I’m not in a position to break that down much further. As you know, it consists of American citizens; it consists of our locally employed staff who are Afghans; it consists of third-country nationals, as we have worked very closely with our partners on the ground to help bring some of their nationals to safety, and vulnerable Afghans.
So right now, I’m not in a position to break that down further.
QUESTION: Why not? Why —
QUESTION: Can you break down that thousand?
MR PRICE: Break down 6,000?
QUESTION: Do you not have the information?
QUESTION: The same way that she’s asking?
QUESTION: The 6,000 that are waiting to board, what about them? How many of them are SIVs?
MR PRICE: So obviously, they’re at the airport right now, so this is really data in real time that I just don’t have access to. What I can say – what I can say is that overnight, we notified all Americans who had expressed an interest in being relocated to consider traveling to the airport. We notified our locally employed staff, Afghans who worked at our embassy in Kabul, and we also notified a segment of the SIV population. So of the 6,000 that are at the airport now, that is the general makeup.
QUESTION: So are you planning to give us a breakdown? Are you working on that, or is that not playing —
MR PRICE: I expect we will have greater fidelity in all of these numbers as this continues, yes.
QUESTION: Understood. So a second question: There are reports of problems with these Afghans who you’ve told to come to the airport not being able to get into the airport because gates are closed. Is there anything that the State Department is doing to help them get into the airport at this time?
MR PRICE: So what I can say – and I’m seeing the same reports on Twitter that you are, and every report of someone unable for whatever reason to reach the airport is something we take very seriously – our imperative is to relocate as many people as quickly as we can. And we’ve seen the reports of congestion. My understanding is that things are moving quite efficiently at this hour at the airport – at the airport now.
But every report we see of someone unable to reach the airport is of concern. We are doing everything we can mechanically, logistically, but then, of course, there’s also the diplomatic element to this as well. We are making very clear – we are making very clear together with our international partners; more than a hundred countries have come together, the G7 mentioned this today as well – that safe passage should be guaranteed for all of those who wish to transit to the airport. That is something we have focused on. We have focused on it in the Doha channel. We are focusing on it – and by “we” I mean both State and the Department of Defense, which now has a channel with the Taliban on the ground in Afghanistan – and we have had what I would characterize as productive conversations about the need, the imperative of ensuring safe passage.
Now, of course, we’re seeing some of the same reports. When it comes to American citizens, we have a relatively large cadre of consular officers on the ground in Kabul right now. They are in regular and constant contact with American citizens. I can tell you that they have received as of a couple hours ago a small handful of reports from American citizens who weren’t able to reach the airport for whatever reason. What we do know is that 6,000 people are now at the airport; 6,000 people have been able to make it, have made it through the processing, and as of a couple hours ago we had received only a small handful of reports otherwise from American citizens.
QUESTION: So Ned, just to follow up on that, and you say you’re doing everything you can, but also yesterday Defense Secretary Austin said the United States does not have the capacity to extend the operations into Kabul and help people get to the airport. Is – are you considering seeking help on this from any other country who may have better reach on the ground? Or are you just going to leave this to the people who are trying to get to the airport?
MR PRICE: Humeyra, what I would say is that no country has more capability inside of Afghanistan than the United States. And in fact, we are working —
QUESTION: Why aren’t you doing that?
QUESTION: But this is one thing —
QUESTION: But this is one thing you can’t do, and like, Defense Secretary has said this, and it was a fair-and-square statement. So I’m asking, if United States does not have this capacity, are you asking other countries who may have better reach on the ground to do something about this, or is this going to be left to the hands of those citizens?
MR PRICE: My point is that you will be hard pressed to find a country that has the capacity on the ground, if any such country exists, in a position to do that. We had been working very closely with our partners on the ground at HKIA. Many of them have come to us, asking to have their people go out on our planes, for example. So the United States military is undertaking a gargantuan airlift operation right now. That itself is a major undertaking. You’ve heard from the Secretary, you’ve heard from the chairman, of the resources that are involved in that. At this point, we don’t have the resources to go beyond the airport compound.
QUESTION: Just one final thing. How many more Americans left in Afghanistan? This was raised in Pentagon, and they referred them to the State —
MR PRICE: Well, we have been consistent in –
QUESTION: In not answering.
MR PRICE: — in explaining that in every country, Americans register with the embassy. So it’s a voluntary – it’s a voluntary thing.
QUESTION: Clearly, but you understand this is a question that also defines the length of this mission?
MR PRICE: It does. It does. And the President has been very clear that we are going to do as much as we can for as long as we can, and our first priority is the safe repatriation of the American people. So what we did overnight was to send a message to all American citizens who had expressed an interest in repatriation. We have already repatriated many Americans; just today there are 6,000 more people, many of whom are American, at – U.S. citizens at the airport compound.
QUESTION: And are those people —
MR PRICE: And I would expect in the coming days.
QUESTION: Are those 6,000 people – you said they’ve been processed – are they clear to continue on once they land in Qatar, or do they have to be held in that facility?
MR PRICE: So these are different categories of individuals. Some will be American citizens. Some will be Afghans. Some will be third-party nationals. So it really depends on where they fall on that scale.
QUESTION: Can you at least say —
QUESTION: And as far as the processing in Qatar, the DOD said today you’ve got 5 – the capacity – the aspirational capacity is five to nine thousand a day. All those people are flying in, they’re being held at the base. My understanding is processing there is very slow, it’s triple-digit heat, they have MREs only, there are limited places to sleep. What is the status of getting those people processed and out the door, and where are they going? And if you can’t say or you don’t know, how is that possible at this point?
MR PRICE: So Christina, ultimately the final destination will depend on – if you’re a U.S. citizen, you’re coming back to your home country. If you are a third-country national, you’re going back to your home country. If you’re an Afghan national, we are – we have heard generous offers – well, first I should say those SIVs who have – Special Immigrant Visa holders who have completed the rigorous security vetting process, they will come here, just as 2,000 of them have under Operation Allies Refuge. So when it comes to SIVs who are not at a particular stage, when it comes to vulnerable Afghans who aren’t part of the SIV program, we have heard generous offers from countries around the world.
Let me just give you an update on where we are. First, the U.S. embassies in Doha and Kuwait, they have been working with the military and their Qatari and Kuwaiti counterparts respectively to receive flights and to ensure the safe transit of passengers to onward destination. As I mentioned, we’re sending additional consular officers to both Qatar and Kuwait to help with this processing. We’re very grateful to both countries that they have offered their territory for this processing.
When it comes to Europe, Secretary Blinken had a good conversation yesterday with Albanian Prime Minister Rama about Albania’s offer to host Afghans in need. The Secretary thanked the prime minister for continuing Albania’s proud tradition of sheltering people in need, and they affirmed the close partnership between the two countries. I mentioned this statement yesterday, but for those of you who haven’t seen it, the prime minister’s explanation for why Albania was doing this, predicated on his own country’s history, is quite powerful, quite moving.
We are in discussions with other European allies on this same basis. I’m not in a position to name them right now, but stay tuned. We also deeply appreciate Uganda’s generous offer of assistance to host Afghan evacuees on a temporary basis.
In the Western Hemisphere, of course, you’re all familiar with the very generous offer from our neighbor to the north. The Canadians have expressed a willingness to open their doors to vulnerable Afghans. We’re extraordinarily grateful. Mexico and Chile as well have announced their intention to aid vulnerable Afghans with refugee status or resettlement.
QUESTION: What is your processing capacity in Doha? Like, how – if 5-9,000 are coming in, how many of those people who need processing, who don’t have visas, who can’t just get on a plane – how many can you process per day?
And then secondly, are you asking for any kind of humanitarian assistance either at the airport or at that facility in Doha, where we’re hearing especially at the airport even Americans who got in are saying there’s no separate line for U.S. citizens, there’s minimal toilet facilities, there’s nowhere to sit, they’re sitting outside? It’s – it looks pretty bad.
MR PRICE: So our goal is to move individuals through those facilities as quickly as we can. That’s part of the reason why we have surged consular officers to both places.
QUESTION: I know what the goal is, but do you know what your capacity is? And are you asking for humanitarian assistance?
MR PRICE: So we are able to process hundreds upon hundreds of Afghans in each facility per day. As I said, there are other generous offers. I expect our capacity will be able to speak to a much greater capacity in the coming days as well that will allow us to process thousands of vulnerable Afghans per day.
QUESTION: Ned, thank you very much. See you – nice to see you again. I come back again.
I have a quick question on the Afghanistan and other issue too, and on the ally – our allies’ concerns about the U.S. security credibility, how do you think the Afghanistan crisis impacted the credibility of United States security commitment to its allies?
Secondly, secondly, last time as President Biden mentioned about that the United States military would be sacrificed without the national interest, what if there is no interest in the United States and the countries that have made a security commitment with the countries such as Korea, Japan, and Taiwan? Do you have any comment on that?
MR PRICE: Could you repeat the first part of that second question?
QUESTION: First part of the second question?
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: What if there is no interest in the United States and the countries that have made a security commitment with countries such as Korea, Japan, Taiwan, such things?
MR PRICE: Great. So let me take your first question first. It is safe to say that this administration has prioritized our system of alliances and partnerships in profound ways, and we’ve done that because we recognize them as a profound source of strength. In the context of Afghanistan – and I spoke to this a bit yesterday – it is precisely why Secretary Blinken on one of his – I believe it was his second trip overseas – went to Brussels and went to consult with NATO Allies together with Secretary of Defense Austin. It’s precisely why we returned to Brussels just a couple weeks later, because there’s always been the mantra, the NATO mantra when it comes to Afghanistan: in together, adjust together, out together. That’s always been the understanding. We have – we did all of this and have continued to do all of this in close coordination with our NATO allies. Just today, Secretary Blinken met with the G7. This was a topic of discussion at the leader’s level as well when President Biden was in Europe meeting with the G7, with the EU, with NATO as well.
I think the other – the other point is that our strategic competitors would love nothing more than to see the United States bogged down in a conflict for another two years, four years, twenty years, a conflict that has come at tremendous opportunity cost for the United States.
What we are doing is focusing on the threats and the opportunities that matter most to the American people, to our safety, to our security, to our prosperity. It’s part of the reason why you’ve seen such a focus of this administration on those partners and alliances around the world but also in the Indo-Pacific. And the commitment we have made to our system of alliances in that region, the first countries that Secretary Blinken visited were the Republic of Korea and Japan. We have invested deeply in ASEAN. Ambassador Sherman was in the region recently. We have met with ASEAN as a bloc, also individually with member states.
So what I can tell you is that this administration values our alliances and partnerships for what they are but also for what they represent. They represent a source of strength for us. As I said yesterday, they’re a source of envy for our adversaries. We recognize that. It’s precisely why we’ve invested such in them.
QUESTION: Your national security advisor Sullivan, he take my questions that Tuesday. What he said, and I quote, “The President has” – he said that he believed “has no intention of drawing down our forces from South Korea or from Europe, [and] where we have sustained troop presences for a very long time – not in the middle of a civil war, but to deal with the potential of an external enemy and to protect our ally against [that] external enemy. So, it is a fundamentally different kind of situation from the one we were presented within Afghanistan.”
So do you think the Korean War is a civil war or an invasion by an external enemy just like North Korea? What the United States’ thoughts this Korean War mean?
MR PRICE: Well, we have been very clear about what matters most to us when it comes to the Korean Peninsula. In fact, we did an entire policy review. And the outcome of that review, as we’ve said before, was that our focus will continue to be on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula – the denuclearization which will work to advance our national security interests but also the interests of Japan and the Republic of Korea.
We have stood together with our allies not only in the context of North Korea’s – the DPRK’s nuclear capabilities but also its ballistic missile capabilities, which, of course, are a profound menace to both Japan and the ROK. We’ve also said when it comes to animosity, when it comes to the relationship between South Korea and the DPRK, we are firmly on the side of engagement. We are supportive of the inter-Korean dialogue. We are supportive of efforts to forge better relations between South Korea and between the DPRK.
All the while, we are focusing on the humanitarian issues, the humanitarian plight of the people of North Korea. Those are – that’s what matters most to us. That’s been the focus, and that’s what we’ll continue to focus on.
QUESTION: I just want to ask broadly on the SIV program. There’s some concern that vulnerable Afghans who have helped the U.S. forces, especially if they’re not near Kabul, will have trouble getting out. And I’m just wondering why the State Department didn’t surge more effort toward the SIV program. We’ve talked about some of the details, but obviously this administration inherited a plan to exit Afghanistan, followed through on that plan – granted there were some backlogs, but we were still getting pretty small numbers of SIVs coming through in March. Why didn’t this administration surge that earlier? Why wait till summertime before getting larger numbers of those processed?
MR PRICE: Well, you mentioned the backdrop, and that’s where I’ll start, because it’s worth explaining a bit of the context of the SIV program, what we inherited. So before January 20th of this year – this would be June of 2020 – there was actually an inspector general report into the state of the SIV program over successive administrations. This was a program that began in 2008, as I recall. What the inspector general identified was chronic shortages in staffing, a lack of a coordinating official, and a bureaucratic 14-step process that was enshrined in statute. So that’s what we inherited.
By the time this administration took office on January 20th, there had not been a single SIV interview in months. In fact, the last interview was on March 20th of 2020, and that, of course, was due to the COVID protocols. Within two weeks of this administration taking office, SIV interviews in Kabul had resumed. They were re-established on February 2nd. On February 4th, just to demonstrate the commitment and to signal the commitment and to jumpstart this effort, President Biden issued an executive order, and he directed the Department of State to undertake a review of the program. We did so. That review allowed us to identify and to take remedial action on process improvements, and we found ways we could direct additional resources to the SIV program. And I’ll give you a couple examples of that.
On April 1st, additional SIV adjudicators were dispatched to Kabul, and the embassy significantly raised its goal of how many interviews it could conduct per week. Later that month, of course, the embassy did go on ordered departure as the security environment and the broader environment began to change. So as you know, it goes without saying we brought people back to the United States, but we actually surged at that time additional consular officers, because even as we were reducing the overall footprint of our embassy, we wanted to ensure we were doing everything we can to actually augment the capabilities for our SIV processing at that time. By the end of May, given these steps, we had shaved more than a year off the average processing time for the SIV program.
Other challenges arose. As you recall, the embassy in Kabul was struck by a fairly profound outbreak of COVID-19. Even despite the COVID-19 outbreak at the embassy, the embassy was able to issue more than 1,000 visas during the time of the outbreak. That was roughly mid-June to early July. On July 14th, we announced something, as I said before, that – something no administration had done before, an actual airlift operation. The SIV program was designed to give visas for these Afghans who had stood by us, but it was never contemplated —
QUESTION: Is this going to be a success in the end? And if not, why didn’t you stay longer in Afghanistan to get these people out?
MR PRICE: So —
QUESTION: Is it going to be a success? How many people are going to come out in the end?
MR PRICE: So Will, it is our intention to bring to the United States as many SIV applicants as we possibly can. And we put in process the steps that actually enabled us to process at a much greater clip. We went from —
QUESTION: Ned, I’m still not clear on what – what point they need to be in the SIV process to either get through the gate or get on the plane.
MR PRICE: I am happy to tell you that. Let me just give you one data point. The – with the augmentation of consular staff in the embassy in Kabul and also back here in the Washington, D.C. area, the number of visas we were able to issue went from 100 in March to 813 this month, 813 visas per week. That just shows you the commitment we have.
Now, Christina, to your question, when it comes to SIVs and who precisely we’re relocating at this time, we have sent messages to those who have completed a certain stage of the security vetting procedure —
QUESTION: Right, but what is that stage, is what I’m asking? Do they have to have consular approval or —
MR PRICE: — who have completed the vetting procedures —
QUESTION: Sorry, consul general.
MR PRICE: — who have completed the vetting procedures that they should consider coming to the airport and we’d be in a position to relocate them.
QUESTION: So actually, something on that. Pentagon – your counterpart in Pentagon today – you know there’s the number of 5,000 to 9,000, and then yesterday 2,000 have been – people have been evacuated. So there were questions about why that number was less. And then he said there – he said obviously there are a number of steps regarding the visa application before putting people on planes, which suggested that at the moment you are not using these planes at full capacity because of bureaucratic red tape.
MR PRICE: No —
QUESTION: And if that is the case or if it’s somewhere even close to that, will these consular officers finally sort of speed that process up? When do you think you will get up to five to nine thousand?
MR PRICE: So as we said, by tomorrow, we will have just about doubled the consular capacity we have available at the embassy – at the airport compound in Kabul.
QUESTION: Is that going to mean 5,000 people on the plane?
MR PRICE: It means we are going to process as many people, working with the military, as we possibly can.
QUESTION: Yeah, but you were doing that yesterday too, right?
MR PRICE: Matt, since —
QUESTION: No, I know, but —
MR PRICE: Since this effort has begun, yes.
QUESTION: Look, people are asking for numbers. And I realize that they’re difficult to get, but – and it’s always in flux, but you just talked about how there’s 6,000 people waiting at the airport, which is one thing. Does the military side of the airport really have enough space for 6,000 people to live hygienically for 12 to 24 hours?
MR PRICE: The – we expect about 20 flights —
QUESTION: And when did those – when did – when —
MR PRICE: We expect about 20 flights to go out tonight.
QUESTION: Tonight and tomorrow. So the 6,000 who are there, they got in today?
MR PRICE: That’s the goal.
QUESTION: Right? They got in today?
MR PRICE: Today, 6,000 people have been processed into the airport.
QUESTION: And they will be leaving tonight and early, I guess, our time —
MR PRICE: We expect 20 flights, DOD has said, will go out tonight. This is an operation that will continue at as fast a clip as we can possibly manage. I think you’ve heard me say that as we have increased our throughput capacity at the airport, we have reached out to more and more individuals instructing them to consider traveling to the airport if they are able to do so. So that is why you have seen more people processed today. Our hope is that tomorrow we’ll be able to process even more. But ultimately, the metric we care about most is how many people we are able to repatriate here to the United States or bring to third countries. That is our goal. Our goal is to maximize that figure.
QUESTION: Ned, the —
QUESTION: Can I just ask: The SIV program does not apply to Afghan Security Forces, only to the interpreters and folks of that kind. There are reports – credible reports – that they are being hunted down. There are air force pilots pleading in audio messages for help. There are commandos that the U.S. Government has spent years training who are being assassinated. What are you doing for them, and are you aware of these reports? Can you confirm any of these reports that they’re being hunted down?
MR PRICE: We know that at least one NGO – I’ve seen a report that at least one NGO has put together with this. So I’m just not in a position to confirm those details. As I said, every time we see a detail like this, we take it extraordinarily seriously, and we do what we can to follow up on it.
You’re right that in most instances, someone who, for example, has served in the Afghan military or the Afghan police force probably would not qualify for SIV status. But SIV status is not the only status that we are factoring into our calculus. There are other forms of – there are other pathways to safety, either through UNHCR, the United States, one of our partners. We’ve talked about Priority 1 refugee status; we’ve talked about Priority 2 refugee status. There are individuals who, over the course of many years, have worked closely with NGOs, with partner governments, and those NGOs and partner governments are referring them for various refugee statuses that may be available elsewhere.
So there are different avenues for people who don’t qualify for SIV, and we are doing all we can to support as many people as we can.
QUESTION: Just another question: There are – there have been skirmishes today over the Afghan national flag being raised. Today is Afghanistan’s independence day. There are also folks calling for resistance, including First Vice President Saleh. What do you say to the folks who say that they want to resist Taliban control of the country, including through force? What do you say to the folks who are in the streets protesting today because they don’t want Taliban government?
MR PRICE: Well, we certainly don’t want to see a government that denies the rights that are guaranteed to people everywhere. We don’t want to see that either. But it’s not just about us. In addition to the other elements that the G7 discussed today, one of the key points of discussion was about the expectations of this forum for any future Afghan government. We have seen consensus within the G7, we have seen consensus within the UN Security Council, we have seen consensus from the dozens of countries who signed on to a statement just a couple nights ago about the status of women and girls.
So again, the international community is united on this. No one —
QUESTION: Do you support calls for resistance?
MR PRICE: Look, no one wants to see a government that is – that will deprive the rights of its people, the rights of its women and girls. We know that no society can thrive or potentially even continue to exist if it ignores the rights of half of its population. That has been our point.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that? Massoud has basically called for the United States to actually send arms, saying that the U.S. is the arsenal of democracy. Does the United States have any contact with him in Panjshir? Does the United States have any interest in sending a – and a military relationship with him?
MR PRICE: We have – without speaking to this individual specifically, we have been in contact with stakeholders who are engaged in the intra-Afghan negotiations. As you know, the Afghans – that is to say, representatives of the Islamic Republic, representatives of the Taliban – continue to hold discussions, continue to discuss a political settlement. We have continued to be in touch with representatives of the Islamic Republic as well as representatives of the Taliban. Ambassador Khalilzad remains in Doha. Much of the Taliban delegation if not all of it has relocated from Doha to Afghanistan. We’ve continued to be in touch with those representatives over the phone. We’ve been touch directly on the ground them as well, as well as with Islamic Republic representatives.
QUESTION: President Ghani, you mentioned yesterday, or – Deputy Secretary Sherman said that he’s no longer a factor. Is he one of these stakeholders that you see as having an interest in the future of Afghanistan?
MR PRICE: My understanding is that we have not had any contact with President Ghani since he fled the country.
QUESTION: Could I just ask one more? You had – you had a readout a couple days ago of the Secretary’s talks with Foreign Minister Qureshi. Pakistan obviously has a complicated relationship in Afghanistan. What’s your – what was the nature of your talks? What are you looking for from Pakistan now that the Taliban is effectively in control?
MR PRICE: Well, we did issue a readout of that. The point we’ve made to all of Afghanistan’s neighbors is that it is in everyone’s interest to do what we can to secure or to help facilitate stability, security, some sort of political settlement. Countries on the – countries that boarder Afghanistan also face a particular challenge when it comes to refugees, and we have continued to encourage countries in the region to be welcoming of the most vulnerable – those who are seeking a better life.
Whether it is Pakistan, whether it is the PRC, whether it is other countries in the region that have a stake in Afghanistan, we have continued to have constructive conversations with all of them on this. I think the fact of the matter is here that when it comes to the PRC, obviously our interests are rarely aligned, but we have had what we would call constructive, good conversations about how – about the situation going forward. We’ll continue to discuss not only with our closest allies and partners, but partners in the region about what together we can do to support the humanitarian needs of the people of Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Can I ask one question I haven’t asked today, just – I know we’re dwelling on this, but I think it’s important. So does the State Department believe that the surge that you guys are putting forth in consular affairs officers to the airport will be sufficient to boost the processing so that you guys are able to reach the Pentagon’s capacity of getting out five to nine thousand people, or are you still looking for more people to actually get to that capacity?
MR PRICE: So by the time we will have doubled our consular capacity, it is our current belief that we will have the capacity that we need to process as many individuals as we can to fill the flights, but we’re always going to be evaluating what we could be doing differently, what we could be doing more effectively. If it turns out that we need additional consular capacity in Kabul, we won’t hesitate to do that, but right now we are confident that we have – and with the additional reinforcements, we’ll have what we need.
QUESTION: And why haven’t we heard from the Secretary of State this week?
MR PRICE: The Secretary of State this week, you heard from him on Sunday. You have heard and seen that he has been working the phones with his counterparts. He has been at the White House the past few days now. He was just there this morning. He’s been meeting regularly with the President. He’s been regularly meeting with the broader national security team. He has been deeply engaged on this, and I expect you’ll have an opportunity to hear from him again soon.
QUESTION: Hey, Ned, you’ve said repeatedly that the talks with the Taliban on the ground have been constructive in allowing people access to the airport, but this is day four, day five now of people having trouble, including U.S. citizens, U.S. lawful permanent residents. How can you say that it’s been constructive if you’re still having problems and people are still facing violence when they’re trying to make their way to the airport?
MR PRICE: Connor, every single report of someone being blocked from access to the airport, it’s a cause for concern. When it —
QUESTION: To elevate or escalate your —
MR PRICE: When – here are the data points I can give you. We see I’m sure the same reports you’re seeing on Twitter. When it comes to American citizens, we have had as of earlier today only a handful of reports – our consular staff on the ground has had only a handful of reports from American citizens who have been unable to reach the airport for whatever reason. We are continuing to do all we can the international community, directly with our engagement with the Taliban, to facilitate –facilitate access and safe passage to the airport. We’ll continue to work on this through every tool that we have and that’s appropriate.
QUESTION: To follow up just real quick, I understand we’ve established that there’s not going to be assistance for safe passage, there’s no – Pentagon, you this morning or this afternoon are saying there’s no capacity for us to go and get people out of these other areas and get them to Kabul. Is there any concern that this documentation, any kind of notice or anything like that because of these checkpoints – sort of following up on that – is going to cause more of an issue for these people to access this area?
And then just to double down, I mean, we have no numbers. I know that you’ve mentioned the 6,000, 7,000, you can’t break it down. You have said specifically that you have notified all Americans that are trying to get out of state. Is there any rough idea of a number, any characterization that you can give? Clearly, they have given you this information. Clearly, they are trying to get out. Is there any idea of how many Americans are still trying to get out of Afghanistan?
MR PRICE: We have been in contact with the Americans who have requested to be repatriated. We’re just not in a position to give a number right now. We’re more broadly not in a position to offer an aggregate figure because we are putting forward offers to individuals who may be interested in relocating. In some cases, they may opt not to come to the airport. They may opt not to be relocated for whatever reason.
QUESTION: But you have those numbers, because we did this during COVID. When you guys pulled people out of different countries during COVID —
MR PRICE: Christina —
QUESTION: — you would give us a country-by-country breakdown.
MR PRICE: We’re talking about a very different universe here. We’re talking about American citizens, we’re talking about third-country nationals, we’re talking about Afghan nationals.
QUESTION: She was talking about American citizens. We’re asking about American citizens.
QUESTION: Specifically American citizens.
QUESTION: You know how many Americans have contacted you and asked to get out. Why can’t you tell us?
QUESTION: There has to be some kind of list, right? I mean, you have this contact – and if you’re making these deals to people who have not specifically reached out to you to say hey, we’re trying to get out of here, does that – is that going to make this a longer process? Going back to her question, is this going to extend this mission further and further past that August 31st deadline?
MR PRICE: The President has spoken to this. You’ve heard from the Pentagon this morning as well. We are going to do as much as we can for as long as we can. We’re going to bring home all the Americans who wish to come home, but I just can’t put a firm number on it for you right now. But we have – we have that commitment to the American people.
QUESTION: Can I just as again the – on the – I mean, the President said – also said bring all the Americans back. What about SIVs after – if it happens to go beyond August 31st? Is the United States willing to consider extending it, not for American citizens but for SIV?
MR PRICE: Again, it’s not a hypothetical I want to entertain right now. We have a number of days until August 31st. We are going to do as much as we can for as long as we can. We – our goal in all of this is to relocate as many people to safety as we possibly can. At the same time, there’s also the imperative that we not expose our diplomats, our service members, other Americans to undue risk. And so we are always going to be keeping an eye on the security environment, the threat situation, weighing all of these things. But what I can tell you resolutely is that we are going to do as much as we can, for as long as we can, for as many people as we can.
Yes, in the back.
QUESTION: I want to follow up on U.S. credibility overseas. Because of event in Afghanistan, some of your allies have been questioning whether Washington will actually come to their defense in the event of a crisis. And apparently, Chinese state media have been using this to sow doubts in the minds of Taiwanese people. I know both you and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan have reiterated your commitment to allies, including Taiwan. But my question is: Is the U.S. prepared to go the extra mile and offer greater clarity on your commitment to Taiwan, that is, getting rid of the decades-long strategic ambiguity policy?
And relating to that, if I may, would you consider sending a senior official to visit Taipei soon just to offer some sort of assurances to Taiwanese people? Thank you.
MR PRICE: Well, we will continue to support a peaceful resolution of cross-strait relations consistent with the wishes and best interests of the Taiwan people. We urge Beijing, as we have before, to cease its military, diplomatic, economic pressure against Taiwan, and instead to engage in meaningful dialogue. We do have an abiding interest in peace and security across the Taiwan Strait. We consider this central to the security and stability of the broader region, of the broader Indo-Pacific. Events elsewhere in the world, whether that’s in Afghanistan or any other region, are not going to change that.
When it comes to our engagement with the people on Taiwan, we’ve spoken to this before. We believe in deepening those connections consistent with our “one China” policy, with the Taiwan Relations Act, with the Six Assurances and the Three Communiques. That remains our policy. And you have seen within the past couple months we issued revised contact guidance that allows us to deepen those relationships between the American people and the people on Taiwan. And that is what we will continue to do. Thank you all very much.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:02 p.m.)