2:56 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: Good afternoon.
QUESTION: Good afternoon.
MR PRICE: Before we move to today, let me just say a few more words about yesterday. This is a sentiment you heard from the Secretary, but I think also think it’s one that bears repeating. In most U.S. embassies around the world, the first American you see upon entry and the last upon exit is a U.S. Marine. Wherever the Secretary travels, there is one group he always meets with, and that’s the Marine Security Guards. They are our constant sentries. They are our partners around the world. It is not an overstatement to say that we could not conduct our work globally were it not for our Marine counterparts and the U.S. military more broadly.
Yesterday’s news was wrenching. It was wrenching for every single American. But it was especially acutely felt by many people here. The deaths of these service members – as well as the tragic loss of life on the part of so many Afghans seeking nothing more than security and opportunity – is something on the hearts and minds of everyone here. It was a dark day, but our service members, alongside our diplomatic personnel, of course, have been back at it again today. They are guarding the facility in Kabul. They are facilitating the most noble of missions; that is, the effort to bring to safety American citizens as well as our Afghan and international partners. As you heard from the President, that mission will not be deterred – precisely because of the bravery, the skill, the determination of all of those on the ground and, of course, in no small part due to our U.S. military partners.
I’ll now turn to today and to our ongoing evacuation efforts.
As you’ve heard, from 3:00 a.m. Eastern on August 26th until 3:00 a.m. Eastern on August 27th, a total of approximately 12,500 people were evacuated from Kabul. This is the result of 35 U.S. military flights which carried approximately 8,500 evacuees and 54 coalition flights which carried approximately 4,000 people.
Since August 14th, the U.S. has evacuated and facilitated the evacuation of approximately 105,000 people. Since the end of July, we have relocated approximately 110,600 people.
Of those evacuated since August 14th, we have brought to safety at least 5,100 U.S. citizens, and likely more.
Within the last day, more than 300 additional Americans were evacuated. There are approximately 500 American citizens we are currently working with who want to leave and with whom we are communicating directly to facilitate their evacuations.
Thanks to an ongoing, aggressive outreach campaign that consists of multiple outbound messages per day by phone, by text message, by email and other tools, we are communicating with several hundred American citizens who have not yet determined whether they want to leave for various reasons.
Last night alone, we reached out to every American whom we believe may be in Afghanistan and attempting to leave. In many cases, we did this again multiple times by phone, by email, by text.
We continue to reach out to anyone who makes contact with us through multiple means, which over the past week has included tens of thousands of calls, emails, texts, WhatsApp messages, and other tactics.
Finally, before I take your questions, let me give you an update on the evacuation of our locally employed staff.
We absolutely, as we have said, have a responsibility to these individuals who have worked with our colleagues on the ground in Kabul, and we are grateful for their commitment and dedication to the United States.
I can now confirm that the vast majority of our locally employed staff and their immediate family members have been evacuated or are currently on the grounds of the Hamid Karzai International Airport.
We are actively working to evacuate remaining staff, and we have been in direct contact with them.
These employees have served the United States. They have not only worked for us; they have worked with us. They are our colleagues. As you’ve heard us say before, our embassies around the world quite simply could not function without locally employed staff, and we will continue to do everything we can to bring them to safety.
With that, Matt.
QUESTION: Right. Thanks, Ned. So before you came out here, your colleague at the White House punted an enormous number of questions to you – you can thank her for that later – some of which involved the – some of the numbers that you just went through, and I think she gave some of them as well. But let me – there’s three things that I want to ask and you can be – please, be extremely brief with the answers because I don’t need long answers. Do you have numbers – after you’ve just given us the AmCit numbers, do you have numbers, or do those include LPRs? Also do you have numbers for remaining SIVs? Do you have numbers for P-1, P-2 – remaining P-1, P-2 applicants? And in terms of the broader universe of at-risk Afghans, do you have numbers for those?
Secondly, she punted on the idea of a diplomatic presence post-August 30 – post-Tuesday. I presume that she did that because there isn’t any decision. So can you bring us up to date if there is or is not, and what the negotiations are like? And then the last one on that, and I’ve got one more after this, but is the airport and the negotiations on who would run, if anyone would run the airport, after Tuesday?
MR PRICE: Great. Let me take those in order. On numbers: Look, I know there is intense interest in the numbers. As you have heard today, as you have heard from the Secretary over the past couple days, we have committed to providing all of you, and in turn the American people, with as precise figures we can when it comes to American citizens. We have a special responsibility to American citizens, and we are going to continue to update you on our progress in repatriating those American citizens.
When it comes to numbers of SIVs, what I can say is that we have reached out over the course of the past couple weeks – since August 14th – to thousands upon thousands of SIVs. Those are principal applicants, SIV principal applicants, as well as their family members.
This applies to all of the categories you’ve run through, but in the context of this massive, in many ways unprecedented evacuation effort, our first goal is to – has been to bring as many people to safety as quickly as possible. So in many cases, we are going to be in a better position to provide you fidelity on numbers in the coming days and the coming weeks. As this process has been ongoing, our goal has to been to put as many people on as many planes as we can. And the accounting we’ll be able to do in more detail, I would expect, in the coming days.
But SIVs – we have reached out to thousands upon thousands.
When it comes to legal – lawful permanent residents, we have messaged to LPRs in Afghanistan since August 14th, when we provided specific instructions to American citizens, and also provided an opportunity for LPRs to indicate their interest in relocating to the United States. So again, we don’t have precise figures to provide on that right now. I would offer the same when it comes to the other categories.
P-1s, P-2s, as I just said, we have safely moved the vast, vast majority of our locally engaged, locally employed staff members to the Kabul airport
QUESTION: Okay. And on the negotiations over both a possible ongoing, continuing diplomatic presence after Tuesday and the airport, anything – is there anything new there on either?
MR PRICE: So I will say a couple things on the diplomatic presence. There are a number of issues implicated in a decision like this. First and foremost on our minds – and this is always the case, but it is acutely the case after yesterday – is the safety, is the security, of the Americans who would be part of that mission. The Secretary of State, the President of the United States, and this full team want to be confident that our people serving overseas – diplomats, service members, others – are in a position to operate as safely and securely as possible. And so that is a big piece of business.
We are also discussing these broader issues with a range of our international partners. Again, this is not just a question that the United States will have to decide for itself. Every country around the world will need to make a sovereign decision about any diplomatic presence in Kabul, in Afghanistan, going forward.
QUESTION: Okay, but I’m asking about the United States. I’m not asking about any other country.
MR PRICE: Yes. Well, but I am telling you we are coordinating with our international partners, again, to share ideas, to ensure that we are sending the appropriate signals and messages to the Taliban – the Taliban who, by the way, have been quite clear and quite open in the fact that they would like other countries to retain their diplomatic missions. They said – a spokesperson said the other day: “We appreciate the embassies that remain open and didn’t close. We assure them of their safety and protection.” This gets back to the point that the Taliban have self-interest here as well.
QUESTION: Well, unfortunately, the embassies that remained open are, like, the Chinese and the Russians.
MR PRICE: Well —
QUESTION: So they’re not exactly your – so anyway, you’re – basically there’s no decision, right?
MR PRICE: We do not have a decision to —
QUESTION: Okay. And then on the airport —
MR PRICE: — offer right now, but it is something we are actively discussing, both with our partners and thinking about here as well.
QUESTION: And the airport, those are – those discussions still continue as well?
MR PRICE: Well, I know there’s been intense interest in the airport, so let me just spend a moment on that.
QUESTION: Yeah, maybe if someone else wants to hear all that. I just want to know if there’s a decision. Yes or no? No?
MR PRICE: There – excuse me, a decision —
QUESTION: On who’s going to run it. On who, if anyone, is going to run it afterwards.
MR PRICE: So, Matt, I’m —
QUESTION: If someone else wants to hear the whole thing —
MR PRICE: Okay.
QUESTION: — they can ask. But I —
MR PRICE: Okay. I assumed as a journalist you might be interested in hearing the context here. But the point is that —
QUESTION: I’m always interested in the context but I’m not interested in hearing —
MR PRICE: Upon – upon our departure, we will transfer the airport back to the Afghan people. So it is not for us to decide. This is – we are undertaking —
QUESTION: But that’s not what I’m asking. I’m just asking if there’s been a decision made on whether – that you’re aware of that – who is going to run the airport, if anyone, after the 31st. And the last thing – and I’ll stop; I won’t ask another question at all – there was a briefing that was given to Hill staffers and members of Congress a little while ago in which a senior Pentagon official – maybe he misspoke; maybe people misheard him – but said, apparently, that the U.S. does not believe that ISIS or al-Qaida are a threat to the United States. Is that, whether – is that correct? Is that the administration’s position?
MR PRICE: Matt, I don’t – I have not heard that comment, so I couldn’t —
QUESTION: Well, regardless of whether you’ve heard it or not, is it – is that – is the administration’s position now that ISIS and al-Qaida do not present a threat to the United States?
MR PRICE: I would need to know more about the context of that specific quote, but let me be clear that this President has made certain and he has made clear in no ambiguous terms that we will continue to confront, using every appropriate tool – groups like al-Qaida, groups like ISIS, any group around the world, wherever it is that would potentially pose a threat to the United States and our people.
QUESTION: So on the airport, I don’t know if you’ve seen but just now there are a number of pictures and reports on Twitter from various accounts that Taliban units are moving into or towards – or into the Kabul airport. Have you seen that? Have the people – has the United States military seen that? Anything you can say?
MR PRICE: So my colleague at the White House was just asked about this as well.
MR PRICE: What DOD has spoken to is their retrograde planning, the fact that we certainly intend to complete our mission by August 31st. I’m just —
QUESTION: When DOD spoke these pictures were not – this is just happening, like, the past half an hour.
MR PRICE: Yeah, I don’t have any response to that but if there is any change in DOD retrograde operations or timing, they would need to be the ones to speak to that.
QUESTION: Is there any reason to think that U.S. forces would not be at the airport through the end of the day on August 31st?
MR PRICE: Again, any timing, operation, when it comes to retrograde operations, the Department of Defense would need to speak to that. Our people, those under chief of mission authority on the ground, will leave the country as part of those retrograde operations. But ultimately, DOD is need to – will need to speak to the timing in those operations.
QUESTION: But wouldn’t that affect the remaining evacuations of any remaining U.S. citizens or Afghans who have permission to leave under the U.S.’s auspices?
MR PRICE: What I will say generally – and this is the point that DOD has made – is that retrograde is not like turning a light switch. It is not off at one minute and on the next.
MR PRICE: This is a transition from a full-scale evacuation ultimately to a full-scale retrograde and departure. But as to the mechanics of that, I would need to refer it to DOD.
QUESTION: I just want to continue a little bit on recognition and aid. So there is – we’re seeing that the reality is sinking with – in Europe about Taliban, and they’re accepting that they’ll have to deal with the group. Where is the United States – where is the United States on that? And I know that your focus is on the evacuation, but the urgent element of that is providing humanitarian aid. And since there is quite a bit of uncertainty about the airport as well, but you have expressed your commitment to provide the aid, so how exactly are you going to do it? And has the United States come to that decision that they will have to deal with Taliban, not least because of humanitarian aid reasons?
MR PRICE: So first, on the issue of recognition, it is not unlike the question of any diplomatic presence going forward in that it is something that we are in regular, constant contact with our allies and partners around the world to discuss. You referenced some statements from unnamed European countries. There have been actual formal communiques from – including some of our closest allies in the world in the context of the G7, in the context of NATO, in the context of other fora and groupings, that speak to a unified position on this. That —
QUESTION: Does that mean you’re aligned with their —
MR PRICE: It means —
QUESTION: — with their position? Because Merkel, for example, said it’s a reality, we will have to deal with them. Is that where the United States is also?
MR PRICE: What you are referring to is a separate question from recognition, a separate question from conferring legitimacy. But what I will say is that these are questions that we are actively discussing with our European partners and well beyond. As you – as I believe you’ve heard, our deputy secretary every other day convenes a group of nearly 30 countries, including NATO Allies, but also including countries in the Indo-Pacific region, to discuss issues that are tactical and operational but also strategic in terms of what any relationship with the future government of Afghanistan will look like. And —
QUESTION: Let’s press you specifically, Ned. Should the Taliban get the Afghanistan seat in – at the UN?
MR PRICE: These are not questions that we’re prepared to answer today, and we are not prepared to answer them today precisely because we have heard a range of statements from the Taliban. Some of them have been positive, some of them have been constructive, but ultimately what we will be looking for, what our international partners will be looking for are deeds, not words. What we are going to be focused on in questions of any future diplomatic presence, any questions of recognition, any questions of assistance is follow-through – again, deeds, not words.
Now, humanitarian assistance is a separate issue, and we have proven in contexts that are varied and really encompass the world, the globe, that we can maintain a humanitarian commitment to, in this case, the Afghan people in ways that does not have any funding or assistance passed through the coffers of a central government. So that commitment will remain. I expect the United States will continue to be a very generous donor to the Afghan people. Over the course of the past 20 years, it’s nearly $4 billion. It is a quarter of a million dollars we – excuse me, a quarter of a billion dollars we allocated just this summer, and the President just a few days ago allocated another 500 million to support internally displaced persons inside Afghanistan, Afghan refugees, and Afghans around the world who may be in need of assistance.
QUESTION: Yes, a few follow-ups on the diplomatic presence. Has the Taliban directly, explicitly asked the U.S. in your conversations to keep a diplomatic presence? And if yes, what assurances have they provided for the security, et cetera? And also, on the locally employed staff, you spoke about vast majority out or about to be out. Can you put any figure to – about that, and how many are still not out or about to be out?
MR PRICE: In terms of diplomatic recognition and what we’ve heard from the Taliban, look, we have heard the —
QUESTION: Diplomatic presence, not recognition.
MR PRICE: Excuse me, presence. We have heard the same thing from the Taliban privately that they have been saying publicly. I referred a moment ago to a public Taliban statement that they want embassies to remain open. They have made very clear to us in our communication they would like to see an American diplomatic presence remain. Ultimately, of course, it’s not up to the Taliban. It’s a determination that we will need to make consistent with the overriding prerogative, and that is the safety and security of American officials. It is a decision we plan to discuss and to confer about with our allies and partners as well.
Look, the Taliban have pledged publicly – they said: “We assure them of their safety and protection.” Those are the same kinds of assurances we’ve received in private, but I can tell you we don’t put all that great a value on, again, words. What we are going to be looking for is an indication that there is substance, that there is merit to those statements, an indication that there will be follow-through before we make any such decisions.
Remind me of your second question.
QUESTION: On the number of the locally employed —
MR PRICE: On the number of locally engaged staff, there have been hundreds who have been moved to safety in recent days. That is the vast majority of our locally engaged staff and their family members.
QUESTION: You don’t have numbers of how many are still there?
MR PRICE: The vast majority are now safely out of Afghanistan or at the airport compound.
QUESTION: Thanks. I have two evacuated – or evacuation-related questions. (Laughter.) First off, there are reports that private planes are trying to fly into HKIA to evacuate some Afghans but have been turned away and specifically told by the United States to not land. Do you know if those reports are true?
MR PRICE: I would need to refer to the U.S. military to speak to those reports. What I can say is that this has been a highly effective operation when it comes to the evacuation, and you need look no further than, again, the metric that matters, and that is 110,600 people through U.S. military and coalition flights since August 14th.
This is an operation that requires a great deal of coordination. It is an operation that requires a great deal of choreography. Any airport around the world, especially one as busy as this – look, Hamid Karzai International Airport, for those of you who have been there, know it is not Chicago O’Hare. It is the size of an airport of a fairly small town. So the orchestration and coordination that is required in – to have U.S. military, charter, other aircraft be able to take off every 45, every half hour – every 45 minutes, every half hour, that is indeed a pretty sophisticated bit of business. But I’d need to refer you to DOD on that front.
QUESTION: And so the other part of that were some of these reports is that the United States is telling other countries to not accept any planes of Afghans at this point. Is that true?
MR PRICE: That we are telling other countries not to accept planes?
MR PRICE: We are very warmly welcoming countries around the world who have opened their doors, who have opened their borders, who have put forward offers to accept Afghan refugees. The United States has demonstrated incredible generosity, as we often do in these times, but this will need to be a global effort. And we’ve been gratified that countries around the world have indicated a willingness to host Afghan refugees, and we continue to urge additional countries to do even more.
QUESTION: Okay. And then one more kind of broader question: You’ve said and the President spoke yesterday about some of the American citizens who have actively decided to not leave Afghanistan. I think we’ve talked here – maybe we have – about reasons why they may not want to leave, specifically that they might not want to leave family members who don’t have visas or who aren’t American citizens or don’t have passports – blue passports – to get out.
So I’m wondering if this is something that the State Department is looking at addressing more broadly, at changing some of its visa requirements or citizenship requirements or the ability to allow more people – family members – to come out so these American citizens don’t have to make the choice between their safety and leaving their parents, loved ones, children behind.
MR PRICE: Well, let me make a couple broad points. Number one, the number of individuals with whom we’ve been in contact who say that they don’t wish to leave because they don’t wish to leave their extended family behind, it is relatively small. When you’re – especially when you look at the universe of American citizens that we have repatriated or are in the process of repatriating, it is a relatively small number.
But number two, when we talk about this – and I think this is important to understand the context around these numbers – the people we’re in touch with, the individuals we believe to be American citizens we’re in touch with, that number will fluctuate. It will be dynamic, precisely because, especially as we get to a smaller and smaller universe of American citizens, they are making these decisions and sometimes reversing these decisions multiple times a day. And so when we say that we are in regular contact, we mean regular contact, multiple times a day, sometimes hearing one answer, other times hearing another, as the remaining Americans make these decisions.
Look, I’m not aware of any plans to change eligibility for visa requirements. We have a special commitment to American citizens. That special commitment is spelled out very clearly in 22 U.S. Code, Section 4802, Responsibility of the Secretary of State, to American citizens. What I will say, and the point that I think is relevant to this, is that our military operation will come to an end by August 31st. What does not have an expiration date is our commitment to any American who, for whatever reason, decides not to take us up on the offer of repatriation now but who may come to us in days, weeks, months, or years to say, “I want help, I want assistance leaving.”
Now, the tactics that may be available to us, depending on where we are given all the questions you’ve asked about, they may be different. In fact, they almost certainly will be different, at least in the near term. But our commitment to American citizens will not change. An American citizen who has extended family, those extended family members may be eligible to travel to the United States under other forms of eligibility, and we’ve talked about some of those forms of eligibility.
So again, August 31st is the end of the U.S. military operation; it is not the end of our commitment. You couple that with what we have heard from the Taliban about their commitment to safe passage not only on August 31st, but also going forward – they have not attached any expiration date to the very public commitments they have made to safe passage. Again, that is something we are going to continue to press with the international community, because this is not about trust; this is about the follow-through, the follow-through that we see with the international community.
One point I will make on this, one thing I did see just as I was coming down – and again, put this in the category of “for what it’s worth” – but on live national television this afternoon, a senior Taliban official said that the Afghan borders will be open, people will be able to travel at any time into and out of Afghanistan. That is another reiteration of the commitment we’ve seen. Again, what matters to us is that those commitments, that rhetoric is transformed into reality, and that’s something we’ll be watching very closely and that’s something that we are working on concertedly behind the scenes with our allies and partners around the world.
QUESTION: Are you aware of any U.S. citizens who were killed in yesterday’s attacks who weren’t military, or any civilians?
MR PRICE: We conducted accountability for all individuals who fall under chief-of-mission authority. That accountability was complete shortly after we received word of the attacks. We are unaware that any Americans were – that any either private or Americans under chief-of-mission authority were killed or injured or harmed in the attacks.
QUESTION: And then what is the State Department’s position on some of these opposition forces that have cropped up across Afghanistan? Are you supportive of these movements?
MR PRICE: So our position is the same position that we had yesterday, before August 14th, before August 1st, going back: There needs to be a political settlement to this. This is what we have sought to facilitate and to support for quite a while now. This was the effort ongoing in Doha; it is still the effort that is ongoing in Doha. Now it is an effort that has elements of it that are active in Afghanistan. Our personnel on the ground in Kabul are actually working on this as well. There needs to be a political settlement. It needs to be, if we are – to get back to these questions of recognition, if any future Afghan government is to be one that we can work with, there needs to – it needs to be inclusive. Ultimately, it needs to be a government that respects and upholds the rights of its citizens. Importantly, that includes the many marked gains that Afghanistan’s women and girls and minorities have made with the help of the United States over the past 20 years. That’s what we’ll be looking for.
QUESTION: Can we go back to the SIVs? You’ve said multiple times in the past few days that as many people as possible will be evacuated before August 31st. That implies that some people aren’t going to be on a plane leaving the country. What is the U.S. Government’s best estimate of how many people will still need help leaving Afghanistan after August 31st?
MR PRICE: Ros, it’s a difficult question because, look, we have evacuated more than 110,000 people so far, but we have always sought to be clear about this and sought not to sugarcoat what will be a time of great uncertainty, a time of great fear, a time of concern for many Afghans, and most of those Afghans will not fall within the categories that we have been talking about: American citizens, green card holders, SIVs, LES, P-1s, P-2s. The rise of the Taliban will be of great concern to many Afghans well beyond those categories.
But the point is, despite the really astounding numbers when it comes to the evacuation, our commitment to help those in need – and that includes, of course, American citizens who for whatever reason decide to stay behind, to SIVs who are not in a position to evacuate before August 31st, to others who fall within those categories, but others who may not yet be within those categories – that commitment will remain firm after August 31st. This is a commitment that United States has. It is a similar commitment that we’ve heard from many of our allies and partners.
And there are a number of pieces to this. One piece, one important piece are these commitments on the part of the Taliban to safe passage. Another piece, another important piece is this business of the airport and our interest, the interest of the international community, but also the professed self-interest on the part of the Taliban to have a civil – a civilian airport that is open, that is functioning, that can be – provide opportunity for Afghans who may wish to leave the country. That is important to us. That is why we are so focused on this and these questions right now, knowing that our commitment will not end and knowing the sheer, vast quantity of the number of Afghans who may seek to depart the country.
QUESTION: But for those people who have not – for any number of reasons not been able to get onto the airport campus and to know that at some point in the next 24 to 48 hours that they will be on a plane, what guarantee can the U.S. Government give to them at this point? They’re very concerned that they’re targets, that their families are targets, and that no matter what the U.S. is able to work out with the Taliban that they may be killed in the interim, waiting for someone to help them leave the country.
MR PRICE: Well, again, we have brought to safety, together with our partners, more than 100,000 individuals. Many of these individuals were precisely in that position, fearing that were they to have stayed behind they could be subject to intimidation, to violence, or worse for what they’ve done, for the causes that they’ve espoused, the places that they’ve worked, or even, frankly, their gender. And so that is why we have worked so assiduously to – together with our partners to effect this evacuation, the results of which speak for themselves.
But look, you are right, and there will be many more Afghans who may wish to leave. Again, we have a special responsibility to a subset of those individuals, to American citizens who – or dual nationals who opt to stay behind; to SIVs who, for whatever reason, are unable to come to the airport at this time; to potential P-1, P-2 referrals. We will – again, consistent with everything we’ve said about these commitments to safe passage, which we are very much in the process of seeking to buttress and to reinforce with our partners; in the context of civilian airport that we are doing everything we can to see to it that – again, with our partners – it remains open and a source, an avenue of refuge for those who seek to leave.
But it is not just about – beyond those categories, it is not just about doing all we can to effect the safe departure of Afghans from Afghanistan. Our broader goal has to be to do all we can, whether is through humanitarian support, whether it is through diplomacy, whether it is through the significant amounts of leverage that we will have with our international partners, with the UN to see to it that Afghans who decide to remain or who need to remain have access to safety and security and some degree of opportunity – that will be the goal of our approach going forward. Yes, we will continue to have a commitment to those we’ve worked with, to our citizens, for those who opt not or cannot leave now. But we also will have an enduring commitment to the people of Afghanistan, and there are many ways that we can demonstrate that commitment.
QUESTION: My final one: So what are you telling people who may find themselves in Afghanistan on September 1st? What should they do?
MR PRICE: Well, again, it’s hard to be categorical, because we will have different messaging for people in different categories. Again, we have a special commitment to American citizens. It is precisely why we have urged them for months and months now to leave the country. It is precisely why, in the context of the security environment, that we are undertaking an unprecedented evacuation to see to it that we can bring them to safety. We have a commitment to our locally employed staff – and again, the vast majority of whom are either safe or on their way to safety. We have a commitment to SIVs and that processing for those who are not past a certain stage yet will continue. That will continue past August 31st, it will continue past September 1st.
But again, when it comes to the broader set of Afghans, many of whom will have some of the same concerns, will have some of the same fears that you’ve expressed, our goal is to support them in every way we can. And just to be realistic about it, in many cases that support will take the form of humanitarian assistance, it will take the form of what we are doing politically and diplomatically, vis-a-vis any future Afghan government, to impress upon them and use every lever that we have – every appropriate lever we have available to us to see to it that the government upholds the basic rights of the Afghan people.
QUESTION: I just want to follow up on the idea of what my colleagues were speaking earlier about a recognition of the Taliban and U.S. diplomatic presence and the expectations that you would have of the Taliban in order to have a U.S. diplomatic presence there. Are you laying out specific parameters for them about needing women to be included in government, needing to ensure that girls continue to go to school? Are you laying out specific things that you want to see for them – from them in order to have a U.S. diplomatic presence there on the ground?
MR PRICE: We have made clear to the Taliban well before August 14th that the United States has a set of criteria and we have given them specific criteria that we will – that we would look to for any future government. The Secretary has spoken to this to some degree; he’s made the point that any future Afghan government that respects the rights of its people, that is – has – is inclusive in its approach, that follows through on its counterterrorism commitments, and that follows the norms set out by the international community – the basic norms spelled out by our allies and partners – that may well be a government we could work with.
Conversely, a government that does not do those things is almost certainly a government that we cannot work with. So again, we can have these conversations with the Taliban at this moment in time while government formation is taking place, but what really matters, the only thing that matters is what any future government looks like and how any future government behaves, and how any future government behaves vis-a-vis the rights of its people, its counterterrorism commitments, and yes, the – our ability and the confidence we have, we would have to be able to operate any sort of diplomatic facility safely and securely. Because again, there is going to be nothing more important to us when we think about these questions of a diplomatic presence than that singular question: whether we are comfortable in the conditions, whether we are confident that our people can operate safely and securely on the ground.
Yeah, let me move around a little bit. Yes.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. I have two questions, please.
First, we’ve spoken to several Afghan refugees who have recently arrived in the United States, and they said among the chaos they had to leave family members behind – that they are separated, essentially. Is the U.S. State Department working with any of these refugees who have arrived in the U.S. and said they’ve been separated? Are you helping them locate family in Kabul and doing anything to sort of get them together to bring them to the United States?
MR PRICE: Again, these are questions that will have to be adjudicated on a case-by-case basis. Many of the refugees and vulnerable, at-risk Afghans who have already made it to this country, whether they were SIVs who were resettled, whether they are at-risk Afghan who have more recently arrived, are working with refugee resettlement agencies. And so it is true that our Bureau of Population, Refugee, and Migrations – Migration is working very closely with these refugee resettlement agencies. There may be cases where there are individuals in Afghanistan, including American citizens, that – where we have – will be able to assist and there will be other categories of eligibility going forward for individuals who are related, who are family to those who have been relocated that may provide an opportunity for them to come to the United States, but it’s really not something we can speak about in such broad terms.
QUESTION: Do you have a channel for them to communicate?
MR PRICE: Our – this department is in regular communication with the refugee resettlement agencies. We have personnel on the ground. When at-risk Afghans arrive here in the United States, we are in regular contact with the resettlement agencies thereafter.
QUESTION: My second question has to do with security around the airport. Yesterday, General McKenzie said that the Defense Department is sharing versions of information with the Taliban, and there is some coordination on security. Does that coordination extend to members of the Haqqani Network, who are also providing security?
MR PRICE: No, it does not. The Taliban and the Haqqani Network are separate entities.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask about the reports that have come out about the U.S. sharing information from – about Americans’ names who are trying to get to the airport, other information, and their coordination with the Taliban. Can you speak to those reports? Is the – are U.S. diplomats providing that level of detail to the Taliban?
MR PRICE: What I can say is that the idea that we are providing names or personally identifiable information to the Taliban in a way that exposes anyone to additional risk, that is simply wrong. Simply wrong. What we have developed, what we have been doing, we have implemented effective tactics – and again, you need only look at the evacuation metrics in recent days for a proof point of the effectiveness. But we have developed and implemented effective tactics to be in a position to facilitate the safe passage of individuals to the Kabul airport. That includes American citizens. It includes our LES. It includes SIVs, P-1, P-2. Again, I said just at the top of this briefing that now the vast majority of our locally employed staff are safely on the airport compound. These are individuals who one might expect the Taliban would seek to exact some degree of retribution, might seek to. But again, we have developed these tactics. We have implemented them effectively.
It is also true, because of the fact that the Taliban is de facto in control throughout much of Kabul, that there is some degree of coordination, as you’ve heard from the military, as you heard from the President yesterday, that is required on their part. But the notion that we are just providing them with names upon names of individuals who may stay behind in Afghanistan or in a way that would expose anyone to additional risk, that is simply, simply false.
QUESTION: Can I follow up briefly —
MR PRICE: Yep.
QUESTION: — on what you just said regarding the Haqqani Network? There are members of the Haqqani family who are in prominent positions now within the Taliban. So you’re not in any way coordinating with the Haqqani Network and (inaudible)?
MR PRICE: The Haqqani Network is a designated foreign terrorist organization. We are not coordinating with the Haqqani Network.
QUESTION: So after the 31st, the U.S. military forces will leave. How is the U.S. going to facilitate evacuation of Americans and SIVs after that? What kind of diplomatic measures are being considered?
MR PRICE: So we are considering – and part of this goes to the questions of any sort of diplomatic presence, the types of consular assistance that we may be able to provide after August 31st, so I don’t want to get ahead of where we are. But we are thinking about this knowing our commitment to the American people, to American citizens who, for whatever reason, decide to stay behind or who aren’t able to reach the airport safely. So in our planning we are absolutely prioritizing that.
When it comes to other categories, people who are not American citizens, again, this gets back to the issue we’ve been discussing. We have a commitment to Special Immigrant Visa holders or Special Immigrant Visa applicants. We have a commitment to our locally engaged staff. We have a commitment to other at-risk Afghans that doesn’t expire on August 31st or any other date. Again, the Taliban have provided commitments to safe passage that don’t expire on August 31st or any other date. Our commitment, we are firm; we know that will remain. The Taliban’s commitments – again, we will have to see what that looks like after August 31st.
But here is what we do know. We will use, again, every appropriate tool available to us, every appropriate tool available to the international community, to see to it that the Taliban upholds that commitment. It’s another reason why we’re focused on the airport, doing everything we can to get the airport up and running. I know Matt said he didn’t want to – didn’t want to hear it, but —
QUESTION: No, no, no, it’s not that I don’t want to hear it, Ned. It’s just that when you give a 10-minute answer that doesn’t give —
MR PRICE: Well, let me – let me —
QUESTION: A 10-minute (inaudible) —
MR PRICE: Let me volunteer – let me just —
QUESTION: — that doesn’t answer the question that was asked.
MR PRICE: Let me volunteer one thing that you didn’t ask about that I think may be of interest to some of you.
QUESTION: Okay, yes.
MR PRICE: Teams of U.S. and allied air traffic experts have assessed Karzai International Airport for capabilities that would support the resumption of commercial operations once we depart. Again, we are departing by August 31st. Upon that date, we are delivering, we are essentially giving the airport back to the Afghan people. But we are working with all concerned parties to facilitate a smooth transfer of both the airport and the airfield knowing how important it is to us, how important it is to the international community, and, again, how important it is to the Taliban’s own self-interest in much of what they would want to see happen.
QUESTION: So can you explain, then, what the assessment was? I mean, is this an airport that can be run without —
MR PRICE: Now you perk up. Look —
QUESTION: Well, this is kind of what I was trying to ask in the first place and you wouldn’t —
MR PRICE: It was the answer I was trying to give in the first place.
QUESTION: Okay, all right. Fine. I apologize for not letting – so anyway, so you’ve done this assessment. What does that assessment tell you? Can you – are you able to assume that the airport can continue to operate without interruption, or will there have to be some kind of a pause?
MR PRICE: So that assessment was only recently completed, and so I don’t want to get ahead of it. Some of this will also involve diplomatic talks. There’s a technical piece. There’s also the diplomatic piece with other countries in the region who may be involved, in addition to the Taliban, of course. So I can’t get ahead of that.
But what I will say generally is that running an airport is not an uncomplicated piece of business. With the U.S. military set to depart by August 31st, I think that it is probably unreasonable to expect that there will be normal airport operations on September 1st. But what we are trying to do right now is to lay the groundwork to see to it that resumption of civil aviation consistent with international civil aviation standards can resume as quickly as possible.
QUESTION: And does it – does this involve ICEO at all?
MR PRICE: It’s – the ICEO standards are the standards that are being – that the assessors are measuring it against.
QUESTION: Is there any indication of how long it might take after – like you say, it’s probably unlikely that they could go to normal service on the 1st, but what, a week maybe, or two?
MR PRICE: I’m – you’ll be surprised to hear I am not an airport engineer, but —
QUESTION: Well, I know, but is that part of the assessment that was —
MR PRICE: These – that’s very much part of the assessment, the condition of the airport, what it might take —
QUESTION: But you don’t know what the conclusion of the assessment was for —
MR PRICE: No, nor would I be in a position to read it out, but again, it is a complex undertaking to run an airport anywhere, especially an airport in a place like Kabul.
QUESTION: So when you say it’s unreasonable to expect there will be normal airport operations, do you expect the airport to shut down or its operation significantly reduced?
MR PRICE: So again, the U.S. military is leaving by August 31st. At that point, we are handing the airport back to the Afghan people. We – what we are doing is trying to lay the diplomatic groundwork and the technical groundwork.
QUESTION: What is that? What exactly is that, though? Like, are – what are you bringing? Are you suggesting something to the Taliban? Are you proposing something (inaudible) like groundwork?
MR PRICE: There have been discussions – this is something we are discussing with the Taliban, it is something that other countries in the region are discussing with the Taliban, it is something that these assessors have in turn discussed with the stakeholders. So it is – again, just to reiterate, it is not up to us what happens to the airport after August 31st.
QUESTION: But you’ll have visibility into those talks. So do those talks with the Turks, private enterprises, Qataris, look like there’s going to be a decision before September the 1st?
MR PRICE: Again, there are a number of stakeholders involved in this: the Taliban, the technical assessors, regional countries as well. We are facilitating this dialogue. We are facilitating these discussions with one goal, and that is to do everything we can before August 31st to see to it that a civilian airport in Kabul can be up and running as soon as possible. But ultimately, the disposition of the airport and what form and functionality it has after August 31st, it’s not up to us.
QUESTION: You keep saying you’re handing the airport back to the Afghan people. Are you not just handing it back over to the Taliban on August 31st when the U.S. military leaves? Who’s taking over (inaudible) control? Are you shutting it down? Are you (inaudible)? What actually operationally is happening to it?
MR PRICE: I would need to refer you to DOD. That’s a question of retrograde and tactics that that are involved there.
QUESTION: If I could quickly – following up on my colleagues’ questions, understanding that you say you’re going to be able to get American citizens out of the country post-August 31st, are you giving them a go/no-go date for these evacuation flights that are —
MR PRICE: We have been telling them for some time now, sending them specific instructions as to when and where they should go. Now, the issue – and this goes back to the dynamism of this number – is that – and you heard the Secretary say this when he addressed this room the other day – up until – even in recent days we have had additional people reach out to us purporting to be American citizens, purporting to be in Afghanistan who wants to leave. And so it is an ongoing process to determine which of these new entries are in fact American citizens, which of them are in fact in Afghanistan, and which of them do in fact wish to leave. So for individuals with whom we’ve only recently been in contact, they may be getting information that is new to them, but when it comes to Americans, we have – who have been in our system for some time now, we have been communicating with them directly for a number of days providing them precise and specific instructions as to when and how to reach the airport.
QUESTION: So those reports of SIVs, you say they receive contact from you guys saying go to the airport and then contact saying to actually not. So what’s your message to them?
MR PRICE: Our message to them is – has been the same message that we are delivering to everyone: Do not go to the airport. You saw this sternly delivered by the U.S. embassy the other night just hours before the ISIS-K attack instructing Americans who are at the airport to leave immediately. So our instructions to the SIVs, those SIVs who are eligible at this stage for relocation, has been consistent with the messages that we provided to American citizens, to locally engaged staff as well. We are providing them with specific instructions about when and how they can get to the airport. I’m not in a position to go beyond that.
QUESTION: And what are the comments on the Taliban communicating with Turkey to potentially take charge of the airport with them?
MR PRICE: I’m sorry. I didn’t hear that.
QUESTION: With – the Taliban discussing with Turkey about taking charge at the airport with them.
MR PRICE: What is the Taliban discussing with Turkey?
QUESTION: What are your comments on that if Turkey starts taking over the airport?
MR PRICE: The Turks have been playing a constructive role in the airport for some time now. This was a topic of discussion between President Biden and President Erdogan when they met a couple months ago now. We appreciate the role that the Turks have played with Hamid Karzai International Airport. I know that President Erdogan addressed this in some public comments over the past day or so, and I would leave it at that.
Thank you all very much. I appreciate it.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:53 p.m.)