US working to get dozens of Americans home from Afghanistan

Secretary of State Antony Blinken tells Congress that Taliban are detaining several US citizens

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks before a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Capitol Hill. Getty / AFP
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The US is working to assist 44 Americans who want to leave Afghanistan and several others detained by Taliban authorities, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday.

Mr Blinken was speaking before Congress where members of the Republican Party went on the offensive over the 2021 US withdrawal from Afghanistan, demanding the release of an internal dissent cable at the State Department.

In response to a question, Mr Blinken said that Taliban authorities were detaining “several Americans”.

“We are working to secure their freedom. Their families have asked that we protect their identities and don't speak publicly to their cases,” he said.

The US, despite poor relations with the Taliban rulers, has worked quietly to assist American citizens who wish to leave.

Mr Blinken said that the State Department has assisted about 975 US citizens in leaving since the Taliban takeover and that about 175 self-described Americans remain in the country, including some who arrived after the US withdrawal.

“Forty-four of them are ready to leave and we are working to effectuate their departure,” Mr Blinken said.

A State Department representative later said that the 975 were Americans whose travel was enabled by the government and that other US citizens and permanent residents had left independently.

Representative Mike McCaul, the new Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, raised the August 26, 2021, attack outside Kabul airport, where US-led forces were rushing to evacuate US citizens and Afghan allies.

The attack, claimed by the ISIS-Khorasan Province group, killed 13 US troops and about 170 Afghan civilians.

Mr McCaul gave Mr Blinken a Monday deadline to turn over a dissent cable, widely reported in the media, sent by US diplomats who had warned that the Afghan government would collapse quickly with the US withdrawal.

Addressing the mother of a marine killed in the attack, Mr McCaul vowed to act “until people are held accountable”.

“I will not rest until we get answers, and we will, even if we have to go all the way up the chain of command to do it,” Mr McCaul said.

Mr Blinken promised to co-operate in providing information but said that dissent cables are shared in their entirety only with senior State Department officials.

“This tradition of having a dissent channel is one that is cherished in the department and goes back decades. It's a unique way for anyone in the department to speak truth to power as they see it,” Mr Blinken said.

The Secretary of State said he wanted to “protect the integrity of the process to make sure we don't have a chilling effect on those who might want to come forward, knowing that they will have their identities protected and that they can do so again without fear or favour”.

Updated: March 23, 2023, 7:14 PM