The State Department says there is little it can do to help Americans and at-risk Afghans whose planes are reportedly grounded at an airport as the Taliban prevents them from leaving the country.
At least six chartered planes are attempting to evacuate these Americans and others from Mazar-i-Sharif International Airport, but the Taliban is reportedly preventing them from taking off. Since it evacuated U.S. military forces and diplomatic personnel from the war-torn country, the Biden administration has not had the resources necessary to ensure that flights chartered by nonprofit groups and others can depart Afghanistan.
"We do not have personnel on the ground, we do not have air assets in the country, we do not control the airspace—whether over Afghanistan or elsewhere in the region," a State Department spokesman told the Washington Free Beacon. "We understand the concern that many people are feeling as they try to facilitate further charter and other passage out of Afghanistan."
While the State Department says it has little to no information about the situation but is pressing the Taliban to make good on its promise to allow Americans to leave the country, Republican lawmakers are now raising the alarm that the Taliban is grounding planes as leverage to extract concessions from the Biden administration.
Rep. Michael McCaul (R., Texas), lead Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who has received classified briefings on the matter, told Fox News on Sunday morning that there are hundreds of American still trapped in Afghanistan and that the "Taliban want something in exchange" for letting these people leave.
McCaul has been tracking the situation and says the State Department cleared these flights to leave, but that the Taliban is responsible for stopping them. The State Department reportedly confirmed to Congress that flights from Mazar-i-Sharif are being held until the Taliban gives its approval.
McCaul says the planes have been stuck at the airport for the past several days and include American passengers, as well as Afghans who are trying to flee the Taliban, which has been trying to detain those citizens who worked with the United States and other coalition forces during the 20-year operation there.
"What we are seeing right now in Mazar-i-Sharif—this didn’t have to happen," McCaul told the Free Beacon. "If the president had listened to the bipartisan pleas from Congress, his own generals, or the intelligence community, he would have properly planned for this withdrawal, including evacuating Americans before he pulled out the military. Instead, Americans are trapped in a country run by brutal terrorists, who are currently not allowing them to leave."
The State Department said Sunday that it does not have a "reliable means" to get information about the passengers on the charter flights.
"Given these constraints, we also do not have a reliable means to confirm the basic details of charter flights, including who may be organizing them, the number of U.S. citizens and other priority groups on-board, the accuracy of the rest of the manifest, and where they plan to land, among many other issues," the spokesman said.