At least 200 Americans are still stranded in Afghanistan, double the Biden administration's public claim of around 100, according to Rep. Darrell Issa's (R., Calif.) office.
Issa’s office has to date communicated with 68 GOP offices, barely a third of the total caucus, and told the Washington Free Beacon it is aware of at least 201 Americans seeking to return home. Issa’s team worked over the past weeks to free more than 35 individuals from Afghanistan, and says that it is in contact with "several more." Issa's office believes there are far more than 200 still waiting to be rescued.
The information collected by the lawmaker’s office is leading them to conclude that Secretary of State Antony Blinken and senior Biden administration officials are "lowballing" the total number of Americans trapped in Afghanistan after the botched withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country. Blinken testified before Congress earlier this week that he is aware of around 100 Americans who are in contact with the State Department about returning home—a number the administration has repeated for the past weeks.
"This is the number nobody in the White House wants you to know," Issa told the Free Beacon. "State has been intentionally vague, even though they have more information than anyone. That’s why we’re making sure the truth is told. The coverup is over."
Issa and his team disclosed difficulties in dealing with the State Department as they try to free Californians from Afghanistan. Administration officials are said to be overwhelmed by calls and emails from congressional offices on both sides of the aisle that are trying to bring Americans home. After days of back-and-forth, the State Department asked Issa's office in an email to tell Americans: "Do not rely on U.S. government assistance."
"State is lowballing the number of Americans in Afghanistan and dragging their feet bringing them home," Issa spokesman Jonathan Wilcox, who has been working closely with the congressman's staff and other offices on the matter, told the Free Beacon.
Republican offices working on evacuation efforts have accused the State Department of stymieing efforts to exchange information about Americans still in Afghanistan. The Biden administration also has not presented Congress with a plan on how it will rescue Americans who remain in the war-torn country, even as lawmakers from both parties push officials to do so. This has generated concerns the Taliban is using Americans as leverage to extract from the United States significant sanctions relief and access to hard currency in the form of aid dollars.
During his testimony Tuesday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Blinken said the State Department only has a vague idea of how many Americans are still left in Afghanistan.
"To know precisely at any given moment in time exactly how many American citizens are in any country is something we can't and don't know," Blinken said.
Blinken also claimed to be "in constant contact with American citizens still in Afghanistan who have told us that they wish to leave," a claim that GOP lawmakers viewed as contradictory to earlier statements about not knowing for sure who remains in Afghanistan.
The State Department told the Free Beacon last week that it is having trouble ensuring the Taliban allows charter flights for Americans to leave the country. Planes remain stuck in the country as the Taliban uses them for leverage.
"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 said at the time. "We understand the concern that many people are feeling as they try to facilitate further charter and other passage out of Afghanistan."