The U.S. government has evacuated more than 800 American citizens from Afghanistan since the Taliban swept to power and U.S. troops officially left the country last August, according to data provided by House GOP investigators and the State Department.
The figure, which hasn’t been previously reported, highlights the ongoing nature of the efforts to make contact with and ultimately evacuate hundreds of Americans who were unable to leave Afghanistan as the U.S. military rapidly withdrew from the country last summer.
The data also underscores that hundreds more Americans were left behind in Afghanistan than was previously known.
A State Department spokesperson confirmed the number of evacuated American citizens, and added that at least 600 legal permanent residents of the U.S. have also been evacuated since American boots left the ground.
Two weeks after the last U.S. plane left Kabul on Aug. 30, 2021, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told lawmakers that there were only 100 Americans citizens left in Afghanistan who wanted to leave, emphasizing that the estimate was a “snapshot in time.” By February 2022, the U.S. had evacuated 479 Americans from Afghanistan, according to a Senate Foreign Relations Committee GOP report.
Now, an investigation by the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Republican staff has found that 800 Americans were helped out of Afghanistan, indicating that the Biden administration either undercounted the number of Americans who wanted to depart the country or saw an uptick in the number of citizens willing to leave.
A committee aide suggested it’s possible the number of Americans citizens whisked out of Afghanistan may yet be higher. “Whether they had travel documents or whether they could get to Kabul, that was part of that factor,” the staffer said, referring to those left behind after the frenzied evacuation last August.
The true number could be closer to 1,000, the aide said, to include those who left Afghanistan via privately funded organizations — many of which were aided by outreach attempts from advisers to Vice President Kamala Harris and First Lady Jill Biden, the investigation found. Those separate efforts were necessary in part because only 36 U.S. consular officers were on the ground in Kabul to help process the evacuees, the report concludes.
The panel’s Republican staff compiled the data as part of a 118-page report that examines the actions by administrations of both parties that led to the collapse of Afghanistan’s U.S.-backed government, as well as the failure to adequately plan for what became a chaotic and deadly withdrawal from the country. That included a suicide bombing outside Kabul’s main airport that killed 13 U.S. troops and 160 Afghans.
“The choices made in the corridors of power in D.C. led to tragic yet avoidable outcomes: 13 dead service members, American lives still at great risk, increased threats to our homeland security, tarnished standing abroad for years to come, and emboldened enemies across the globe,” the report states.
POLITICO previously reported that the committee’s GOP leader, Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, had hired former CNN Pentagon reporter Ryan Browne, a former embedded contract adviser to the Afghan National Army, to be the lead investigator.
While the Biden administration was forthcoming with the panel about the ongoing evacuation efforts, committee aides said they ran into a wall of resistance from the State Department and the Pentagon on a variety of other inquiries about the U.S. withdrawal. The report relied on whistleblower testimony as well as interviews with former officials involved in the overall effort.
The investigation also uncovered evidence that a “significant” number of elite, U.S.-trained Afghan commandos fled the country into Iran after the Taliban took control of the country, taking with them military equipment and vehicles.
If captured or turned, these commandos could prove to be a “serious national security threat,” according to the report, which states that the soldiers were trained by U.S. special operators and “know not only our tactics but who these elite military officials are.”
The fear is that these commandos may join terrorist groups, whether voluntarily or out of desperation. There is evidence that some of these fighters joined the Islamic State, according to the committee staffer.
“The potential exploitation concern is big, because these commandos are in a desperate situation,” the aide said. “They are being hunted down often by Taliban authorities. The economic situation is so catastrophic. When people are desperate, they're much easier to be co-opted.”