After the State Department issued an alert over the weekend saying U.S. citizens could have to pay $2,000 or more for evacuation flights out of Afghanistan, a report indicated people hoping to escape are being asked to pay up.
Although U.S. officials told Politico evacuation flights out of Kabul would be free, its National Security Daily newsletter reported some sources said otherwise, including one who said State Department staff were asking for up to $2,000 per U.S. citizen and more from noncitizens.
But, in a statement shared with the Washington Examiner on Thursday, State Department spokesman Ned Price said, “In these unique circumstances, we have no intention of seeking any reimbursement from those fleeing Afghanistan.”
A security alert published on the website of the Overseas Security Advisory Council, part of the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security, was issued over the weekend on "repatriation assistance" for U.S. citizens in Afghanistan. The bulletin published on Saturday — one day before the Taliban swept into Kabul and Hamid Karzai International Airport became a chaotic scene of crowds desperately trying to escape Kabul — encouraged U.S. citizens to take advantage of commercial flights while they remained an option, offering guidance on eligibility requirements for those who sought charter flights.
One part of the alert said: "Repatriation flights are not free, and passengers will be required to sign a promissory loan agreement and may not be eligible to renew their U.S. passports until the loan is repaid. The cost may be $2,000USD or more per person."
A separate State Department webpage, which focuses on crisis situations, also said that generally, such flights would not be free.
"In extreme situations, if there are no commercial transportation options (planes, trains, boats/ferries, etc.) available, and if we have consular officers at the embassy or consulate, and if the conditions permit, we may help U.S. citizens seeking to depart by working with the host government, other countries, and other U.S. government agencies to identify — and in some cases arrange — available transportation. Regardless of the method of transportation, or who provides it, U.S. citizens (and others who are eligible for U.S. government assistance) are generally responsible for reimbursing the government for the cost of their travel," the page says.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul warned people on Wednesday the U.S. government "cannot ensure safe passage" to the airport for evacuation. The bulletin also included a message about every U.S. citizen needing to fill out a "Repatriation Assistance Request" form.
The second page of the form tells each applicant that evacuation flights are not free and the cost could exceed $2,000 per person. Each U.S. citizen is prompted to fill out a checklist to say they understand the conditions or choose not to continue with filling out the form.
“All passengers will need to reimburse the U.S. Government for the flight. A promissory note for the full cost of the flight, which may exceed $2000 per person, must be signed by each adult passenger before boarding,” the form says. “No cash or credit card payments will be accepted.”
The next question addresses loan repayment, stating that U.S. citizens "who have signed a loan agreement for repatriation may not be eligible for a new passport until the loan is repaid."
The form was still accessible and live on the webpage for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul as of late Thursday evening, the Daily Caller reported. The Washington Examiner found an information page on the State Department's main website dated Thursday that also directed people to fill out the form.
Prior to the statement by Price, Politico reported a spokesperson for the State Department did not deny that U.S. citizens were being asked to pay for flights out of Afghanistan.
“U.S. law requires that evacuation assistance to private U.S. citizens or third-country nationals be provided ‘on a reimbursable basis to the maximum extent practicable.’ The situation is extremely fluid, and we are working to overcome obstacles as they arise,” the representative said.
The report drew outrage from at least one member of Congress, Republican Rep. Claudia Tenney of New York, who called on President Joe Biden to resign and said she was drafting legislation to ensure no U.S. citizen would have to pay for an evacuation flight out of Afghanistan.
A White House official said on Wednesday evening the United States, which sent thousands of troops back to assist with the effort at the Kabul airport, has evacuated nearly 6,000 people since Saturday. Price said on Thursday that there were 6,000 people at the airport in Kabul who have been "fully processed by our consular team and will soon board planes."
Biden told ABC News on Wednesday that U.S. forces will remain in Afghanistan until all U.S. citizens are evacuated, even if that means keeping them there past the Aug. 31 deadline for a complete withdrawal.
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Original Author: Daniel Chaitin, Jerry Dunleavy