Daily Press Briefing - August 16, 2021

Daily Press Briefing - August 16, 2021

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MR PRICE: Good afternoon.   Let me say a few things at the top,  and then I will turn to your questions. You just heard directly from the President  regarding the context, the current situation,   and what the United States is seeking to  do in the coming hours and the coming days.

Let me offer just a few additional  details from the Department of State. The safety and security of U.S. Government  employees and U.S. citizens overseas   is our top priority. All remaining U.S.  direct hire embassy personnel, including   the ambassador, have relocated to Hamid Karzai  International Airport, where they are secure. The Department of Defense  is working to restore a safe   and secure environment so that military  and commercial flights can resume. Now, of course, the situation is evolving  quickly, and we will communicate information   to U.S. citizens as rapidly as possible. In the  meantime, we are asking U.S. citizens to shelter  

and not to travel to the airport until they  hear otherwise from the Department of State. We also continue to pursue all options to  relocate interested and qualified Afghan SIV   applicants and their immediate families,  as well as other vulnerable Afghans. We remain closely coordinated  with our international partners   on the ground and around the globe. We’ve been engaging tirelessly with  our partners and the international   community. You may have seen last night the  United States organized a joint statement  

with 98 signatories, calling on all  parties to respect and facilitate the safe   and orderly departure of foreign nationals  and Afghans who wish to leave the country. Today, Secretary Blinken spoke with  Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov,   PRC State Councilor and Foreign Minister  Wang Yi, Pakistan Foreign Minister Qureshi,   UK Foreign Secretary Raab, NATO  Secretary General Stoltenberg,   Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu, and  EU High Representative Josep Borrell. Yesterday he spoke with Australian Foreign  Minister Payne, French Foreign Minister   Le Drian, German Foreign Minister Maas,  and Norwegian Foreign Minister Soreide.  

Other senior officials have been making calls  to their counterparts as well around the clock. Additionally, the UN Security Council  issued a joint press statement earlier   today calling for a new government that is united,   inclusive, and representative – including  with the full and meaningful participation   of women. The council spoke with one  voice to underscore that Afghanistan   must abide by its international obligations  – including to international humanitarian   law – and ensure the safety and security  of all Afghans and international citizens.

The situation will continue to remain fluid  in the coming hours and likely in the coming   days. Nevertheless, we are operating on multiple  fronts and around the clock to protect our people,   those who have worked side-by-side  with the United States over the years,   and other vulnerable Afghans. Now before I take your questions, I do want to  speak to one additional issue that is of great   importance to us, and that is the U.S. response  to the earthquake in Haiti. The United States is   closely monitoring the situation following  a magnitude 7.2 earthquake that struck the   southwestern part of the country on August  14th. We offer our deepest condolences to   all who suffered the loss of loved ones or saw  their homes or businesses destroyed. We are in  

close contact with Haitian authorities to respond  to the earthquake and any requests for assistance. On Saturday, USAID deployed a Disaster  Assistance Response Team – or a DART – to   lead the U.S. Government’s humanitarian  response efforts. And yesterday,   at the request of the Government of Haiti,  USAID deployed members of Fairfax County Fire   Department’s Urban Search and Rescue  – USAR – team to join the DART. So far, the DART conducted an aerial assessment  and is continuing to assess the damage. They will   also identify priority needs and coordinate with  the Government of Haiti and humanitarian partners.

U.S. Coast Guard aircrews are transporting  medical personnel and supplies   from Port-au-Prince to Jeremie and Les Cayes,   and are evacuating injured citizens to higher  level of care facilities in Port-au-Prince. At the request of USAID, SOUTHCOM is sending  two UH-60 and two CH-47 helicopters from   Joint Task Force-Bravo to provide critical  airlift support to ongoing relief efforts. We are also closely tracking Tropical Storm  Grace, which is expected to reach Haiti today,   potentially exposing people  to further devastation.

The United States remains a close and  enduring friend to the people of Haiti,   and we will continue to provide  assistance in the aftermath of   this tragedy. We are committed to helping  the Haitian people build a better future. With that, I’m happy to take your questions. QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. Can I ask two real quick   logistical ones? And I hope they’re  – really hope they’ll be real quick. One, other than the threat –  I guess you would call it – to   respond militarily if the Taliban interfere or  get in the way of any of the evacuation efforts,   do you – is there any kind of agreement that’s  been reached or any kind of an arrangement   that has been reached with them about the  presence of the U.S. military at the airport,  

or are they just basically there at kind  of the pleasure of the Taliban, as it were,   until they decide that they’ve had enough and  they start – I don’t know if they will or not,   but when they start to resist the fact that  the airport is not under their control? MR PRICE: Well, let me take the opportunity  to offer a bit of context on our diplomatic   efforts over the past 72 or so hours.  Ambassador Khalilzad and his team remained   in Doha. They still remain in Doha following  consultations that we talked about last week   with a number of countries from the region –  the UN and countries much farther afield. They   continued and they still continue to engage  with the Taliban. They continue to engage with   the Islamic Republic, that is to say, the  Government of Afghanistan representatives.

When it became clear that the Government of  Afghanistan was on the verge of collapse,   that President Ghani had fled, and that the  Taliban were encroaching on Kabul, the focus,   of course, changed. It shifted from supporting  peace negotiations along with the international   community to working assiduously and urgently to  do all we can with the international community on   an urgent basis to avert violence, to attempt  to maintain order in Kabul, and very, very   importantly, to guarantee that the Taliban would  not seek to threaten our people or our operations. It was a very fluid situation. The situation  changed markedly when President Ghani left the   country and as the Taliban continued to encroach  on Kabul. We do continue to engage with Taliban   representatives in Doha from the State Department  team. The U.S. military has spoken to engagement  

with the Taliban on the ground in Kabul. And  again, we are working on a couple different   fronts: First and foremost, to seek to preserve  calm in Kabul, to maintain a semblance of   security, and very importantly, to underscore that  any effort, any attempt to target, to threaten,   to intimidate our personnel or our operations  would be met with a swift and decisive response. QUESTION: But other than that,  there’s no agreement with the Taliban   for the U.S. military to run the airport,  to run the airspace, to be in control?   And if there is an agreement, for  how long does that agreement last? MR PRICE: We have engaged with the  Taliban. We have had discussions.   I would say that some of those discussions have  been constructive. But again, when it comes to —

QUESTION: So there’s no agreement. MR PRICE: — when it comes to the Taliban,   we are going to look for their actions  rather than listen to their words. QUESTION: And then secondly, the logistical  thing is on the embassy compound itself,   which is now abandoned, do you have – have  you taken any measures to secure that place,   or are you just basically letting – it’s  just – is there a protecting power? Is it an   open area that anyone can get into  now if they can get over the fence? MR PRICE: Well — QUESTION: Are you prepared to  leave it to just sit there? MR PRICE: Well, as you know, Matt, we confirmed  last night that as of late night Eastern,   all of our civilian personnel located  at the embassy – chief of mission,   those operating under chief-of-mission  authority – had safely relocated from   the embassy compound to Hamid  Karzai International Airport.

As you also know, the embassy is in an area that   has been heavily fortified. So we do not  have an American presence on the ground. QUESTION: Is there any presence on — MR PRICE: We do not have an  American presence on the ground   at the embassy. Our ambassador is and has  been at the embassy – at the compound,   the Hamid Karzai International Airport, since late  last night our time, and that remains the case. QUESTION: Yeah, but there – so there isn’t  any protecting power? There’s nobody there?   It’s wide open for anyone  who wants to go in there? MR PRICE: As you know — QUESTION: Regardless of whether it’s   in a built-up, barricaded area or not, you  basically just took off and left it empty? MR PRICE: As you know, it  is a heavily fortified area. Andrea. QUESTION: Last – my last one is that in the Doha  agreement, which the President mentioned several   times as having kind of tied his hands, there  are 16 times in that agreement where it refers   to “the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is  not recognized by the United States as a state   and is known as the Taliban.” Sixteen times  it mentions that. And you’ve said before that  

you will not recognize any government or assist  any government that comes to power by force. MR PRICE: Mm-hmm. QUESTION: Since the Taliban basically walked into   Kabul and the president fled, are you in  a position to say whether or not you might   be willing to recognize a government that  emerges from this, aside from the UN calls? MR PRICE: Well, this is something that we have  spoken to before. We have spoken to it before   events of recent hours and recent days. Secretary  Blinken spoke to this yesterday morning. We are   still taking stock of what has transpired over the  past 72 hours and the diplomatic and the political   implications of that. We are – as you have seen in  any number of venues, we are coordinating closely   with Afghanistan’s neighbors. As we’ve  said, the Secretary, other senior officials  

in this building, our ambassadors in their  respective capitals around the world have   engaged governments in the region and much  farther afield on an aligned approach to   the evolving situation. And you’ve already  started to see some of the fruits of that. I think most notably – and I mentioned this at  the outset – you saw the statement that emanated   from the UN Security Council. Obviously, the UN  Security Council has a permanent set of members,   several of whom are among our  closest allies in the world,   and a couple countries where our interests are  rarely aligned. Nevertheless, this document,   it is quite strong, it is quite clear.  I think it is reflective of the broad  

consensus that has emerged from the  international community about not only   our thinking, what the United States may or may  not do going forward as we assess ultimately   what has come to pass, but what the international  community will do. This statement says that   the “sustainable end to the conflict can  only be achieved through an inclusive,   just, durable, and realistic political settlement  that upholds human rights, including for women,   children, and minorities.” The Security Council,  speaking with one voice – which, as you know, is   not always an easy feat – called on all  parties to adhere to international norms   and standards on human rights and to call for  an immediate cease to any abuses in that regard.

The – ultimately, when it comes to our  posture towards any future government   in Afghanistan, it will depend upon  the actions of that government.   It will depend upon the actions of the  Taliban. We are watching closely. But as you   heard from this UN Security Council statement and  as you’ve heard from any number of governments   that have issued their own unilateral  statements, the world is watching closely. The fact is that a future Afghan government that  upholds the basic rights of its people, that   doesn’t harbor terrorists, and that  protects the basic rights of its people,   including the basic fundamental rights of  half of its population, its women and girls,   that is a government that we would be able  to work with. The converse is also true.   We are not going to support a government that  does not do that, a government that disregards   the rights, the guarantees enshrined in basic  documents like the Universal Declaration on Human   Rights – that is not a government that the United  States would be able to work with. That itself is   important. It becomes all the more important when  you account for the fact that you have a statement  

from the UN Security Council that was adopted  by all of its members that says exactly that. Andrea. QUESTION: Following up on that and  one other issue as well. Social media  

is just filled with desperate appeals from girls,  from women: Taliban going door to door, ripping   girls out of their mothers’ arms; women who have  been told for 20 years they should get schooling,   learn to code, learn to teach, become engineers,  become doctors, become lawyers. It’s simply   heartbreaking. And the question remains: There  are Democrats as well as Republicans on the Hill,   including veterans of the Afghan war and Iraq war,  saying that there should have been arrangements   made months ago that before the withdrawal  – the withdrawal was signaled by the date   in April – that for months we should have been  moving people out, we should have been moving on   the evacuation not only of the special visas but  of other people as well, and that this chaotic   vision of people, thousands of people  at the airport climbing onto C-17s   as they are rolling down the tarmac was  completely avoidable given the withdrawal. Secondly, let me ask you about a question  regarding the President’s speech. He said   that we can accomplish the same – the mission we  accomplished 10 years ago of not only getting bin   Laden but preventing Afghanistan from becoming  a haven for terrorists against the homeland,   the original mission of 20 years ago, that  we can accomplish this from over the horizon.  

Intelligence experts, including former Obama  DCI, say that’s just not true, that once the   withdrawal was completed and Bagram dismantled  and turned over and now taken over by the Taliban,   we don’t have eyes on the ground, that we can’t  – we cannot fight terror from over the horizon   in a place like Afghanistan, as we perhaps do in  other countries. If you could address both points. MR PRICE: Let me take those questions in  turn. Let me start with your first question.   And the images that we have all seen emanating  from the international airport in Kabul, HKIA,   they’re searing. They are painful. They are  difficult to see. They are difficult to watch.   And I say that on a couple different levels.  One – the most basic level – we are all human.   We share a common humanity with these Afghans,  whose desperation, whose fear, whose concern, is   – they wear it on their faces. And so on  that level, it is deeply moving to all of us. There’s another level, though, that I think  is especially relevant to this building.  

I’m a relative newcomer here. I have spent seven  months here. There are people in this building,   hundreds if not more, who have dedicated years and  years of their lives to effecting a better life   for the people of Afghanistan, including the  women and girls. We have Foreign Service officers   who have served multiple tours in Kabul in  the two decades that the United States has   been there. We have many more who have served  in functions back here to support that mission.   There are – and this I can speak personally to –  there is a generation of public servants in this   country who entered public service in the weeks,  months, couple years after the 9/11 attacks.   In my case, I was a freshman in  college, and I knew on that day as I   climbed to the roof of a dorm here in Washington  and watched the smoke rise from the Pentagon that   I wanted to pursue public service. So many  of my colleagues are – have a similar story.   It unites us. It unites many of us as public  servants. So it’s also painful on that level.

Right now, what we are doing is a couple things.  We are working around the clock in the first   instance to maintain, to regain positive control  over the airport compound. This is something that   our colleagues at the Department of Defense  have been working urgently to re-establish   for a couple reasons. One, to be able to resume  U.S. military flights, and my colleague John  

Kirby will be briefing shortly, and he’ll be able  to give you an update on that. But importantly,   this is also a civilian airport. We are  seeking to re-establish positive control   in order so – so that commercial travel can  also resume so that many of these Afghans   whose images we have seen, whose images have  been so searing, will be able to reach safety.   In many cases, that will be with a helping  hand from the United States Government. We have spoken to our effort on behalf of SIVs,  so-called Special Immigrant Visa applicants.  

You ask why we didn’t – why  we haven’t done more. Let me   just offer a bit of context. Through the course  of this program, the United States has resettled,   brought to their new lives, more than 75,000  Afghans who have in various ways assisted the   United States Government over the years. The  Special Immigrant Visa program provides – well,  

as it was initially conceived and legislated  by Congress, it provides a visa to the United   States. When this administration recognized  that the security situation was becoming   – was quickly evolving, many weeks ago we launched  Operation Allies Refuge. This was something   that was never envisioned in any SIV program,  including the one we had in Afghanistan   or the one we had in Iraq; that is to  say, a gargantuan U.S. effort not only to   process, adjudicate, and to grant visas  to these so-called special immigrants   but to actually bring them to the United  States with a massive airlift operation.

It’s been through that operation that 2,000  Afghans have been able to reach the United States.   Most of those Afghans have now been able to start  their new lives through resettlement agencies.   Just – it was a month or so ago we recognized  that the need could be even greater for Afghans   who are vulnerable, who may be at risk. That is  precisely why we initiated a so-called Priority 2,   P-2 refugee status program that went beyond  – beyond the statutory definitions of who   could apply for and be eligible for the SIV  program, to include those brave Afghans who   not only have helped the U.S. Government over  the years but have helped the American people. We know that there are other vulnerable Afghans  – some for the work they have done, some for the   things they have said, some for nothing more  than their gender – and we are also working   and planning to bring as many as we can to safety. Right now, we are, again, in the process of  re-establishing control over the airport.  

The military has been able to surge resources and  will surge additional resources to the theater to   allow us to bring, on a large scale, a number of  these Afghans who will be able to start new lives   in the United States or who will be able to reach  safety elsewhere in the world. We are committed   to that. We have been flexible. We have been  ambitious in our effort to do just that. You asked a second question about counterterrorism  and what this means for our ability to   detect and to thwart terrorist plotting. A couple  points on that. Number one, the United States has  

built up the capacity to detect, disrupt terrorist  plotting, terrorist networks, in ways that were in   some cases unimaginable prior to 9/11; that is to  say, our tactics are effective, they are proven,   and they go well beyond what this government  would have been and was able to do prior to 9/11. We also recognize that the center of gravity of  the threat we face from terrorist groups, whether   it’s al-Qaida, whether it’s an al-Qaida affiliate,  whether it’s ISIS, whether it’s an ISIS affiliate,   it has shifted over the years. Of course,  the center of gravity, the locus of activity,   was in Afghanistan on September 11th,  2001. It hasn’t been there in years.   It hasn’t been there in years precisely because we  have been able to employ these effective tactics   over the course of the past 20 years to do  precisely what our forces went into Afghanistan   to do in the first place; that is, to decimate  the network that launched, that conceived of,   directed, and launched the 9/11 attacks and  ensure that they can’t regroup on Afghan soil. We are confident, but more importantly, the  military and our Intelligence Community leaders   have spoken and even testified to the fact that we  will have capabilities in the theater – so-called   over-the-horizon capabilities – that will allow  us to use the technologies, to use the tactics   that we have deployed and improved  upon over the past 20 years to detect   and to disrupt any terrorist plotting  that may seek to reach our shores. We’ve also been very clear with  the Taliban – and I said it just   a moment ago – that the willingness  of a future government of Afghanistan   to allow any terrorist group to operate on its  soil and to pose a threat to the United States,   it’s unacceptable to us and we will demonstrate  that using the fierce power of the U.S. military.

Laura. QUESTION: So to follow up on that and  also to let you know I have kind of   three buckets of questions. I’ll be  succinct in asking them. What is the   – when the United States, when Ambassador  Khalilzad talks to the Taliban and says these   are the actions we expect the Taliban to adhere to  in order to be considered a legitimate government,   what is your level of  confidence that the Taliban will   agree to that, especially when it comes to  the fate of women and girls in Afghanistan? So that’s question one. If you  want, I can give you the other ones.

MR PRICE: Please. QUESTION: Great, okay. So number two:  I’m curious about – you started off by   saying that the State Department  is urging, the embassy has urged   Americans in Kabul to not come to the airport  for evacuation, to shelter in place. But as  

we’ve discussed in this room, there are tens of  thousands of Americans, probably dual citizens,   who are spread across Afghanistan who have  no ability to get to the airport in Kabul   in the first place. So what plan or what  assurances can the United States offer them   that they will not be left there, since they can’t  get to Kabul to even try to come to the airport? Third, when the Secretary spoke  to President Ghani on Saturday,   I’m curious if he knows where President Ghani was  at that time and if he was aware that President   Ghani was about to – was either going to flee the  country or at least step down from government. MR PRICE: Let me take those in turn.   Again, we have made very clear – abundantly  clear – to the Taliban in Doha, but   in some ways just as importantly, publicly  speaking with a single voice with the   international community what the United States,  what our closest allies and partners expect,   but also what other regional stakeholders – again,  including some stakeholders with whom we share   very few interests, where our interests are  rarely aligned. The fact that this UN Security  

Council statement emerged today is a clear  indication that there is decisive consensus   within the international community on this  front. It means a lot when the United States says   something and when we put our voice and actions  behind a statement, but it means even more when   much of the world and certainly the key  stakeholders come together and say the same thing. We will be watching very closely as any new  government in Afghanistan takes shape. Of course,   we have all seen various statements that have  emanated from the Taliban, not only in recent   hours and recent days but in recent weeks and  recent months. We take those for what they are.  

They’re statements. Again, we will be watching  actions. That’s what will be important to us. Beyond watching, beyond galvanizing the  international community, as we did with   the statement signed by 98 countries,  from Albania to Zambia, just last night,   we are going to be marshaling  the international community,   because we now know it is incumbent on all of  us, including the United States, to use every   conceivable lever that we have – diplomacy,  our political leverage, and, importantly,   economic leverage – and economic leverage can  take different forms. It is patently obvious that   the Government of Afghanistan would not have  endured 20 years were it not for the broad and   generous support of the international community  and the United States, the United States being   the largest donor, both on a bilateral basis and  to the humanitarian needs of the Afghan people. This is a positive source of leverage. If the  Taliban or any government that is to emerge  

seeks to have the level of international  assistance that was needed to sustain   the Afghan Government over the past 20 years,  the words on the paper that emanated from New   York today, from the Security Council, will  have to mean something – that their actions   will have to match some of the words that  we have seen emanate from the Taliban. There are other forms of economic leverage, and  those are – if you talk about carrots, you can   also talk about sticks. And United States, the  UN, the international community has the ability   to impose fairly dramatic costs on any regime that  were to take shape that would not – that does not   recognize the basic and fundamental rights  of the people of Afghanistan; importantly,   the basic and fundamental rights of half of  the Afghan population, the women and girls. The United States, as I’ve said  before, has done more than any   country in the world over the last 20 years  to support Afghanistan’s women and girls. We   are – you can believe, you can bet that we  will do all we can, and I would muster to say   probably lead the charge, certainly lead the  charge in working with the international community   to make sure and to see to it that we are doing  everything we can, speaking with one voice,   and acting according to one script to preserve  those gains because they are that important to us.

When it comes to Americans who – and others, I  should say – who are – seek to leave the country,   we have been in regular contact with American  citizens in Kabul. The embassy is providing   both public messages, is communicating via  email with Americans who have indicated   and expressed an interest in leaving the  country. We will continue to provide clear   messaging about what they should do  and when they should do it. Again,   people should shelter in place and not attempt  to come to the airport until they are explicitly   told otherwise by an appropriate  authority, including the U.S. embassy. QUESTION: But beyond Kabul is what  I’m – was – the question was about   American citizens who are not in  Kabul and can’t get there in the   first place. And then also if you  could talk to the Ghani question. MR PRICE: We are going to continue to do all we  can to bring as many eligible individuals as we   can to safety. When we talk about our priorities,  our first priority is always going to be  

the American people – that is to  say, the Americans who are serving   and who have served in Afghanistan.  That includes private American citizens,   some of whom are in Kabul, many of whom are  in Kabul, some of whom may not be in Kabul,   of course. That also includes our locally  engaged staff – that is to say, Afghan nationals   who were working in our embassy compound  and who have expressed an interest   in relocating. We have talked about SIVs.  We have talked about so-called P-1 –   those applying for P-1 refugee status and P-2  status, and then other vulnerable Afghans, people   who may be exposed to risk because of the work  they’ve done or merely because of their gender. Kylie. QUESTION: The Ghani question? MR PRICE: The Secretary did have an opportunity to  speak to President Ghani on Saturday and late last   week. We read out that call. I don’t think  we have anything to – additional to offer.

QUESTION: You don’t know if he was leaving at  the time the call happened? Did he – did the   Secretary have any heads-up that the  president was about to flee the country? MR PRICE: He was – it was a very fluid situation.   The security situation was evolving very  quickly. The political situation was evolving   very quickly. We’ll leave it to President Ghani to  characterize what he may have told the Secretary. Kylie. QUESTION: You still call him President Ghani?

MR PRICE: We will leave it to him to  characterize what he told the Secretary. QUESTION: So no? MR PRICE: Please. QUESTION: Is he — MR PRICE:   There has not been a formal transfer of power.  There has not been a formal transfer of power. QUESTION: I guess who does the United States  recognize as the leader of Afghanistan, then? MR PRICE: So this is something that we are  working, again, with the international community.   You saw in this statement from the UN a clear  consensus emerge that a political settlement   will be in everyone’s interests, that a political  settlement will be best positioned to achieve what   it is manifestly in our collective interests. And  by “our” I mean the United States, I mean that of  

our allies and partners, but also, importantly  – probably most importantly – the interests   of the people of Afghanistan. A political  settlement is what we are still pushing for. We are not doing this alone. We are working  in close collaboration with the international   community. All throughout this process, together  with the UN and our international partners,   we have been supporting the Afghans in their  intra-Afghan dialogue. That intra-Afghan dialogue   remains ongoing. The Taliban  continues to be represented   in Doha. Representatives from the Government of  Afghanistan continue to be represented in Doha.

QUESTION: And just logistical questions about the  SIVs: How many SIVs will the U.S. aim to relocate   to the United States? And how many of those SIVs  will the U.S. relocate before leaving the airport? MR PRICE: So we are going to maintain a diplomatic  presence in Kabul for as long as it is safe and   responsible for us to do so. You’ve heard from  this President. You heard from him today that his   top priority is the safety and the security of the  American people. And so we will seek to maintain  

a presence on the ground right now at the Hamid  Karzai International Airport for as long as it is   safe to do so. As I said before, DOD is working  urgently, around the clock, to re-establish   positive control over the airport so that  both U.S. mil aircraft and commercial aircraft   can land and take off. The U.S. mil aircraft is  important for our SIV relocation efforts. The   commercial side of the airport is also incredibly  important for the capacity that it would lend for   other third-party nationals, for Afghans,  and anyone who may not be affiliated with a   U.S. Government program to be able to leave  the country if they should choose to do so.

So we are going to maintain a presence on the  ground for as long as it is responsible and safe   for us to do so. During that time, our  – the Department of Defense working   in tandem with the Department of  State, we will be working around   the clock to relocate as many  eligible individuals as we can. Rosiland. QUESTION: So you don’t want to give  a specific number at this time? MR PRICE: So we’re not in a position  to give a specific number at this time.

QUESTION: Why? MR PRICE: Because it is a fluid situation,  and it will be dependent on the security   situation on the ground. The forcing  function here, the guiding principle   will be the safety and security of our  people. As long as we deem that our – that   our public servants serving at HKIA are safe  and secure, we will be engaged in an ambitious   and an aggressive and around-the-clock effort to  relocate as many individuals as we possibly can. Rosiland. QUESTION: I want to follow on that.  How many U.S. citizens and possible  

dual citizens are in Afghanistan? There’s a  number floating around, about 10,000 or so. And then following on that, yes, the  U.S. State Department is committed to   taking care of U.S. citizens – I appreciate that  personally – but if things really go sideways,   is this government willing to not  transport any Afghan citizens,   any citizens who perhaps are working for NGOs  or for the United Nations, and focus solely on   getting Americans out? Should people be getting  their hopes up, I guess is what I’m asking? MR PRICE: One, on the question of how many U.S.  citizens may be in Afghanistan, it is not a tally   that we keep in the context of Afghanistan or any  other country. We have files, the embassy has been   in touch with many of these individuals, but it  is not a figure that is readily available to us   precisely for the reason that you mentioned: It  is incumbent on Americans in any given country to   reach out to the embassy, to notify the embassy of  their presence. There are many dual-nationals who  

are also part of the equation as well. So we’re  just not in a position to give a firm figure. When it comes to our relocation efforts, again,  we are going to be guided by one criterion,   and that is the safety and security of the  American people. As long as the U.S. Government,   calling on all the information at our disposal,  deems that it is safe for Americans to remain   and to be operating on the airport compound, we  are going to be engaged in this ambitious, in   this aggressive, in is around-the-clock effort to  relocate as many individuals as we possibly can. QUESTION: One more. MR PRICE: I’ll take a couple final questions. QUESTION: One more. Nick Kristof, the  New York Times columnist, said basically  

every person who ever cooperated with the U.S.  in any form or fashion over the last 20 years,   the U.S. should just round everyone  up, get them out of harm’s way,   and then figure out the visa situation  later. Is that an outside possibility? MR PRICE: Well, that’s a generalization,  obviously, but it is not that dissimilar from   what we are engaged in. As I said before, we –  there are several different classes of individuals   we are, on an urgent basis, making preparations  to relocate. In the case of SIVs, that has been  

in process for some time now. In terms of  other individuals, some 1,600 individuals,   not including the 2,000 SIVs, have been airlifted  out of Afghanistan on U.S. military aircraft   in recent days. We are, of course, prioritizing  American citizens. We are – of course, first and  

foremost, Americans who had been serving at  our embassy who are departing the country,   private American citizens, SIV holders, P-1, P-2  applicants, as well as other vulnerable Afghans. We have stood up a task force here at here at Main  State. It is operating 24-7. It is coordinating   the department’s planning, management, logistics  related to this rather large, rather complex,   and undeniably urgent operation. There are –  Acting Assistant Secretary Dean Thompson, the   acting assistant secretary of our Bureau of South  and Central Asia, is heading that task force.  

There are multiple sub-components of that task  force. They are all being led by senior department   officials. The various lines of effort  include SIV relocation, logistics,   embassy staff, U.S. citizens, Afghans at risk.  This is, again, an ambitious, aggressive effort   to bring to safety as many individuals who might  be interested in doing so for as long as we can.

Will. QUESTION: Yeah, does that 1,600 include American  embassy personnel? Have any of those left?   How many of those are at Hamid Karzai Airport?  And are there other U.S. personnel who don’t   respond – don’t – up to the chief of mission who  are not at the airport but at other parts of the   city? Just wondering for kind of a breakdown as  best as you know, or as a given time, how many   American personnel are at the airport, how many  have left, how many might still be in the city? MR PRICE: As you know, whether the context is  Afghanistan or whether the context is a less   challenging, less complex security environment, we  typically don’t offer breakdowns like that. As we   said last night, all of the Americans under chief  of mission authority who had been operating the   embassy had been safely relocated to Hamid Karzai  International Airport. It is also worth noting   that our efforts to reduce the civilian  footprint of our embassy, they did not start   last week or the week before  or even last month. April 27th  

the U.S. embassy went on ordered departure.  Since April 27th, we have conducted several   drawdowns to responsibly reduce the size of our  civilian footprint. So the size of our embassy   prior to that ordered departure was much larger,  certainly larger than it was a week or two ago.

So this has been a phased — QUESTION: What was the size of that — MR PRICE: Again, we’re – we don’t  offer numbers when it comes to this — QUESTION: For the sake of transparency — MR PRICE: — but it has been a phased and  deliberate drawdown of U.S. personnel. I know my colleague at the Pentagon is going  to be briefing so I’m going to cede the — QUESTION: He started. MR PRICE: He has started. So  I will cede the floor to him.   Thank you all very much. We’ll see you tomorrow.

2021-08-21 21:15

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