White House explains why it can't pinpoint number of Americans still in Afghanistan

The Biden administration has struggled to offer a specific number of Americans still in Afghanistan in recent days, prompting criticism from conservatives and others about the administration's preparedness to evacuate U.S. citizens.

White House national security adviser Jake SullivanJake SullivanBiden to receive 'regular updates' about Michigan school shooting Biden administration resists tougher Russia sanctions in Congress GOP holds on Biden nominees set back gains for women in top positions MORE said Monday the difficulty pinpointing an exact number was because some Americans did not notify the U.S. Embassy when they arrived in Afghanistan or when they left.

"Many people have asked, reasonably, why we can’t provide a precise number of American citizens still in country," Sullivan said at a White House press briefing.

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"When Americans have come to Afghanistan over the years, we asked them to register with the embassy. Many have left without deregistering. Others never registered at all," Sullivan said. "That is their right, of course. And it’s our responsibility to find them, which we are now doing hour by hour. In the days remaining, we believe we have the wherewithal to get out the American citizens who want to leave Kabul."

Sullivan said a "significant majority" of the 37,000 individuals evacuated by the U.S. military over the last nine days are Afghan civilians and allies of the war effort because there are several thousand more Afghans seeking to leave the country. But Sullivan estimated "a few thousand Americans" have been evacuated from Afghanistan since the Taliban began taking over major cities en route to seizing the capital of Kabul.

Biden administration officials have been asked repeatedly in recent days about how many American citizens are in Afghanistan that need to be evacuated. Spokespeople have struggled to offer an answer more specific than several thousand.

Sullivan said the government has tried contacting those believed to be in Afghanistan through email, text, phone calls and public means, such as radio.