Blinken: We are not aware of any ‘hostage-like situation’ in Mazar-i-Sharif
Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday said the U.S. is “not aware” of a “hostage-like situation” at Mazar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan after reports that the Taliban were not allowing Americans to leave.
“We are not aware of anyone being held on an aircraft or any hostage life situation in Mazar-i-Sharif,” Blinken said during a joint news conference with Qatar’s top diplomats and defense officials in Doha.
Blinken did, however, reveal that the U.S. has identified a “relatively small number” of Americans who are trying to depart from the airport. He also said the administration has been “assured” by the Taliban that American and Afghan citizens with valid travel documents will be allowed to exit.
“We’ve been able to identify a relatively small number of Americans who we believe are seeking to depart from Mazar-i-Sharif with their families. We have been assured, again, that all American citizens and Afghan citizens with valid travel documents will be allowed to leave,” Blinken said.
“And again, we intend to hold the Taliban to that,” he added.
The secretary said the Taliban’s “commitment” has been upheld in at least one situation in the past 24 hours, when the insurgent group allowed a family to leave Afghanistan through an overland route.
Rep. Michael McCaul (Texas), the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said on Sunday that six airplanes carrying American citizens and Afghan allies were sitting at Mazar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan trying to depart but the Taliban were “holding them hostage for demands.”
He said the airplanes have been at the airport “for the last couple of days” but have been unable to leave despite receiving approval from the State Department.
McCaul said the circumstances were “turning into a hostage situation.” A spokesperson for House Foreign Affairs Committee Republicans told The Hill on Monday that it is unclear if the individuals trying to depart the airport are currently being held in airplanes as they await evacuation, but they were on board at some point.
The State Department, when asked about McCaul’s claim, said on Sunday that it did not have the “reliable means to confirm the basic details of charter flights” because the U.S. does not have personnel on the ground, air assets in the country or have any control of the airspace over Afghanistan or elsewhere in the region.
Blinken’s latest comments come as the U.S. is working to evacuate remaining U.S. citizens and Afghan allies from Afghanistan after withdrawing all troops from the country.
On Tuesday, he said the U.S. believes there are “somewhere around 100” American citizens still in Afghanistan seeking evacuation.