The U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan warned Americans trapped in the country not to travel to the Kabul airport due to security threats, and urged those at specific airport gates to get out immediately, in a startling statement early Thursday.
“Because of security threats outside the gates of Kabul airport, we are advising U.S. citizens to avoid traveling to the airport and to avoid airport gates at this time unless you receive individual instructions from a U.S. government representative to do so,” the statement from the embassy read.
“U.S. citizens who are at the Abbey Gate, East Gate, or North Gate now should leave immediately,” the embassy added.
The warning underscored the chaos and uncertainty on the ground outside the Kabul airport, where hundreds of Americans still have been attempting to get out of the country. U.S. troops have been stationed at the airport, though a heavy Taliban presence has been reported outside the grounds, with persistent concerns about potential terrorism.
Desperate Afghans crowd into an area near a gate at the Kabul airport, Aug. 26, 2021. (We the People)
President Biden has aimed to stick to an Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw U.S. troops from the country, though the White House has said contingency plans were being discussed, amid criticism from lawmakers in both parties that it would be too unsafe not to extend the deadline. Concerns have also been raised about Special Immigrant Visa holders reportedly being blocked by the Taliban from accessing the airport.
The Biden administration has said it didn’t trust the Taliban, but repeatedly has called on the Islamic militant group to allow people to safely access the airport and to refrain from violence.
Americans who were on their way to the airport or who were waiting at the gates were warned in the message to “be aware of their surroundings,” and to monitor local media in order to “adjust your plans based on new information.”
Blinken said there were 6,000 Americans who wanted to leave Afghanistan on August 14 and 4,500 of them have been evacuated within the last 10 days. He added that 500 of the remaining number have been instructed on how to leave within the last 24 hours. That leaves roughly 1,000 Americans left in the country, but Blinken said he believed the actual number was lower for a variety of reasons, including situations where Americans wanted to stay or already had left without notifying the government.
Afghan women are seen at the Kabul airport, Aug. 26, 2021. (We the People)
“From the list of approximately 1,000, we believe that the number of Americans actively seeking assistance to leave Afghanistan is lower, and likely significantly lower,” Blinken explained.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki was caught flat-footed during a daily news briefing Wednesday when she was asked about a group of California students who are trapped in Afghanistan.
Psaki was asked if she knew about an L.A. Times report that a group of students and their parents from California’s El Cajon Valley School District were currently stranded in Afghanistan.
The reporter asked, “The L.A. Times has a story saying that a group of students and their parents are in Afghanistan. Do you have any more information on that or is that?–“
“I do not. Who have recently traveled into Afghanistan?” Psaki stated in response, appearing confused about the report cited.
Americans, allies, Afghans who assisted coalition forces and others who are vulnerable to Taliban violence struggle to flee Afghanistan since the central government collapsed to insurgents on Aug. 15.
Fox News’ Kelly Laco and Jessica Chasmar contributed to this report.