Despite US President Joe Biden calling the American evacuation from Kabul an “extraordinary success,” officials in his administration were appalled that US forces left with several hundred Americans still in Afghanistan, now under Taliban rule.
“I am absolutely appalled and literally horrified we left Americans there,” one administration official told the Politico news site.
Biden on Tuesday appeared to say that those who remained did so out of their own free will and could leave in the future.
“The bottom line: 90 percent of Americans in Afghanistan who wanted to leave were able to leave. For those remaining Americans, there is no deadline. We remain committed to get them out, if they want to come out,” Biden said.
He contended 100 to 200 Americans are still there and have “some intention to leave,” adding: “Most of those who remain are dual citizens, longtime residents, but earlier decided to stay because of their family roots in Afghanistan.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said afterward that Biden was telling those people that if they decide in two weeks that they want to go, “we will get you out.”
But other officials painted a different picture.
“It was a hostage rescue of thousands of Americans in the guise of a NEO [noncombatant evacuation operations], and we have failed that no-fail mission,” the official told Politico.
Another White House official said that the mission isn’t accomplished if they left Americans behind.
And military officers appeared to contradict Biden’s assessment of the desire to leave of those left behind.
Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of US Central Command, said Monday that Americans tried to get to the Kabul airport for the final evacuations but couldn’t. No Americans were on the last five jets to leave.
“We maintained the ability to bring them in up until immediately before departure, but we were not able to bring any Americans out,” he said. “That activity ended probably about 12 hours before our exit, although we continue the outreach and would have been prepared to bring them on until the very last minute. But none of them made it to the airport, and were able to be — and were able to be accommodated.”
US officials estimated up to 200 Americans were left behind, along with unknown numbers of Afghans and others who were trying frantically to leave. By then, more than 100,000 people, mostly Afghans, had been flown to safety in the multinational evacuations.
As the last US soldiers left after the 20-year-long American deployment there, Afghans are making desperate appeals to the West not to forget those left behind, fearing for their lives from the Taliban.
Afghans left behind
Freshta, an artist and mother of two young children, is one of those who has gone into hiding, one of the desperate voices coming out of Afghanistan in the wake of the US withdrawal.
Freshta — whose name has been changed for security reasons — was one of those who was not able to join the evacuations organized by foreign countries via Kabul airport.
Two days before an attack at Kabul airport killed more than 100 people, the 33-year-old artist and painter had tried to get on a flight organized by France.
But after a long wait with her five-month-old baby and five-year-old daughter, “stressed” by the chaos around the airport and frightened by shots fired by Taliban soldiers, she had to turn back.
Now Freshta is in hiding at home in Kabul, in despair at the turn of events.
“In 20 years, we tried a lot to make our country to be a nation, to progress,” she tells AFP by phone. “Our message: Please think about those innocent people who don’t have any way out of Afghanistan.”
Freshta called on the outside world “not to be silent about our situation.”
Hers is one of a number of cases being supported by a coalition of artists and cultural figures based in France.
If other countries “recognize the Taliban regime our situation in the future will get worse. They should listen to our voice,” she said.
Now she is simply “waiting” to see what the future holds while asking relatives to shop for her and limiting her movements to a bare minimum. Even then she makes sure she is fully veiled.
“It’s dangerous for me because I did a lot as an artist,” she said.
The Taliban’s attempt to reassure Afghans opposed to their ideology cuts no ice with Freshta.
“We cannot trust the Taliban,” she insisted. “Their actions and speech are totally different.”