The State Department informed congressional staff Thursday that it is in touch with 363 US citizens in Afghanistan, 176 of whom want to leave, two sources familiar with the call told CNN.
The figures presented on that call underscore the ongoing challenge faced by the Biden administration as Americans continue to come forward to seek help in leaving Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban takeover and the chaotic US withdrawal.
Thursday’s numbers – combined with evacuation figures since August 31 – present a far higher count of Americans looking to leave Afghanistan than the administration publicly estimated at the time of the US withdrawal.
The day before the US military evacuation was completed, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the State Department was tracking “a small number of Americans, under 200 and likely closer to 100, who remain in Afghanistan and want to leave.”
More than 200 US citizens have been evacuated with the help of the US government since August 31, according to the State Department, meaning that upwards of 400 Americans have sought US help leaving the country in the nearly two months since the military withdrawal.
The Biden administration has consistently estimated that the number of Americans seeking to leave Afghanistan is still in the range of 100 to 200 people, but cautioned that the number is incredibly fluid.
The administration has noted it is difficult to track the precise numbers of American citizens in the country, as they are not required to register with the State Department when they arrive or leave. It is unclear how many total Americans were in the country at the time of the US withdrawal on August 31.
“It’s important to remind everyone that these figures are far from static. They are constantly changing. Any figure, any precise figure is nothing more than a momentary snapshot in time,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said Friday. “The same is true of Americans in Afghanistan who wish to leave and who are ready to do so. That number is always changing.”
“Right now, the number of Americans in that category is between approximately 100 to 200,” Price said. “That figure has risen in recent days as more Americans in Afghanistan have decided to depart in light of our successful facilitation of dozens of departures in recent weeks.”
“We’ve also consistently said there’s a slightly larger universe of Americans with whom we’re in touch, and who are not yet ready for whatever reason to leave,” Price said.
“We are continuing to be in touch with them. If their plans do change, we will be glad to help facilitate their departure from Afghanistan should they choose to leave,” he said.
In his remarks at the end of August, Blinken noted that there “are long-time residents of Afghanistan who have American passports, and who were trying to determine whether or not they wanted to leave.”
“Many are dual-citizen Americans with deep roots and extended families in Afghanistan, who have resided there for many years. For many, it’s a painful choice,” he said.
“If an American in Afghanistan tells us that they want to stay for now, and then in a week or a month or a year they reach out and say, ‘I’ve changed my mind,’ we will help them leave,” Blinken added.
On Thursday evening, Price tweeted that the US “has facilitated the departure of 234 U.S. citizens and 144 LPRs [lawful permanent residents] from Kabul since August 31.”
“These are the numbers of people whose individual departures we directly facilitated. An additional number of U.S. citizens and LPRs have departed on private charters or have independently crossed via a land border,” another State Department spokesperson told CNN Friday.
“The number of US citizens and LPRs we assist is dynamic as we review manifests, receive reports from colleagues in the field, and assist with departures,” they said.
In addition to the more than 100 US citizens who are seeking assistance in leaving Afghanistan, there are scores of Afghans – many of whom worked for the US military – who were left behind during the US military withdrawal and are desperately trying to leave.