U.S. Unsure Who Is on Planes Held in Afghanistan, Warns Taliban to Keep Its Word on Evacuees

The U.S. State Department warned the Taliban to keep their word on allowing evacuees to depart Afghanistan amid reports that several planes are not being allowed to leave the country on Sunday.

In a statement to Newsweek, a State Department spokesperson said they do not have personnel on the ground, air assets in the country and do not control the airspace, so they "do not have a reliable means to confirm the basic details of charter flights" including who is organizing them, the number of people on-board, and where they plan to land, "among many other issues."

"We will hold the Taliban to its pledge to let people freely depart Afghanistan," the statement said. "As with all Taliban commitments, we are focused on deeds not words, but we remind the Taliban that the entire international community is focused on whether they live up to their commitments."

The State Department reiterated that it is prepared to help U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents and at-risk Afghans depart the country.

"When it comes to charters, we facilitated the evacuation and relocation of thousands of these individuals aboard charter aircraft from HKIA during the USMIL-led operation," the statement said.

The Taliban have reportedly prevented several planes intended to evacuate hundreds of people from leaving Afghanistan for several days.

During a Fox News appearance Sunday morning, Texas Congressman Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee, said there are six airplanes in Mazar-i-Sharif—Afghanistan's fourth-largest city—that are prepared to leave, but the Taliban will not allow them to exit.

He said the Taliban are holding the planes hostage "for demands" including recognition, and added that he is concerned they will demand "more and more, whether it be cash or legitimacy as the government of Afghanistan."

"This is really, Chris, turning into a hostage situation, where they're not going to allow American citizens to leave until they get full recognition from the United States of America," McCaul said.

He said hundreds of American citizens were "left behind enemy lines" and unable to leave following the August 31 deadline. He said almost all of the interpreters who helped the U.S. were not even let into the airport.

An Afghan official reportedly said the hundreds of passengers were all Afghans and that many did not have proper visas or passports, the Associated Press reported.

He told the AP that it was four planes and that their intended passengers were staying at hotels while authorities worked out whether they could leave the country. The planes in question were headed for Doha, Qatar, and it is unclear who chartered them or why they were waiting in the northern city, the AP reported.

The U.S. officially withdrew from Afghanistan August 31, following weeks of evacuations. More than 100,000 Americans and allies were evacuated from the country in the weeks after the Taliban returned to power.

Still, some were left behind.

Amid the evacuations, the Biden administration faced heavy criticism from Republicans that the troop withdrawal was mishandled. His once-high approval rating has taken a hit due to the exit.

Still, Biden called the evacuation an "extraordinary success" during an address to the nation Tuesday.

"We completed one of the biggest airlifts in history, with more than 120,000 people evacuated to safety. That number is more than double what most experts thought were possible. No nation—no nation has ever done anything like it in all of history. Only the United States had the capacity and the will and the ability to do it, and we did it today," he said.

This is a breaking news story that will be updated as more information becomes available.

Kabul Airport
The U.S. State Department said it does not have the means to confirm basic details of charter flights amid reports that the Taliban are keeping planes from leaving Afghanistan. Here, planes are seen at the airport in Kabul. AAMIR QURESHI/AFP via Getty Images