At the Mercy of the Taliban

We have noted that U.S. officials estimate there are somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 Americans still in Afghanistan, and they do not know where those individuals are. Steve has pointed out the obvious potential for a mass hostage situation if the Taliban simply refuses to permit Americans and other Westerners to get to the Kabul airport.

Amplifying that story, earlier today both Jake Sullivan and Jen Psaki declined to offer any assurance that all Americans will be successfully extracted from Afghanistan. The fact is that the fate of Americans stranded in that country is out of our control. For now, the Taliban is taking the position that as long as foreigners are leaving, they will not interfere with them.

Maybe that policy will continue. But British officials, who have been consistently more candid than the Biden administration, acknowledge that the fate of their nationals is in the hands of the Taliban:

British troops could be forced to pull out of Afghanistan at any moment as the Taliban are now in charge of whether they stay or not, a senior military chief has admitted.
About 3,000 British or dual-nationals are waiting to be evacuated along with a further 3,000 Afghans, including interpreters and their families. It is unlikely all of them will get out in time.

[Vice-Admiral Sir Ben] Key said that with the Taliban now in control across Kabul, the capital city, the security situation on the ground may make it “untenable for us to continue to evacuate other people”. In a briefing on the situation, he said that how long UK troops would remain in the country was a “64,000 dollar question”, given that “the Taliban are providing the security tapestry across Kabul now”. He said that how long the troops stayed was dependent on how long the Taliban would continue to “allow” them to stay.

“Currently they [the Taliban] are respecting the agreement they have with the United States,” he said. “They are allowing us to go about our business but we have to be pragmatic and honest — the Taliban are controlling how and what we can achieve and at some point they may remove their consent.”

Maybe all of the trapped American civilians will be “allowed” to flee Afghanistan by the Taliban. But we will never know this for sure, since our government admits that it has little idea how many Americans are currently there (“five to ten thousand”). Given this situation, it is impossible to argue that Joe Biden’s handling of the Afghan withdrawal has been anything but a disaster.

UPDATE: Earlier today Jen Psaki said that the administration thinks there are “around 11,000” American civilians in Afghanistan.

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