Icelandic authorities announced the completion of the evacuation of the town of Grindavik on the Reykjanes Peninsula following a state of emergency after strong earthquakes rocked the peninsula in the southwest of the country.
US might complete evacuating its citizens before President Joe Biden’s intended 31 August deadline as Secretary of State Antony Blinken said as many as 1,500 Americans may be awaiting evacuation from Afghanistan.
“It’s 100 per cent up to the Afghans to take these risks and try to fight their way out,” said Sunil Varghese, policy director with the International Refugee Assistance Project.
Blinken, echoing Biden’s earlier declarations during the now 12-day-old evacuation, emphasized at a State Department briefing that “ evacuating Americans is our top priority. ”
He added, “We’re also committed to getting out as many Afghans at-risk as we can before the 31st,” when Biden plans to pull out the last of thousands of American troops.
Blinken said the State Department estimates there were about 6,000 Americans wanting to leave Afghanistan when the airlift began 14 August, as the Taliban took the capital after a stunning military conquest. About 4,500 Americans have been evacuated so far, Blinken said, and among the rest “some are understandably very scared.”
About 500 Americans have been contacted with instructions on when and how to get to the chaotic Kabul airport to catch evacuation flights.
In addition, 1,000 or perhaps fewer are being contacted to determine whether they still want to leave. Blinken said some of these may already have left the country, some may want to remain and some may not actually be American citizens.
“We are providing opportunity,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said of those Afghans, who include dual Afghan-American citizens. “We are finding ways to get them to the airport and evacuate them, but it is also their personal decision on whether they want to depart.”
On a lighter note, the US military said an Afghan baby girl born on a C-17 military aircraft during the massive evacuation will carry that experience with her. Her parents named her after the plane’s call sign: Reach.
In Washington on Wednesday, Blinken emphasized that the U.S. and other governments plan to continue assisting Afghans and Americans who want to leave after next Tuesday, the deadline for Biden’s planned end to the evacuation.
The U.S. Embassy has already been evacuated; staff are operating from the Kabul airport and the last are to leave by Tuesday.
The withdrawal comes under a 2020 deal negotiated by President Donald Trump with the Taliban.
Refugee groups are describing a different picture than the Biden administration is when it comes to many Afghans. Some Afghans are reported being turned away from the Kabul airport by American forces controlling the gates, despite having approval for flights.
“We still have 1,200 Afghans with visas that are outside the airport and haven’t got in,” said James Miervaldis with No One Left Behind, one of dozens of veterans groups working to get out Afghans who worked with the US military. “We’re waiting to hear from the US government and haven’t heard yet.”
U.S.-based organizations, speaking on background to discuss sensitive matters, cite accounts from witnesses on the ground as saying some American citizens, and family members of Afghans with green cards, still were having trouble pushing and talking their way into the Kabul airport for flights.
Kirby said the U.S. military will preserve as much airlift capacity at the airport as possible in the coming days, ahead of Tuesday’s deadline.
Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor, the deputy director of regional operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said U.S. forces had conducted another helicopter mission beyond the perimeter of the airport to pick up people seeking to evacuate.