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Blinken under pressure for Afghanistan evacuations

Mohammad Parwiz Arian

Kabul: A U.S. Republican lawmaker is pressing the U.S. State Department to restart evacuating Americans and at-risk Afghan allies in hiding using resources of non-governmental organizations trying to clear charter flights.

In a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Saturday, the Republican lawmaker and former White House official Mike Waltz said he had been told by several NGOs that there were manifested charter flights “available, funded, and ready to fly” people out.

Groups of American citizens, legal permanent residents, and Afghans eligible for special visas were hiding near airports waiting for clearance to depart the country, Waltz, a decorated veteran, said.

Roughly 124,000 people were evacuated last month from Kabul in a massive U.S.-led airlift of U.S. and other foreign citizens as well as vulnerable Afghans as the Taliban took control there.

The militants’ 1996-2001 rule was marked by violent punishments and a ban on schooling or work for women and girls. The Taliban have promised to respect peoples’ rights and to allow women all rights and freedoms consistent with Sharia law but many Afghans and foreign governments fear a return to the harsh practices of the past.

The West’s adversary in the two-decade war that followed Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, the Taliban have promised safe passage for those wanting to leave.

Waltz did not specify how many charter flights were awaiting a clearance to depart from the Taliban, and no further comment was immediately available from his office.

He said the non-governmental organizations were willing to share their passenger manifests to allow the U.S. government to conduct “appropriate vetting and prioritization.”

“These groups are communicating to my office that State is not proactively arranging the appropriate clearances to take full advantage of these flights,” he wrote.

The State Department had no immediate comment on Waltz’s letter. Spokesman Ned Price told reporters on Thursday that the department was advising private groups organizing such charters on a case-by-case basis, but underscored the risks.

He denied the State Department was preventing charters from leaving Afghanistan, and said U.S. officials continued to try to facilitate landings in third countries.

However, he said, the issue was complicated by the lack of U.S. personnel on the ground and its lack of control of the airspace over Afghanistan or elsewhere in the region.

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