National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan says ‘several thousand Americans’ are still stuck in Afghanistan

Thousands gather outside Kabul airport in hopes of getting on evacuation flight.
Thousands gather outside Kabul airport in hopes of getting on evacuation flight. Wakil Kohsar/Getty Images
  • White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press to debrief on evacuation developments in Kabul.
  • Though 30,000 people have been evacuated so far, Sullivan says thousands remain unaccounted for on the ground.
  • The White House is faced with coordinating further evacuations amid a growing humanitarian crisis on the ground in Kabul and its airports.
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The White House estimates “several thousand Americans” still need to be evacuated from Afghanistan, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday morning.

Sullivan said the true number of Americans on the ground is unclear because Americans in Afghanistan were encouraged but not required to register with the American Embassy in Kabul. Therefore, the US government could not track some American travelers who entered or left the country prior to the Taliban takeover.

So far, 30,000 people have successfully fled the country, with 25,000 of them evacuated since the Taliban began moving on the Afghan capital on August 14, Sullivan said Sunday. Within a 24-hour-period from Saturday to Sunday, 7,800 people were successfully evacuated, both on aUS military aircraft and a private charter aircraft.

“I know that the scenes around the airport are heartbreaking, large crowds of people wanting to leave,” Sullivan told NBC. “I know that there is complexity and there is turbulence on the ground and in Kabul, and it’s very risky and dangerous because there’s a genuine threat from ISIS…I’m not going to sugarcoat that reality.”

With a humanitarian crisis looming at the Kabul airport, Americans and Afghan citizens alike struggling to safely escape a country that has fallen to extremist forces. On Saturday, those efforts met complications as the US warned of possible ISIS attacks at the Kabul airport.

Many of the Americans and Afghans left in the country are now dealing with an ever-growing Taliban presence, equipped with US military equipment. Women, minority groups, and their families fear for their lives as the Taliban searches for people cooperating with the US government. Even more, Taliban forces liberated thousands of prisoners, including ISIS and al Qaeda fighters, who will pose even more of a threat to Americans and Afghans escapees alike.

When asked if the White House’s drawdown and evacuation plans prior to Taliban occupation had been a “catastrophic mistake,” Sullivan said the State Department began messaging American citizens in Kabul months ago, telling them the situation was deteriorating and they should leave the country.

“We explained to them that if they didn’t have the financial resources to be able to leave the country, those resources would be provided to them. Sullivan continued. “Many chose to stay right until the end.”

On Sunday, the Pentagon ordered six major commercial airlines to help with US evacuations in Afghanistan, as well as expanding the number of US evacuation bases to ease overcrowding.

Many Afghans are still trying to evade strict Taliban-set checkpoints across the city as they make their way to the Hamid Karzi International airport. Over the past week, chaos erupted as crowds of Afghan refugees flooded the airport, pushing against airport security, attempting to cling to the side of departing planes, and cramming into USAF transport aircraft to escape.