A private email leaked to the media shows that the State Department refused to grant approval for private flights to evacuate people left behind in Afghanistan even as the department admitted such approval would be needed for such flights to land in third-party countries.
The State Department even said that private flights containing American citizens would not be allowed to land at U.S. air bases, reported Fox News, which reviewed the emails.
American officials said military bases lack the resources to fully verify flight manifests and thereby prevent possible security threats, Fox reported.
Private groups, mostly led by retired military, have been in Afghanistan trying to evacuate Americans and Afghans who aided the military after the Biden administration failed to evacuate them all by Biden's Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw all American troops.
The White House has drawn criticism for delaying efforts of these groups, including from Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.
Eric Montalvo organized private flights to evacuate those unable to leave the country, and shared emails with Fox News after his efforts were repeatedly thwarted by the U.S. government.
"No independent charters are allowed to land at [Al Udeid Air Base], the military airbase you mentioned in your communication with Samantha Power. In fact, no charters are allowed to land at an [sic] DoD base and most if not all countries in the Middle Eastern region, with the exception of perhaps Saudi Arabia will allow charters to land," an official wrote to Montalvo on Sept. 1.
"You need to find another destination country, and it can't be the U.S. either."
The official said that some third countries "may require" official approval from the State Department to accept private charter flights, but that the State Department "will not provide" it.
"Once you have had discussions with the host/destination country and reached an agreement, they may require some indication from the USG that we ‘approve’ of this charter flight. DOS will not provide an approval, but we will provide a ‘no objection’ to the destination country government via the U.S. Embassy in that country."
The day after that email was sent, White House press secretary Jen Psaki and State Department spokesman Ned Price both told reporters that the Biden administration was not stopping planes from leaving Afghanistan.
"If these charters are seeking to go to a U.S. military installation, for example, we have to weigh not only the threat to those who may be on board – especially if they’re American citizens, LPRs, other Afghans to whom we have a special commitment – but also to the safety and security of State Department personnel, U.S. military personnel, Department of Homeland Security personnel, other U.S. personnel on U.S. military installations," Price said last week.
"These are among the risks that the Department of Defense, the Department of State, and the host government – which, of course, has an important say in all this – must consider," he said.
The State Department declined to comment to Fox News, and referred instead to Secretary of State Antony Blinken statement on Tuesday.
"We’re working around the clock with NGOs, with members of Congress and advocacy groups, providing any and all information and doing all we can to clear any roadblocks that they’ve identified to make sure that charter flights carrying Americans or others to whom we have a special responsibility can depart Afghanistan safely," Blinken said.
"Without personnel on the ground, we can’t verify the accuracy of manifests, the identities of passengers, flight plans, or aviation security protocols. So this is a challenge, but one we are determined to work through. We’re conducting a great deal of diplomacy on this as we speak."
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