Ned Price, Department Spokesperson
2:09 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: Good afternoon. Welcome to the 100th State Department press briefing under the Biden-Harris administration. That is more a piece of trivia than a topper, but it is all I have come with today. So happy to turn it over to your questions.
QUESTION: That was Andrea. (Laughter.)
MR PRICE: That was Andrea. That was Andrea. Let the record show.
I want to get two logistical things that were raised before but I just wonder if you’ve gotten – managed to get answers to them. One is in terms of Afghan evacuees, all – not just SIVs, all of the Afghans, not Americans. What happens to those Afghan evacuees who get flagged for security reasons?
MR PRICE: Matt, as you know, before anyone who is evacuated from Afghanistan comes to this country, they undergo a rigorous vet from counterterrorism professionals, Homeland Security professionals, law enforcement professionals, with the aid and assistance of our Intelligence Community. Unless and until they complete that vet, they will not be in a position to come to the United States. When it —
QUESTION: Right, but that’s not my question.
MR PRICE: When it comes to individuals who are still undergoing that vet, over the course of our work to establish this network of countries who have agreed to partner with us in our evacuation and transit efforts, we have been in a position to ensure that we have adequate facilities for individuals who are not yet in a position to come to the United States while they undergo that vetting process. So we are doing everything we can to expedite the vetting process; in many cases we are able to move people from a transit point in the Middle East to one in Europe to the United States in a matter of days. In some cases, the vetting process may take longer. We do have adequate solutions for those cases that are going to be handled on a case-by-case basis.
QUESTION: Well, but – yeah, but what happens if you fail and don’t get vetted?
MR PRICE: Again, these are hypotheticals. I would rather not entertain a hypothetical. But we are —
QUESTION: Well, but certainly —
MR PRICE: We are confident that we have what we need in terms of capacity to have people undergo vetting, and for those for whom vetting may take longer, we are confident that we have solutions in those cases, too.
QUESTION: And solutions that will comply with host country regulations, in terms of time —
MR PRICE: All of these operations are in compliance and are, in fact, done with the full knowledge, consent, and partnership with the countries with whom we’ve worked on this.
QUESTION: And then my second logistical one is just on the P-2 – the P-2 issue that I had raised earlier. Why is Turkey not an eligible country for P-2 applicants to present their cases? It seems to be semi-convenient, not really that far away, and it’s a NATO Ally. It still has an embassy in Afghanistan. So why not? And is there any thought to that being changed?
MR PRICE: So Turkey is, in fact, a NATO Ally. Turkey is, in fact, an important partner of ours. Turkey has been an important partner of ours in the NATO context in Afghanistan as well. And recently we have spoken of our cooperation and support to various Turkish efforts when it comes to Afghanistan.
At present, we are working with a number of countries to facilitate P-2 processing. This was a program, as you know, that we announced several weeks ago to provide a refugee referral basis for individuals who may not have worked directly with U.S. Government, but who supported the American people over the years, including by, in many cases, working with media organizations or NGOs.
When it comes to the ability of any particular country, we’d refer you to the Government of Turkey for information on its refugee processes.
QUESTION: Well, this doesn’t have anything to do with – this doesn’t have anything to do with the Government of Turkey, I don’t think. This has to do with whether the embassy – look, when the P-2 program was established, there were only two countries where there were actually U.S. embassies operating: Afghanistan and Turkey, or Afghanistan at that point, where a P-2 applicant could not submit their application. The others were places – North Korea, Iran, Yemen, Syria – places where there’s no U.S. embassy.
So now that the Afghanistan embassy is closed, why is Turkey now the only place in the world, apparently, where an Afghan evacuee cannot submit a P-2 application? Why is that? Is it because of the embassy, or is it because of the Turkish Government?
MR PRICE: Matt, Turkey is playing an important role in a number of arenas when it comes to Afghanistan. We have spoken of the airport. We have spoken of our cooperation with the Turks in the context of NATO and bilaterally over the years vis-a-vis Afghanistan.
There are a number of places where the United States can support and can process P-2 applicants. In the first instance, there were a number of countries in the region that were able to process P-2 applicants. Now we are in a different position, where some P-2 eligible individuals have been evacuated by the U.S. military through the course of our evacuation operations over the past 2-plus weeks, and there are a number of countries that don’t border Afghanistan where we can process P-2 eligible individuals, individuals who either were referred for P-2 status or individuals who may be eligible for P-2 status. We’re very fortunate to have many countries partnering with us on that. When it comes to the capabilities, when it comes to the role of any particular country, we would need to refer you to that country.
QUESTION: Well, Ned, but is it a problem with the embassy or is it – what – the embassy can’t handle it? Or is it a problem with the country?
MR PRICE: We feel that we have adequate P-2 processing capacity.
QUESTION: All right. Let me ask you this then, and I’ll stop after this. How many countries in the world can – where there are actual U.S. embassies and consulates – can a P-2 applicant not submit their papers?
MR PRICE: I don’t —
QUESTION: And can you name the one that it is?
MR PRICE: I don’t have a list in front of me, Matt. But what I would tell you —
QUESTION: I think actually that you do.
MR PRICE: What I will tell you is that there are now a number of additional countries where it is feasible for P-2 eligible individuals —
QUESTION: Is Turkey one of them?
MR PRICE: — or P-2 referred individuals to be processed that were not feasible just a couple of weeks ago. And it is —
QUESTION: And is Turkey one of them?
MR PRICE: It is feasible now because of the heroic work of the U.S. military, in coordination with the Department of State, in coordination with our partners, to bring about 125,000 individuals, including many P-2 eligible and P-2 referred individuals to safety.
QUESTION: I’m wondering if you can give us an update on the situation for aid to Afghanistan. You’ve sort of talked about the conditions that there are going to be on a future Afghan government getting international recognition, so it’s – there is no government yet, but when there is one, then they have to meet certain criteria for you to recognize them.
But in the meantime, there’s warnings of humanitarian crisis and calls to make sure that aid can get there, make sure sanctions aren’t getting in the way, make sure these recognition issues are not blocking aid organizations from getting in. So at the moment, have you – I understand bilateral aid is not going to the Afghan government, but what aid is the U.S. able to provide to Afghanistan at this moment? Is there – are there still programs with U.S. aid funding still going on, and where do we stand in terms of being able to provide that?
MR PRICE: Sure. It’s important to be very specific in a case like this. When you’re referring to aid, what we have made very clear is that our humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan – that will be enduring. We remain unwavering in our commitment to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan. I believe you heard from the Department of the Treasury only recently that they put forward what is known as a specific license to ensure that we can do that in ways that are appropriate and effective. We can continue to do that precisely because some of our humanitarian partners, with whom we’ve worked in Afghanistan and in some cases other countries, and other countries over the years, are still present on the ground in Afghanistan. We have been in contact with these humanitarian providers. We are comfortable and confident that these providers can continue to fulfill the services that, in many cases, they’ve been doing over the courses of – over the course of years or longer.
Now, we distinguish humanitarian assistance from bilateral aid. That, of course – or bilateral assistance. That, of course, is a very different question. And right now what we have said over the course of the past several weeks is there is a review of our assistance to the Afghan government. Now we’re in a position where there is not yet a new government formed. So in the first instance, we’ll need to see government formation take place. That is a mere technicality.
What is not a technicality will be the composition of that government and I think most importantly the behavior of that government. We’ve made the point any number of times that statements from the Taliban, statements from individuals who may be in any future Afghan government are one thing.
What we will be looking to when it comes to the issues that you’ve raised, including the potential for any forms of assistance, will be the actions, the actions of any new Afghan government, especially vis-a-vis the areas we care profoundly about; that is: safe passage; respect for the rights of the people of Afghanistan, including women and girls and minorities; a government that is inclusive, a government that follows through on its counterterrorism commitments, and a government that respects the universal and international norms that – it’s not only the United States – that not only the United States seeks to uphold, but together with our international partners we collectively do as well.
QUESTION: But on humanitarian aid specifically, what proportion of the aid – the humanitarian aid that was being done before can still be done? You said some partners are still able to carry that out, but obviously, it’s not 100 percent because a lot of these people have left the country. A lot of the people who were providing that aid have left the country for sure. So —
MR PRICE: We are still in the position of assessing what that might look like. I think it’s premature for us to put a number on it, but what I can say is that we have been in touch with our operational partners on the ground. We’re not going to speak to them, of course, for security reasons, but we are confident that there remain partners on the ground who are in a position to make good use of such aid for the benefit of the Afghan people.
QUESTION: On the government, it seems that the formation of this government is imminent. Can you tell us a little bit what the U.S. would consider an inclusive government? You’ve been saying that for a while, but what are the criterias you think should be met to the government to be inclusive and to be a first step towards recognition?
MR PRICE: Well, it is not so much what we think, in terms of what the United States thinks. There have been, as you know, any number of statements from broad and vast coalitions of countries. We have done this with our closest allies and partners, whether it’s NATO, whether it’s the G7, whether it is in the form of multilateral statements, including one on women and girls that was issued a couple weeks ago, a couple on safe passage that have been put together by the United States more recently.
But I would actually point you to a statement that may not carry 114 signatures but a statement that carries at least – that carries the imprimatur of the United Nations Security Council. The UNSCR that was put forward just a few days ago had some consensus language in there that I think is reflective of what the international community expects to see from any future Afghan government. It says that – it encourages all parties to seek an inclusive, negotiated political settlement with full, equal, and meaningful representation of women that responds to the desire of Afghans to sustain and build on Afghanistan’s gains over the last 20 years in adherence to the rule of law, and underlines that all parties must respect their obligation.
So that was an emphasis on the sort of inclusivity that the United Nations Security Council, at least, expects to see. There are other paragraphs in this UNSCR that speak to safe passage, which is something that we have underlined ourselves with more than half of the world’s countries on a couple of occasions now, and also the counterterrorism commitments, the CT commitments that the Taliban signed up to, signed its name to early last year under the U.S.-Taliban agreement and has since reaffirmed that it will pursue. So there are a series of expectations and a series of principles not so much that are in our own voice or in our voice alone, but that carry the weight of the broad international community in a meaningful way.
QUESTION: And just one other one on the airport. Would you think that a suggestion by Turkey that private companies take care of the security would be a welcome development? And do you urge the Taliban to accept some kind of external actors, security – private security forces or external forces to take care of the security of the airport? Do you think this is a condition to reopening operations?
MR PRICE: Well, it seems here that our interests are broadly aligned with the international community. We know for certain that the United States, that those that participated in the ministerial that Secretary Blinken convened earlier this week, and it seems to be the case that the Taliban also want to see a functioning commercial airport in Kabul.
We want to see such an airport for a couple reasons. One is the ability to – to Simon’s question before, to provide the sort of humanitarian assistance that we will continue to send to Afghanistan, but also, importantly, is the fact that a functioning commercial airport will be – will provide our citizens, lawful permanent residents of United States, SIV visa holders, those other Afghans at risk, a means by which to leave the country should they choose to do so.
But before you can have a functioning airport, you have to have a few things. Number one, you have to have an element or an entity that is capable of running the airport, and we know that in recent weeks and certainly after the U.S. military left, the third-country contractors – third-country national contractors that previously were running the airport are no longer in a position to do so.
We also know that you need an airport that is not in a state of profound disrepair, and so we have supported the efforts of the Qataris and the Turks together with the private sector to assess the state of the airport. As I told you several days ago now, there was an assessment that was done before the U.S.-led evacuation concluded on August 31st. We also know that after the conclusion of that evacuation, there will need to be a re-evaluation to see to it that the condition that it was found in at that time – late last week, I believe it was – is consistent with the condition it is in now. And we’ve seen video footage of Taliban forces on the airport compound, and so we – so presumably those who have – who are on the ground working this want to make sure that the airport is in a similar condition.
But you raised another condition. It’s that of security, and in order for charters; ultimately, in order for commercial airliners and commercial entities, certainly, to fly into an airport like Kabul, they will want a level of assurance that their operations will be safe and secure. And this is something that, from their public statements, it seems the Turks and the Qataris are working on, something they’re focused on. It’s also something that we have sought to support in every which way because we know that this issue of security is fundamental to the ability to have a commercial airport that is operational, that is functioning, that is capable of receiving humanitarian provisions, and capable of being a source of departure for those —
QUESTION: And does that require an external actor? Sorry, just —
MR PRICE: Again, it is – I wouldn’t speak of it in terms of what we are requiring. This is something we have sought to support with our partners, in this case the Qataris, in this case the Turks. Obviously, they are working this very closely with the Taliban as well.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on Matt’s question, you referred to it as a hypothetical, but, I mean, I would assume the State Department has a policy for what happens with those applicants whose vetting is not successful. What happens to those people? Do they get returned to Afghanistan? What does the United States do with them?
MR PRICE: We do have a plan, but again, these aren’t always plans that we can detail publicly. We also wouldn’t want to wade into a hypothetical. In many cases, as I said before, the vetting will be quick and the rigorous checks can be fulfilled in rather short order, given that we surged resources to these transit countries to do just that. DHS is working very closely with other interagency partners to expedite these security checks consistent with the rigor with which they need to be conducted.
QUESTION: And then just a quick follow-up on —
MR PRICE: Yeah.
QUESTION: — the SIV program. Obviously, there were the comments from the Secretary of Defense, where he essentially acknowledged that the SIV program was not up to the task that we saw it trying to be used for in the last two weeks. Is there any effort to overhaul the SIV program to make it faster to process people?
MR PRICE: Well, it is absolutely true that the SIV program was not intended to be conducted in the course of an evacuation. But that is precisely why from literally day one of this administration, in January of this year, long before the Taliban were on the outskirts of Kabul, we prioritized this program, a program that had been left in a unfortunately decrepit state by the previous administration.
You don’t have to take my word for that; you can take the word of the State Department inspector general that concluded an investigation of the program in 2020 and found that it was suffering from chronic shortages in staffing, a lack of a responsible coordinating official, a bureaucratic 14-step process, and the fact that there had not been a single SIV interview conducted in Kabul since March of 2020. Now, of course, COVID certainly had a say in that, but so too did the previous administration that sought to starve refugee programs and other immigrant visa programs of resources that were needed. That is just a fact.
Within two weeks of this administration coming into office, interviews had restarted in Kabul. We surged resources. Even as we went into ordered departure within our embassy in Kabul, we actually sent additional consular officers to Kabul to expedite SIV processing. Secretary Blinken sent an additional 50 people here to expedite processing at the chief of mission stage. We moved operations from Kabul that could be done more effectively here without people having to potentially be in harm’s way as well.
And you can see the efficiencies that we were able to achieve. In March of this year, we were processing about a hundred SIV applications per week. By mid-August of this year, we were processing a thousand SIV applications per week. If my math is right, that’s a tenfold increase. In doing so, we were able to shave more than a year off the average processing time. So this was a program that literally from the start we prioritized, we took from a state of decrepitude and turned into a program that was operating much more efficiently.
Now, what is also true – and I think you’ve heard this from Chairman Milley, you have heard this from the President, you’ve heard this from the Secretary, you’ve heard this from the Intelligence Community – we were all under the impression that we would have had more time. I don’t think there was – there certainly was not widespread consensus that the Taliban would be at the gates of Kabul in August of this year.
And so when you take where we were in August, processing a thousand visas per week, and you look forward as to how many we could have processed going forward if we had the time that just about everyone expected, you can see how those gains would be quite valuable. Those gains will be quite valuable though, because many of them are still relevant to the ongoing SIV processing. Just because we do not have a presence on the ground while our operations in Kabul are suspended, we can still take advantage of those significant processing gains to continue working through cases that remain open for Afghans who have worked for us over the years.
QUESTION: I’ve got a couple of questions about that. A thousand a week would take 80 weeks to accommodate what we estimated to be applicants and families according to some of the original estimates that came from this building. So clearly great progress, but not nearly enough, surging not enough. So —
MR PRICE: So that 80,000 figure is not correct.
QUESTION: So —
MR PRICE: That —
QUESTION: And families.
MR PRICE: That figure is not correct.
QUESTION: Okay. But —
MR PRICE: So —
QUESTION: But you all have acknowledged that a majority were left behind.
MR PRICE: But —
QUESTION: It was acknowledged from this room.
MR PRICE: What we have said —
QUESTION: And given that, why wasn’t the whole program abandoned? It was a failed program you inherited from —
MR PRICE: Abandon the SIV program?
QUESTION: Yes. And I know it was congressionally mandated. That’s not an explanation right now, because there’s criticism from the Pentagon, there’s criticism from Congress, there’s plenty of after-action criticism of this – of this building for not having properly accommodated so many thousands of people. And the fact is that program didn’t work – a broken program that you inherited. Why not start over, figure out how to do it out of country, surge more people? I mean, this was an emergency that you could have foreseen because you knew that there was going to be a withdrawal. You didn’t know exactly when and Kabul, but you knew there was going to be a withdrawal, and clearly it was – it was absolutely not enough to even begin to get – I also had another question.
How are you now getting ground truth about what’s happening with the Taliban, whether they’re living up to the commitments? Because we are hearing horror stories from veterans’ groups who are getting calls from their SIV translators, people who are stuck there, and people are dying while we are waiting to get them accommodated.
MR PRICE: So to your first question, why didn’t we abandon the SIV program, I would take that in a couple different ways. Number one, the commitment that successive administrations have had to those who have stood with us, those who have worked with us, this is something that President Biden, something that Secretary Blinken —
QUESTION: I mean replace it. Replace it with something better.
MR PRICE: Well, but there seems to be a tension in your question, because if time is of the essence, which, of course, we know now it was, I don’t foresee a possibility that we could have abandoned an entire program and started one from scratch and expected to have been – expected to have achieved more, better results than we did.
I think speaking to the results that we achieved – again, we went from a program that, as you said, was decrepit, as you said, was starved of resources, as the State inspector general said was starved of resources.
QUESTION: Deliberately so.
MR PRICE: Deliberately so. We took that from a hundred visas per week to 800 visas per week – to a thousand visas per week. Now, we were not content to stop there, of course. The efficiencies that we had achieved we hoped to have continued to build on, and right now we will continue to take advantage of those efficiencies to process SIVs who remain in the pipeline.
But it is not accurate – there have been lots of numbers thrown around. The 80,000 figure is not an accurate figure. When it comes to the number of SIVs who have – who we were able to evacuate, I know there’s been intense focus on this. Again, we are determined to give you numbers that are both timely but also accurate. And so what we can tell you right now, the best data we have is from the processing that DHS is doing of arrivals who are here in this country. And right now, as of yesterday, there were just over 31,000 individuals who had arrived from Afghanistan. These are individuals who are this country that we can see for ourselves and therefore have the best sense of. About 14 percent of those are U.S. citizens; 9 percent of those are lawful permanent residents; 77 percent of those are Afghans at risk. And so it’s within that broad category of Afghans at risk that SIV holders and SIV applicants would fall into.
But I’ll make an additional point here. We’ve said that there were approximately 5,500 American citizens who were evacuated safely on U.S. military flights; another 500 made their way out of the country via other means. Those numbers are likely to continue to increase, but the number I gave you here was 14 percent of 31,000, which is 4,446. So that is a vast majority of American citizens. And I make that point because these initial figures probably overcount American citizens because they were our first priority, they are our first priority, they were on some of the first flights out. We suspect that as we receive more individuals who were evacuated here in this country, and as that number grows from 31,000 to tens of thousands more, we will find that this category of at-risk Afghans, which again now is at 77 percent of this total, will also grow in time.
So I don’t want to get ahead of where the data is. I think the fact that we will have evacuated tens of thousands of at-risk Afghans – the vast majority of the 124,000 individuals will fall into this category – I think speaks to our ability to keep our commitment to the individuals who have worked with us, who have worked with the United States Government over time.
The other point and the final point I’ll make on this is that that commitment didn’t end on August 31st. I didn’t end yesterday. It will continue into the future.
QUESTION: How are you going to live up to it?
MR PRICE: We will continue to process individuals. We will – we are looking at all possible options that we can use to continue to process individuals and, as necessary, to provide them with documentation if they lack it. Again, the President has spoken of our commitment to bring as many of these individuals who wish to leave Afghanistan to safety. That is not something that we take lightly, and it’s not something – and the SIV program was not something that this President took lightly from day one as well.
QUESTION: Ned – Ned —
QUESTION: And the Taliban question —
QUESTION: The numbers that you just gave ones are the same ones that you gave yesterday.
MR PRICE: Same ones from yesterday. That’s right.
QUESTION: And the Taliban question?
QUESTION: But there’s no change?
MR PRICE: I don’t have an update for today.
QUESTION: The question about judging the Taliban’s – whether they’re living up to their promises?
MR PRICE: So there are any number of ways we have, any number of sources of information that we have that will give us a clear – rather clear picture of the Taliban’s behavior. We have partners on the ground. There are other countries, and we’ve spoken of a couple of them, who retain a presence on the ground. We have sources of information that we don’t speak about publicly; we have sources of information that are available to all of us, and we can see reports on social media. We can – we are regularly in touch with not only American citizens or lawful permanent residents who may remain in Afghanistan, but also SIV holders, other Afghans at risk. So we will use all sources of information available to us to determine whether and how the Taliban is living up to its commitments going forward.
QUESTION: Yeah, I wanted to ask about another group of people that were priority I think early on in this, and that’s the U.S-funded journalists, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Voice of America. What are you telling them today? What should they be doing?
MR PRICE: We are – everyone to whom we have a commitment – and certainly the men and women of USAGM, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, we have a commitment to them. We did everything we could to prioritize their departure in the first instance on a U.S. military plane – when that was no longer possible or looked improbable, on charter flights. The fact is that we were working on their safe evacuation just as the attack struck the airport perimeter. The operational environment changed markedly, unfortunately. It stood in the way of our ability to bring these individuals to safety before August 31st. But I am telling you, we have told them that we have a commitment to these individuals. They have served the American people with their journalism, with their work. We absolutely do have a commitment to them. That is a broad statement of fact.
When it comes to guidance that we are providing them – and this applies to any American citizens who may wish to law, any lawful permanent residents who may wish to live, any Afghans at risk who may wish to leave – we will provide them tailored guidance. But that is not something we will provide to all of you, and we won’t do that for their safety, and we won’t do that because it is tailored to them. And we are working on all possible options to effect their safe departure from Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on the numbers? How many of those USAGM employees were there – or contractors, rather, and how many family members are there?
MR PRICE: So I don’t have a firm figure with me. It has been reported publicly that there are several hundred involved in that group.
QUESTION: Can I go back to something for a second?
MR PRICE: Yep.
QUESTION: You talk about a plan and hypotheticals. Are you saying that that plan has not been enacted and that people who have been flagged, who have red flags for things like terrorism, have not been sent places yet?
MR PRICE: What I’m saying is that in most cases the vetting process is efficient because, again, we’ve surged resources, and in many cases we’ve been able to move people from the Middle East to Europe and, as appropriate, to the United States in the course of – in the course of days.
In cases where that vetting may take longer, we do have options available to us to ensure that only those individuals who have cleared this rigorous security vetting are able to – are able to enter the United States. But I’m just not in a position to detail it.
QUESTION: Can I —
MR PRICE: Yeah.
QUESTION: Sorry. Just on children, to what extent have you found that children have been separated from their parents or are coming – or are traveling by themselves? Can you put any sort of figure on it both outside the United States and those who arrived here?
MR PRICE: Sure. What I can say is that there are very few Afghan children currently arriving to the United States who are not accompanied by an adult known to them. As soon as a minor child is identified as being without any trusted adult, we immediately begin working to reunite these identified minors with their families and with their loved ones. Overseas, unaccompanied minors are referred to international organizations to assess their best interest and to promote family reunification when that’s possible.
Once they arrive to the continental United States, normal protocols for unaccompanied children apply. And in those cases, CBP or another federal agency refers them to the Office of Refugee Resettlement at HHS, and HHS then works to find extended family or other appropriate sponsors to care for the child using established sponsor assessment procedures. Unaccompanied minors not immediately unified with an appropriate caregiver are placed in culturally and aged – age-appropriate facilities. ORR, the Office of Refugee Resettlement, has identified sites that have Dari and Pashtu speakers and that are culturally appropriate in addition to the standing resources we have for all unaccompanied minors.
QUESTION: Right. Can I just ask what – I just want to know what the definition of – what is an adult who is not known to them? Does that have to be a blood – a blood relative?
MR PRICE: I don’t want to be categorical about it.
QUESTION: There are a lot of adults that a child might know who are not savory, for example, characters. So what exactly does that mean?
MR PRICE: I think, Matt, it refers to an adult that is supposed to be the custodian of a child, that is supposed to be traveling with the child. Obviously, it’s difficult for me to be categorical about this because —
QUESTION: Well, I know. But when they show up, does it have to be an aunt, an uncle, a mother? Obviously a mother, father, a brother, a cousin. What —
MR PRICE: The fact is that there —
QUESTION: Or can it be some random person who the kid – like a teacher? Is that – I mean —
MR PRICE: That is not our expectation that that will be the norm. I think what we have —
QUESTION: Whose definition is it? Is it yours, or is it DHS, or HHS?
MR PRICE: What we have said is that we refer —
QUESTION: No, no, I mean —
MR PRICE: We refer them to international organizations, organizations like UNICEF that work with us to assess the child’s condition, who that child may be traveling with, to ensure that that child is safely cared for.
QUESTION: Well, so – okay. So it’s up to whatever organization you designate to determine who an adult that is not known to them or is known to them is, who is an appropriate accompanying person?
MR PRICE: Matt, this is something that adjudicated on a case-by-case basis.
QUESTION: Fair enough. But I just want to know who is making the decision. Is it you guys? Is it DHS? Is it HHS? Is it UNICEF? Is it the Norwegians? Who is it?
MR PRICE: So we are working closely with our partners on the ground. That includes DOD. It includes DHS. But these are judgment calls that are made in the first instance in the first transit point, so in many cases individuals will go to – will go to Qatar, where a first assessment would take place. When a UNICEF referral or when a referral to another NGO is merited, that’s when that would take place.
QUESTION: Ned, can you just go back very quickly to the specific question about the incoming Taliban government? Because I think it is imminent, the announcement of this. And I know it’s too early to say, I know, whether the Biden administration will recognize that government or not, but my question is: Will the administration authorize the delivery of any assistance, humanitarian or otherwise, to an Afghan government or governing council that has on it individuals who are currently designated by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control for sanctions because of their involvement in terrorist activity?
MR PRICE: So there is a very important point here that around the world we have mechanisms in place to deliver humanitarian assistance through providers on the ground in a way that bypasses any government or de facto government entity. So we are confident – again, going through these providers on the ground – that we can continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people in a way that, if inappropriate, would not benefit any future Afghan government.
QUESTION: I understand the nuance, but the reason you cannot name any of those organizations that are on the ground is because you’re afraid that naming them publicly could make them a target for that Taliban government? Is that —
MR PRICE: It is not in our interest and it is not in their interest for us to name them.
QUESTION: Okay, thanks.
QUESTION: I have one question on Afghanistan and one on China. Secretary Blinken has talked to his Chinese counterpart twice within two weeks. Does the State Department feel there is an urgency to seek China’s cooperation on Afghanistan? And during the last phone calls, Chinese State Councilor Wang Yi called all sides to contact and proactively guide the Taliban. Is this approach that you agree on?
MR PRICE: We think it is an urgent priority for the entire international community to be engaged on this. This is why we have galvanized not only the region but the broader community from the earliest moments of this administration and certainly during the earliest moments of this current phase to see to it, to the best of our ability, that the international community was speaking with one voice, that was acting in unison.
We’ve also made the point that it is important for Afghanistan’s neighbors – it is especially important for Afghanistan’s neighbors to play a constructive – to be constructive forces. We have made that clear before the events of August 14th and what has occurred since, and that remains the case now.
So the PRC is an important regional stakeholder. There are certainly areas where our interests are aligned with the PRC when it comes to Afghanistan. The fact that an UNSCR and a statement was able to emanate from the UN Security Council suggests that there is at least some degree of alignment when it comes to the United States and the PRC on these issues.
So it is true that we have engaged our Chinese counterparts, State Councilor Wang, Director Yang. Deputy Secretary Sherman engaged in discussions of Afghanistan when she was in Tianjin last month, I believe it was. So we have done this on a number of occasions knowing the importance of this issue and knowing that we do – there are some areas where our interests are aligned.
QUESTION: So Climate Envoy John Kerry is currently in China, actually in Tianjin. Could you please update us on how is that meeting going? And China is concerned that the climate cooperation is at risk over the political tension. Do you share the concern?
MR PRICE: Well, I believe the special envoy is now in Seoul. I believe he’s concluded his meetings in Tianjin.
What we know is that we are committed to working with the international community and with the PRC on climate as an urgent issue, and we certainly hope that Beijing will engage with us on the same basis on this issue. And we say this because we know we don’t have a choice: There has to be some degree of cooperation on this existential threat. We are the world’s two largest polluters. If we are not able to find a way to cooperate and to work together to achieve greater climate ambitions, it’s not only to our mutual detriment; it is to the broader detriment of the international community.
Without significant additional action by the PRC, whose emissions represent almost 30 percent of that global number, we will be in a much more difficult spot. That is precisely why earlier this year at the climate summit that President Biden convened he announced an ambitious climate target for the United States as well. The world needs us to cooperate together on issues like climate. We think there is certainly space for cooperation. We’ve been able to do it before, and we hope the PRC is able and willing to continue that cooperation.
QUESTION: And just lastly, the White House has indicated that this administration actually is looking forward to engage China at the highest level, like the upcoming G20. Is this still the diplomatic effort that you are pursuing?
MR PRICE: We have said that we will engage the PRC when it is in our interest to do so. Climate is manifestly one of those areas where it is in our interest to do so. But it is a relationship that you’ve heard us say before is multifaceted. It is one that is dominated by competition, and we intend – and our policy towards the PRC is predicated on this idea of competition. And that’s why you’ve heard us in the first instance talk about the investments we’re making here at home when it comes to our own economy, our own workforce, our own infrastructure, our own R&D, our own technological capabilities.
It is also why we have worked concertedly arm-in-arm with our partners and allies around the world. The first international travel Secretary Blinken took was to the Indo-Pacific, where we met with two of our important treaty allies there.
It is also a relationship that is characterized in some areas by adversity and with an adversarial approach, and we all know what those areas are. And then, of course, where there are areas where it’s in our interest, where it’s in the interest of the United States to cooperate with the PRC, we will seek to do that as well. And climate is a good example of that.
QUESTION: Thank you. So Germany today called upon the European Union to enable a coalition to rapidly deploy a military force. That call came after a meeting, discussed the lessons from Afghanistan withdrawal. Do you have any comment on that, and do you believe that coalition, that force, does affect the NATO or the relationship with the U.S.?
MR PRICE: Well, we are aware of the EU discussions on this, and we continue to believe that a stronger, more capable Europe is in our shared interests. It’s in Europe’s interests; it’s in our interests as well. Given the overlapping transatlantic challenges, we won’t succeed without enhanced NATO-EU cooperation. And that’s something that we continue to strongly support. When the democracies that make up NATO, when the democracies that make up the EU stick together, they constitute a tremendous force for a stable and open international order. That is even more the case when the United States is working hand-in-hand with NATO and the EU, who are in turn working with one another.
NATO and the EU must forge stronger and institutional links and leverage each institution’s unique capabilities and strengths to avoid duplication and potential waste of scarce resources. When it comes to the details of this arrangement, we’d, of course, refer you to the EU.
QUESTION: A quick question on Yemen. Today, Secretary Blinken spoke with his Saudi counterpart – according to the readout – says he expressed the United States strong commitment to its longstanding strategic partnership, also the commitment to helping Saudi Arabia defend its people and territories. Does that mean any change in the kind of support that the Saudis get from the U.S., or is it the same? And if it’s the same, how do you support them?
MR PRICE: Well, as you know, the Saudis recently endured another attack from Houthi militants in Yemen. This one was on August 30th, when the Houthis struck against a civilian airport and Abha, wounding eight civilians and damaging a commercial airliner. The fact is that our partner, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, does face a threat from Yemen. We are standing with our partner. We obviously have robust security and counterterrorism cooperation. And if there are any changes we have to announce, we will.
QUESTION: There’s been some reporting out there to the effect that the administration viewed planned efforts to evacuate Afghans by individuals or veterans’ groups or advocacy organizations as sort of an impediment, that, at times, it may have caused problems at Kabul airport. Can you speak to that? Is that the case?
MR PRICE: Well, I think you have to speak about this looking back and looking forward. There’s been a lot of misreporting out there on the issue of charters. The fact is that the Secretary has said the department is prepared to help U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and at-risk Afghans – those Afghans to whom we have a special commitment – depart the country if they so choose. We have said that we are looking at all possible options to assist these priority groups to depart the country, again, if they so choose to do that.
When it comes to the charters – and this gets to your first – the first element of your question – we facilitated the evacuation of thousands of these individuals aboard charter aircraft from Hamid Karzai International Airport during the U.S. military-led operation. The U.S. military, the State Department, we were constantly coordinating with charter companies, with groups that sought to bring in charters to HKIA during that period. And it was a successful effort that, again, was able to evacuate thousands upon thousands of individuals, including on these charters.
Now, however, we’re in a different phase. We understand the concern that many are feeling as they try to facilitate charters and other forms of passage out of Afghanistan. The fact of the matter now is that we do not have personnel on the ground. We do not have air assets in the country. We do not control the airspace, whether over Afghanistan or anywhere else in the region. And so the misimpression that is out there that we are preventing or even the idea that we could prevent a charter flight from taking off – that is simply untrue. We could not and we are not.
What we are doing is we are expediting and providing all support and documentation within the department’s authority to facilitate landings in third countries. But again, this is not something we control. This is not in our hands. And so given these constraints, I also want to mention the fact that there are added complexities because we don’t have a reliable means to confirm the basic details of charter flights, including who may be organizing them, the number of American citizens or other priority individuals on board, the accuracy of the rest of the manifest, where they plan to land – there are a whole host of issues that, again, are just outside of our control.
There’s also the issue of where these flights would go, and we know that ISIS-K, as we have seen of late, has a keen interest in attacks and a keen interest in attacks against aviation targets. And so 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. 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.
So there are a range of factors to consider, but the idea that we are preventing charters or could prevent a charter is simply untrue. In fact, we are doing all we can to facilitate where we can.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on the first part of that question? Just – so to go back to the evacuation operations themselves, though, did you view their role at any point in time as an impediment, as some reporting has said?
MR PRICE: Again, this would be a question better posed to DOD, because the air traffic control operations —
QUESTION: Not just the air traffic control, but getting people through the gates, getting them to the airport.
MR PRICE: What we said – and we tried to be very clear in our messaging here – is that the – what we tried to prevent was large groups of people, uncoordinated groups, coming to the gates of the airport. And unfortunately, we all saw the peril associated with that several days ago. So certainly, we welcomed the efforts of nongovernmental organizations, of advocacy groups, of those who were – just like us, just like our partners on the ground – seeking to facilitate the safe evacuation of their citizens, of their partners. We welcomed that. What we discouraged were large, uncoordinated movements to the airport that in fact posed a severe, profound danger to the safety and security of the very people these groups were seeking to evacuate.
QUESTION: Can I just ask another follow-up, then, on the second part of your first answer? So what is your recommendation now, then? Given all the complexities that you laid out, are you advising these groups to not try to carry out missions of some kind to evacuate folks?
MR PRICE: We – and I will tell you this as someone who was on a call as recently as 12:30 a.m. last night, 1:00 a.m. this morning – we are advising groups on a case-by-case basis. We are advising them to ensure that they know what we’re in a position to do, what we’re not in a position to do, the risks that are associated with this. And where it is possible for us to help facilitate, where it is appropriate for us to help facilitate, that is something we stand ready to do.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on people who are not on your priority list? There is a group of more than a hundred journalists, many supported by U.S. grants – Afghan journalists who are not P-1s or P-2s because they were not working for American companies but they were doing what we encouraged them to do, which is to start working in television, in print, in radio, and social media in Afghanistan. They were vetted by a number of women’s groups that you know very well. They never got to the gates because they never got approval because they were never priority. We had planes ready to take them out. They’re still stranded there. What do people in that category, who aren’t on the U.S. priority, do?
MR PRICE: So Andrea, there are going to be a number of Afghans at risk, people who may not fall into the SIV category, people who may not necessarily fall into the P-1 category, but people who may be eligible for P-2 referral, for example, or other categories —
QUESTION: Well, if they didn’t work for American companies, how are they P-2 eligible?
MR PRICE: So P-2 eligible, you can work for an NGO, you can work for an American media company, you can be an affiliate. There are a number of ways.
It’s also not just the United States that is seeking to facilitate the safe departure of individuals from Afghanistan. There are a number of other countries that are doing this, and we have, in fact, been coordinating very closely with our partners. We did that during the U.S. military-led evacuation and we’re doing that now, coordinating very closely in this current phase, where we’re seeking to facilitate the safe departure of those who wish to leave Afghanistan.
Thank you all very much.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:06 p.m.)
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