by Andrew Kerr
The State Department said it will “no longer” charge Americans thousands of dollars to board evacuation flights out of Afghanistan, but it did say if it will reimburse those that have already been charged.
State Department spokesman Ned Price issued a statement to the press Thursday afternoon saying the Biden administration has “no intention of seeking any reimbursement from those fleeing Afghanistan.” But as of late Friday afternoon, nearly 24 hours after Price issued his statement, Americans seeking to secure evacuation out of Kabul continue to be told in a required government form that they’ll need to reimburse the U.S. government upwards of $2,000 or more for their evacuation.
“Repatriation flights are not free,” question 14 of the Repatriation Assistance form stated late Friday afternoon. “A promissory note for the full cost of the flight, which may exceed $2,000 per person, must be signed by each adult passenger before boarding.”
The State Department provided the Daily Caller News Foundation an “off the record” comment in an email late Thursday afternoon saying they were “currently working to update this information across all of our web and social media platforms.”
The U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan has issued no public notice to American citizens reflecting Price’s statement that flights out of Afghanistan will now be provided at no charge, and the Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs continues to state that federal law requires the government to charge citizens for evacuations during crisis situations.
Politico first reported Thursday afternoon that sources on the ground witnessed the State Department charging American citizens who had made their way past armed Taliban checkpoints and into the Kabul airport upwards of $2,000 to board evacuation flights. The outlet added that noncitizens were being charged even greater sums to board flights out of Afghanistan.
When asked why fleeing Americans were still being told in official government resources they’ll need to buy their way out of Afghanistan hours after Price issued his statement, a State Department spokesperson told the Daily Caller News Foundation late Thursday: “We will no longer be asking people on evacuation flights to sign promissory notes.”
However, the State Department did not provide an answer when asked if it would cancel or refund any American citizens who had already signed promissory notes prior to Price’s statement, or if it plans to update the repatriation form that, according to the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan, must be completed for any Americans seeking evacuation flights out of the country.
Instead, the State Department press office told the DCNF to “expect this issue will be addressed” at Price’s press briefing Friday afternoon. The issue was not addressed during Price’s press conference, and he made no mention of the State Department’s intention to no longer impose fees on Americans fleeing Afghanistan.
The State Department did not provide an answer when asked after Price’s press conference if any American citizens who have already signed promissory notes to board flights out of Afghanistan will be cancelled.
“U.S. law generally requires that evacuation assistance to private U.S. citizens or third country nationals be provided ‘on a reimbursable basis to the maximum extent practicable.’ However, the Secretary has the authority to address extenuating circumstances related to urgent foreign policy objectives,” a State Department spokesperson said. “We are not collecting promissory notes from travelers departing Afghanistan. The situation is extremely fluid, and we are working to overcome obstacles as they arise.”
Numerous reporters described scenes of total chaos in and around the Kabul airport late Thursday evening and Friday morning.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul signaled in its security bulletin Thursday that American citizens would not receive support from the U.S. government as they make their way through armed Taliban checkpoints to the Kabul airport.
“The U.S. government cannot ensure safe passage to the airport,” the embassy said Thursday. “Due to large crowds and security concerns, gates may open or close without notice. Please use your best judgment and attempt to enter the airport at any gate that is open.”
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Wednesday that the U.S. military doesn’t have the capability to rescue Americans that can’t make their way to the airport, and the State Department acknowledged Thursday that there have been reports of Taliban forces blocking American citizens from reaching the airfield.
The White House announced Friday morning that 3,000 people, 350 of which were American citizens, were evacuated from the Kabul airport on military evacuation flights on Thursday, bringing the total number of evacuations since Kabul fell to the Taliban on Saturday to approximately 9,000 people.
But CNN reporter Clarissa Ward reported Friday morning that there have not been any U.S. flights out of the Kabul airport for around eight hours amid the chaos.
.@clarissaward is inside the Kabul airport and it's still total chaos: "During the last 8 hours… we have not seen a single U.S. flight evacuate people." #FFS @KateBolduan @CNN
— Josh Rogin (@joshrogin) August 20, 2021
Newsy Reporter Sasha Ingber tweeted Friday morning that the situation in Afghanistan “is rapidly deteriorating,” adding that a source informed her that Americans traveling to the Kabul airport were beaten by the Taliban.
Yesterday @PentagonPresSec said Americans are not being impeded as they travel to the Kabul airport, no Americans harmed. The Taliban agreed to let them evacuate. What I am hearing suggests otherwise. Americans have been injured and stopped from boarding planes.
— Sasha Ingber (@SashaIngber) August 20, 2021
“One of them, an American woman, was beaten ‘twice’ even though she was carrying a U.S. passport,” Ingber reported.
The Pentagon said Thursday it did not know how many Americans are still in Afghanistan awaiting evacuation. The State Department estimated there were between 5,000 and 10,000 citizens left in the country, Forbes reported.
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Andrew Kerr is a reporter at Daily Caller News Foundation.
Photo “Joe Biden” by Gage Skidmore CC BY-SA 2.0.