“I want to see actions, not just words,” Blumenthal said.
[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – In case you missed it, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, appeared on CNN International on Friday to urge the State Department to prioritize the departure of planes carrying highly vulnerable Afghans, Americans, and their families, which are waiting to leave in Mazar-e Sharif. During his appearance on CNN, Blumenthal read a portion of a statement shared with him by an Afghan-born 26-year veteran of the U.S. military who is fighting to evacuate family members, including SIV applicants and recipients, from Mazar-e Sharif.
“So many of my brothers and sisters in and out of uniform are in disbelief that America could abandon Afghan allies who put their lives on the line for us, and whom we promised to protect and bring to America when we left. Now we are leaving them to be slaughtered,” the veteran wrote to Blumenthal.
In the full statement shared with Blumenthal, the veteran, who has served her entire adult life on active duty as an intelligence officer, also described the experience of her relatives waiting to leave Afghanistan.
“All of the SIV applicants in my family have spouses, siblings, and/or parents who are U.S. Citizens, yet they cannot get visas, and every time there was hope they could get out, it’s been dashed. I haven’t slept or eaten for four weeks, wracked with fear that my family might die because of my service in the U.S. military…This policy needs to change. These at-risk Afghans need to be flown out of Afghanistan into safety & then vetted by Americans.”
Blumenthal has been significantly involved in efforts to help Americans and Afghan allies leave Afghanistan over the last several weeks. Working with a coalition of volunteers, veterans, journalists, and advocates, Blumenthal and his office have provided critical assistance to help secure safe passage from Mazar-e Sharif for two planes carrying American citizens, Legal Permanent Residents, interpreters and other vulnerable Afghans, and their families.
“The United States has options, we need to use them. These planes on the ground on the tarmac ready to leave are among those options. And now we need to heighten the pressure on the Taliban and make sure that we use every point of leverage,” Blumenthal said during the CNN interview.
Blumenthal’s remarks are copied below. A Twitter thread including quotes from the veteran’s statement to Blumenthal can be found here.
CNN Anchor Lynda Kinkdae: Well, all this week, we've been following the situation in Afghanistan. Mazar-e-Sharif where hundreds of people are stranded waiting for charter flights that have not been cleared to fly. Among them are American citizens, Green Card holders, those with Special Immigrant Visas, and Afghan allies who had been promised they could leave. The U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, said on Tuesday that without personnel on the ground, it was difficult to verify the documents of the passengers. But then later this week said it was the Taliban holding up the departures. While U.S. Democratic Senator, Richard Blumenthal, is furious about the delays, he says the U.S. must heighten pressure to release the planes immediately and urgently. He joins us now live from Hartford, Connecticut. Senator Blumenthal, good to have you with us.
U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT): Thank you, Lynda. Thanks for having me.
Kincade: So there are U.S. citizens and Green Card holders stuck at Mazar-e Sharif, they've been busting, the planes are there. What's the holdup?
Blumenthal: This situation is increasingly desperate and urgent. Many of these individuals have targets on their backs because they have sided with the United States, indeed protected and helped our troops and diplomats and so now they are at risk as a result of torture and murder, and many are in hiding. Likewise, there are United States citizens in extreme danger. And the holdup now seems to be the Taliban. But for some days, it was our own United States State Department, and very much welcome now the United States government's cooperation and support that they need to heighten the pressure, use every available tool with leverage on the Taliban. The Qataris have been very helpful, as you know from the interviews on this very show, the Albanians had been and supportive. And I just want to read you one thing, a message that came to me from an Afghan-born veteran of the United States military, 26-year veteran who wrote to me, "So many of my brothers and sisters in and out of uniform are in disbelief that America could abandon Afghan allies who put their lives on the line for us, and whom we promised to protect and bring to America when we left. Now we are leaving them to be slaughtered." Veterans groups have been part of the coalition that we have also cooperated with in trying to eliminate all of the holdups here and humanitarian relief, NGO organizations. So there's a very formidable coalition here.
Kinkade: Senator, talk to us about how many people are there because this city is the fourth biggest in Afghanistan, these people have been there for days, I understand some teenage girls, some athletes, a part of the group, they're there without their families, how many people were talking about?
Blumenthal: We're talking about at least 700 people who are in and around the airport in the city. The Taliban have said that international flights can go only from Kabul, so it may be necessary to take these planes, the two planes that would take those 700 people to Kabul and thence to either Qatar or Albania. But, you know, we have more information on these individuals, regardless of the exact number, than was available for the tens of thousands airlifted out of Kabul when the United States military was there. So the security issue is really a non-issue.
Kinkade: So hat means you've got the documentation. You say you're furious at the government, the U.S. Biden administration had promised to get out all U.S. citizens before leaving Afghanistan. But of course, the U.S. is now gone. And the U.S. Secretary of State said that the U.S. is doing everything in its power. Is it?
Blumenthal: I want to hold the State Department accountable for that commitment. I want to see action, not just words. The State Department has evolved its position and I welcome the apparent support for getting these individuals out of the country and the humanitarian nightmare as the president promised to do. There's a dilemma here, no question about it, Lynda. We have no presence, military or otherwise, in Afghanistan. But that was a result of a conscious decision to withdraw. I expressed some reservations about withdrawing all our troops before we had all the American citizens and Afghan allies out of the country. But now we have means to do it, there are alternatives. The United States has options, we need to use them. These planes on the ground on the tarmac ready to leave are among those options. And now we need to heighten the pressure on the Taliban and make sure that we use every point of leverage.
Kinkade: Senator, tell me more about those options. Just what can the U.S. do to exert more pressure on the Taliban if that is now the current holdup to get these citizens, these Afghan allies out of Afghanistan? What more can be done right now?
Blumenthal: The Afghanistan economy is in freefall, the Taliban have to govern. We have sanctions. We have rewards, carrots and sticks. We have partners like the Qataris who are on the ground. And we have other points of leverage that can be used. And I'm not going to go into all of them as a member of the Armed Services Committee. I'm familiar with some of them at least. But I do think that the President -- and I take him at his word, is determined to rescue our Afghan allies who served as our interpreters, our translators, guards, drivers, protecting with their lives and their families' lives, American troops and diplomats and I believe the President when he says that we will not cease our efforts and I also believe that the Secretary of State Tony Blinken is committed to this cause as well, and I'm glad that it has reached his level of attention, and that the State Department is now actively participating.
Kinkade: Senator Richard Blumenthal, in Connecticut, we appreciate your time and the effort that you're making and we hope you can get those people out as soon as possible. Thanks so much.
Blumenthal: Thank you.