Aug 17, 2021
State Department Ned Price Press Conference Transcript August 17: Afghanistan & Taliban Takeover
State Department Spokesman Ned Price held a press conference on August 17, 2021. He provided an update on the situation in Afghanistan and the Taliban takeover of Kabul. Read the transcript of the full briefing here.
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Ned Price: (00:00)
Let me just start with an update on Afghanistan, the Department of State is working around the clock to facilitate the swift safe evacuation of American citizens, Special Immigrant Visa holders, and other vulnerable Afghans. We remain committed to accelerating flights for SIVs and other vulnerable Afghans as quickly as possible. The safety and security of US government employees and US citizens overseas is our top priority as well.
Ned Price: (00:27)
The Department of Defense has secured Hamid Karzai International Airport, so that military and commercial flights can resume. Our staff on the ground is communicating with American citizens in Kabul who are not at the airport with instructions on when and how to get there. We have communicated to the first tranche of American citizens who have requested evacuation assistance. Our team is working hand in glove with military colleagues to help load planes safely and securely and as fast as possible.
Ned Price: (00:55)
We’ve now completed our drawdown to the core diplomatic presence we need, and at this time we will no longer need to facilitate departures for our embassy personnel. All remaining embassy staff will be assisting departures from Afghanistan, and the department is surging resources and consular affairs personnel to augment the relocation of American citizens and Afghan special immigrants, and elsewhere, adding personnel to assist with P1, P2 adjudication processing.
Ned Price: (01:26)
We successfully relocated many of our locally employed staff and are in direct contact with the remainder to determine who is interested in relocation and the process for doing so. Ambassador John Bass, a seasoned career diplomat and former ambassador to Afghanistan, Turkey and Georgia is heading to Kabul today to lead logistics coordination and consular efforts. A career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Ambassador Bass brings decades of experience from service at seven US missions overseas and in leadership positions including, executive secretary here in Washington. Ambassador Wilson, who has remained in Kabul will continue to lead our diplomatic engagement.
Ned Price: (02:04)
At the same time, there is intensive work by our Afghanistan Task Force with colleagues working 24/7 here in Washington and it posts around the world. This is a whole of government effort and we will continue to respond quickly to evolving conditions. Secretary Blinken has been in constant contact with his foreign counterparts. Just today, he spoke with Qatari Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mohammed Abdulrahman Al-Thani and Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nasser Al-Mohammad Al-Sabah, thanking them for assistance in facilitating the transit of us citizens and embassy Kabul personnel through Doha and Kuwait city. He has also continued to be in close and regular contact with the President and the broader national security and foreign policy team. So with that, I’m happy to take your questions.
[inaudible 00:02:53]. Just extremely briefly on Ambassador Bass, he’s going to oversee the evacuation?
Ned Price: (03:02)
So this is in addition to every-
And if that’s what it is, then why didn’t he go several days ago or last week?
Ned Price: (03:12)
So this is a massive logistical undertaking. Our diplomatic presence in Kabul, this is a focus of theirs. Obviously, there is a lot of other important business that needs to get done from management to engagements with Afghans. And so what Ambassador Bass will be doing is overseeing the logistics of this rather large, rather ambitious, expansive operation. He’ll be using and leveraging his managerial expertise and logistics experience to help Ambassador Wilson and the broader embassy Kabul management team with this challenge.
But he’s not going there to negotiate with the Taliban [crosstalk 00:04:02]?
Ned Price: (04:01)
He is not, he is going there to work on the nuts and bolts of this, just given how logistically challenging this is.
Okay. And then, I’m sure you saw Jake’s briefing at the White House, but he said that you do have an agreement with the Taliban to allow safe passage for people to get to the airport. My question is, though, if you have such an agreement for that, one, how long does it go for? And then two, if you have an agreement for the airport, why couldn’t you have gotten an agreement for the embassy? Why just leave this very expensive, large compound empty and open for whoever wants to go into it?
Ned Price: (04:48)
Well, to your first question, we have received assurances from the Taliban that they will allow safe passage to civilians transiting to the airport. Let me just be very clear about this, we take it for what it is. These are the words of the Taliban, we will, of course, be looking for one thing and one thing only, and that is follow for it. It is our expectation that they allow safe passage, that they allow us to conduct our operations on the Hamid Karzai International Airport compound. And that, of course, they not target civilians who are making that transit to the airport.
Ned Price: (05:32)
I would reiterate another point here, and that is that it is not just the United States that is calling for this, it is not something that is merely enshrined in international law. Yesterday, I spoke about a joint statement that the United States put together with 98 signatories over the course of the past day. The signatories have grown, there are now over a hundred countries, countries from Albania to Zambia, who have signed on to this statement, calling on all parties to respect and facilitate the safe and orderly departure of foreign nationals and Afghans who wish to leave the country. Part and parcel of that, is safe passage to the HKIA compound.
There are embassies that are not evacuating, that have not left. The Chinese and the Russians are still there, they’re going about day-to-day business. So-
Ned Price: (06:26)
This is a sovereign decision that every country will have to come to. When it comes to the United States, you have heard us say before that this President has no higher priority, Secretary Blinken has no higher priority than the safety and security of Americans who are serving overseas. That is why as the situation began to change rapidly, late last week, we made the decision to begin relocating our embassy presence to the airport compound. Of course, that was accelerated as the conditions continued to evolve in the ensuing days [inaudible 00:07:02].
Speaker 1: (07:03)
Ned, can I have some [inaudible 00:07:04] reaction from you on the Taliban press conference? As I’m sure you’ve seen, they’ve made a number of assurances, and the world obviously takes it with a pinch of salt, Jake Sullivan spoke to it a little bit, he also said that he wanted the team to be able to talk to Taliban, what does that exactly mean? What is the US plan in terms of engagement? What is the bigger strategy going forward in terms of recognizing them? And I want to squeeze in the second one while I can. Kosovo, Albania have said they’ll take in SIV applicants, North Macedonian also did, Uganda did, could you give us a few details about the plan here for these countries in terms of numbers, and what is the latest in the negotiations with Kuwait in terms of SIV applicants?
Ned Price: (07:57)
Great. There’s a lot there, let me try and remember all of that and take it in turn.
Speaker 1: (08:00)
I will remind you if you need me to.
Ned Price: (08:01)
Okay, I’m sure you will. So when it comes to our engagement with the Taliban, we made clear yesterday that even as the situation on the ground began to change markedly over the course of the last week, we remained engaged with Taliban interlocutors in Doha. This is the channel that had been operative for some time that we use together with the international community to support the intra-Afghan dialogue. Of course, through our support for the intra-Afghan dialogue, we took part in separate discussions on a regular basis, every time the special representative for Afghan reconciliation was in Doha, he would meet separately with representatives of the Islamic Republic, that is to say the government of Afghanistan and Taliban representatives. That has continued, that continued over the course of the weekend.
Ned Price: (08:57)
Now, as the situation began to change, of course, so too did the focus of those talks. It became less narrowly focused on achieving a political outcome and supporting that. And it became much, much more focused on the safety security of our people on the grounds, of civilians on the ground, everything that we could be in a position to do to limit any violence, to limit any bloodshed in Kabul. So that is the channel in Doha.
Ned Price: (09:36)
We have also said that there has been engagement with the Taliban on the ground in Kabul. This is a military led channel. It is a channel that is tactical, that again is focused rather squarely on issues like safe passage for civilians. That is what we are working on concertedly right now. It is manifestly in our interest to have these open channels of dialogue with the Taliban. Again, as you heard from the national security advisor, we have received assurances, but what matters, the only thing that matters to us are actions and not necessarily just words. We’re going to be looking for the follow through. We’ll be looking for the deeds.
Ned Price: (10:24)
I mentioned in the context of the safe passage statement that the United States galvanized and released about 48 hours ago, a little less than that, regarding safe passage for civilians in Kabul, there’s another notable document that I called your attention to yesterday, but it’s still rather noteworthy in this regard. And that’s the statement that emanated from the UN Security Council. The unanimous statement of the UN Security Council calling for the immediate cessation of all hostilities and the establishment through inclusive negotiations of a new government, and a new government that enshrines, that protects, that upholds the basic rights of all Afghans. So this is something we continue to support, a political resolution to what we are seeing unfold. Perhaps even more importantly, this is something the international community continues to support in very tangible ways, including by speaking unanimously as the security council, which as you know is often not an easy feat. These are some of our-
Speaker 1: (11:44)
This was only yesterday.
Ned Price: (11:44)
Speaker 1: (11:45)
What about the press conference today?
Ned Price: (11:48)
Which element of it?
Speaker 1: (11:49)
Well, I mean, what is your reaction to it? You’ve heard them give a number assurances, how are you going to form your strategy? Are you thinking about recognizing them? All of this is… I get it, but you’ve said very similar things, almost identical yesterday.
Ned Price: (12:02)
Again, any future relationship between the Taliban and the United States or the Taliban and much of the international community for that matter, which is what we saw reflected by the UN Security Council, is going to be predicated on deeds. Words matter, words are important, words can be reassuring, words can signal, but what we are going to be looking for are deeds. We want to see the follow through. If the Taliban says that they are going to respect the rights of their citizens, we will be looking for them to uphold that statement, to make good on that statement. Just as importantly, the world is going to be looking for them to make good on that statement. The United States will be watching closely, and the broader international community we’ll be watching closely with us. Yes, Christina.
On that point, you say you have an agreement with them to let civilians pass checkpoints into the airports. We’ve heard from multiple Afghans, my colleagues are interviewing a family right now who were stopped at checkpoints by the Taliban and prevented from getting to the airport, this is not a singular case. Furthermore, President Biden yesterday said some of the Afghans who qualified for SIV status chose not to leave. When Jen Psaki just spoke, she said there was a contingent that did not take advantage and depart. That’s a different thing, and what we’ve heard from Afghans on the ground is they didn’t depart because they couldn’t get to the airport. Is it my understanding that the US is still not providing any transportation either to Americans or to SIVs trying to get to the airport to depart [inaudible 00:13:36]?
Ned Price: (13:36)
I’ll tell you what we are doing. We are doing everything we possibly can in a very fluid and dynamic and challenging security environment-
I understand that [crosstalk 00:13:47]-
Ned Price: (13:48)
… to bring to safety as many people who wish to do so. There are broad categories of individuals that we’re prioritizing. In the first instance we repatriated many of our embassy staff-
Ned, that’s not my question. My question is, are you providing any kind of transportation for people who need to get to the airport? Are you considering a safe zone around the airport to make it easier for people to access these flights if they qualify?
Ned Price: (14:14)
We are doing everything we can in a challenging and dynamic security environment.
It’s a yes or no question.
Ned Price: (14:20)
We are engaging with the Taliban, we’ve heard these assurances of safe passage. Again, their words are only worth their words. We are going to be looking for follow through. We are going to be-
But they’re not following through, is what I’m telling you.
Ned Price: (14:33)
We are watching very closely, Christina. This is a fluid situation. As my colleague mentioned, we notified the first tranche of American citizens in Afghanistan yesterday who had, well overnight, I should say, who had expressed an interest in being repatriated to the United States. Many of those individuals arrived at the airport, many of them have been repatriated. US military flights today-
But two of them are telling us right now they can’t get to the airport and they’ve gone back home, so [crosstalk 00:15:07].
Ned Price: (15:07)
I can’t speak to individual cases. What I can speak to is what we are seeking to do. We are doing everything within our power to effect a corridor of safe passage for civilians. Of course, that includes American citizens who are seeking to make their way to HKIA for repatriation, safe passage for other civilians, whether those are Afghans who have been referred for P1, for P2, the SIV program, for our locally engaged staff at the embassy. We are going to continue to do all we can. This is a dynamic, it’s a fluid security environment. If we’re in a position to do more, I can guarantee you, we will do as much as we can.
That’s not something you can do at the moment?
Ned Price: (16:01)
At the moment we are doing everything we can to allow civilians to be able to transit to the airport. Our message remains for American citizens and for others who have expressed interest in relocation out of Afghanistan, shelter in place until and unless you receive a communication from the US Embassy. As I said, we notified the first tranche of American citizens overnight who had expressed interest in being repatriated. In those messages, we provide specific information about precisely where they should go on the airport compound, and it tells them precisely when to go. This is, again, a challenging security environment, so unless and until individuals are instructed by the US Embassy to make their way to the HKIA compound, we are asking them to remain in place.
Right, but these are people who have been instructed and they can’t get there, so what is your advice to be Americans who have been notified, they have the…
… Get there. So what is your advice to the Americans who have been notified, they have the email from you, they have the instructions, they can’t get there, they went back home and they’re hiding in their apartments?
Ned Price: (17:09)
We tell them in our our communications that their safety needs to be their top priority. If they feel that it is unsafe for them to make their way to the airport, they should not seek to do so. We will continue to do all we can, and we will continue to be in touch with them, I should say, to provide clear guidance about when and how they should make their way to the airport compound. Andrea?
Ned Price: (17:38)
Sorry. What was the SIV question?
You guys are having all these talks with Kosovo, Albania, and what is the latest with Kuwait? Secretary had a phone call with the foreign minister.
Ned Price: (17:49)
Okay. So the secretary did have a phone call today, plural, with Kuwait, with his Kuwaiti and [inaudible 00:17:55] counterparts. He took advantage of those calls to thank them for their willingness to allow safe transit of individuals who we are relocating from Afghanistan. We have received, in recent days, even recent hours, we’ve heard very generous offers from a number of different countries. Some of those offers have been very public, as in the case, you referenced, of course, our neighbors to the North, Canada, has demonstrated extraordinary generosity in opening their doors for individuals who wish to relocate from Afghanistan. We are in touch with a number of countries who may be interested in hosting, or in some way facilitating the safe passage of individuals seeking to depart Afghanistan.
Ned Price: (18:48)
We are also asking. We are asking countries around the world to step up, to demonstrate their goodwill, their generosity of spirit to these vulnerable Afghans that the United States, and I should say the Department of State working hand in hand with the Department of Defense is doing everything we can to relocate. Andrea?
Do you have a number for Albania, Kosovo, Kuwait in total?
Ned Price: (19:15)
I don’t have a number to give you right now. Andrea?
First of all, what confidence do you have in the Taliban’s statement that women would be invited into the government and can have certain freedoms, but under Sharia law? What does that mean to you?
Ned Price: (19:33)
Well, I think what will matter is what that looks like, is what that looks like when and if we see it put into practice. Throughout this process, whether it was in Doha, whether it is now on the ground in Kabul, whether it is us parsing the Taliban’s public statements, we have never taken them squarely at their word. We have listened to what they have had to say. We have assessed what they are saying publicly and privately, arraigned that against everything else we know and have heard and have learned. But throughout this process, we have never taken them squarely at their word.
But doesn’t that, by definition, just by their words, consign women to a different category than other workers in the government or others that they were talking about?
Ned Price: (20:30)
Andrea, we’ve heard quite a bit from Taliban officials over the past hours and even several days. We are taking stock of everything that they have said. Most important, we are going to be looking for how they comport themselves, at the way they treat their people, at how they fulfill the obligation, the solemn obligation they have to respect the basic and fundamental rights of all of their people, including half of their citizens, the women and girls of Afghanistan.
Ned Price: (21:13)
But I will say it is not just the United States that is watching closely. What is even more important here is that the international community is doing that. You saw that expressed in no uncertain terms by the UN Security Council, and you have seen any number of countries come forward to say that they may be able to work with the Taliban if they guarantee these fundamental and basic rights of their citizens. But conversely, and this is important, any government that denies those rights, that ignores the freedoms, the liberties, and the basic rights that every person on earth should enjoy, a government that harbors terrorists, a government that takes hostages, that is not certainly an entity that the United States could work with. And we’ve heard countries around the world say something very similar.
Well, let me parse that because you’re talking about the security council. A member of the security council [inaudible 00:22:29] is moving towards recognition of the Taliban already, without any guarantees of human rights or any other guarantees.
Ned Price: (22:37)
It just so happens that China, the People’s Republic of China, is a permanent member of the UN Security Council. So I can tell you precisely what they said when they signed on to the statement on August 16th.
But what they’re doing today is moving towards recognizing the Taliban.
Ned Price: (22:58)
I am going to have to defer to officials in Beijing to speak to what they’re doing. I can tell you precisely what they signed onto, precisely what-
But what does that tell you about their intent?
Ned Price: (23:10)
I’m not here to divine the intent of the PRC government. I am here to point out precisely what they have signed their name onto. The PRC government signed off on-
You’ve seen the resolution.
Ned Price: (23:27)
Well, and it is an important piece of paper because not only the PRC government, but other permanent and other members of the security council also signed onto it. But let me just make the point on the PRC and other governments. It is not only this UN Security Council statement. We have spoken, including in recent days, of a number of groupings of countries that have, over the course of months or even longer, lent their voices and their efforts to supporting an inter Afghan dialogue, supporting a political settlement between the parties. When it comes to the PRC, they are a member of the extended Troika. The extended Troika, as recently as recent days, has spoken with one voice about the need for a negotiated political settlement through a process that is owned and led by the Afghan people, a forceful takeover that ignores the basic and fundamental rights of those very Afghan people would not be consistent with what we have heard from any number of countries, including the PRC.
But that’s the situation on the ground. Let me ask you another question. This statement, highly unusual statement from President Bush and Laura Bush, joint statement about the urgency to take care of refugees, including a much larger population, they’re calling for a much more expensive refugee program. They say that we have the responsibility, a moral responsibility, a legal responsibility. The other sources, members of Congress say they passed the legislation on the defense supplemental. It’s all there. And they’re talking about the kind of broader refugee program that goes well beyond the categories you have identified that is closer to what we saw after Vietnam and the Cuban migrations, and talking to [inaudible 00:25:30] today and other former officials from many administrations, those migrations deeply enriched our country with people of great intellect and vigor and abilities, such as the [inaudible 00:25:47].
So is the State Department going to go beyond these categories, and according to the Bush’s, cut the red tape? We have an obligation to get rid of all this bureaucratic red tape. And with that supplemental and with what the Congress passed, members of Congress, many Democrats are saying that you guys are being way too bureaucratic in the requirements to get the people out of there and then process them.
Ned Price: (26:11)
Andrea, that is precisely what we are trying to do. Our goal is to bring to safety as many Afghans as we possibly can for as long as we can. We have spoken to the broad categories of Afghans for whom we are going to extraordinary lengths to bring them to safety. We have spoken about the Afghan special immigrant visa holders. We have spoken about those so-called priority one referrals to the US refugee assistance program. The new category for Afghans, these are Afghans who have helped the American people over the years, who have worked closely with US organizations, NGOs-
But what about the larger program and how do they get to Kabul?
Ned Price: (27:07)
How do these people ever get to Kabul, no less the airport?
Ned Price: (27:12)
NGOs and media organizations as well. This was a broad and new category that we announced to recital and even a larger universe, but we are also working to do all we can for a category of Afghans we’re calling Afghans at risk. And Afghans at risk refers to women. It refers to girls, to human rights defenders, journalists, other civil society actors who might not otherwise qualify for the SIV program, for the P1 referral or for the so-called priority two referral.
Ned Price: (27:51)
So again, we are going to extraordinary lengths. We are gratified to have a partner in Congress, that over the course of several weeks now, we have worked with, especially in the context of the SIV program to cut some of that red tape. As you know, the SIV program, it is defined by statute. If memory serves, there are 14 steps that were written into statute that an SIV applicant would need to go through before he or she could be considered a special immigrant and be granted access to the United States.
Ned Price: (28:38)
But let me just offer a bit more context because I think it’s important as to what we’ve done. When this administration came into office… Let me just take a step even further back. We have spoken of the SIV program, of course, in recent days, in recent weeks, but this is a program that has existed for years now. The United States government, over the course of those many years, has welcomed more than 76,000 Afghan special immigrants. That is to say Afghans who, at great personal risk to themselves or to their families, have helped the United States government over the years. In recent days alone, we have brought 2000 of them to the United States. And most of them have now begun their new lives through refugee, through… Christina, I promise I’ll come back to you-
I understand. But we all have questions about today. So if you [inaudible 00:29:42] that’s fine, but we know this history, Ned. We do. We’ve got limited time. We’ve got a lot of questions.
Ned Price: (29:45)
I will come right back to you, but let me just, because I think the context is not unimportant. What is also true is that when we came into office, there was a large backlog of SIV applicants, of SIV applicants who had waited months or even longer. We have gone to extraordinary lengths since the earliest days of this administration to shorten that backlog, to cut some of that red tape. We have worked with Congress-
[inaudible 00:30:20] We’re way behind. Not you personally, but the State Department lagged terribly on this and they had to force this legislation.
Ned Price: (30:27)
This was a backlog, Andrea, that we inherited. When we came into office in January 20th, there were thousands upon thousands of special immigrant applicants who were in this backlog. We have been gratified to find a partner in Congress. We have worked with Congress to cut some of this bureaucratic red tape. Again, it’s a 14 step process. So on top of that, as the security situation began to change, of course our embassy went on order departure on April 27th. Even with the order departure, we were able to surge additional resources to Kabul, consular officers specifically, to take on some of this backlog and to make progress. Just as we did that, we moved some of the functions that previously were being conducted in Kabul too the United States so that we could have even greater resources dedicated to that.
Ned Price: (31:20)
With those steps, we were able to cut many, many months off the average wait time for SIV applicants. Our embassy in Kabul, I should say, did all of this under stressful and tense circumstances and amidst a COVID outbreak. COVID, of course, was a limiting factor in terms of how much not only the last administration was able to do against this backlog, but also for us, especially as COVID took a particularly severe turn at our embassy in Kabul. Over the course of April, May, June, July, if you look at the average processing times, we shaved significant processing times off of each of those applicants.
Over the course of those [inaudible 00:32:15], you’ve got 2000 people [inaudible 00:32:17].
Ned Price: (32:16)
That is not true.
You just said 2000 was the number you said.
Ned Price: (32:19)
2000, if you would let me finish. So on top of all that, we started an ambitious, aggressive relocation effort, Operation Allies Refuge. We have relocated 2000 Afghan special immigrants through Operation Allies Refuge, many more, hundreds more special immigrants traveled to the United States before Operation Allies Refuge began.
Right. Correct So since Allies Refuge, you’ve gotten 2000 people out. 2000. You now have less than 14 days to get how many? 40,000, 60,000? With a limited staff at a tiny embassy that you’re operating out of the airport. I’m not impugning the difficulties for the State Department employees. I am sure they’re working hard. I’m sure they’re trying their best. But you really think logistically it is possible to make any kind of a dent in that and get those people out? Furthermore, what is the order for who is coming out of the airport? You said it’s not embassy staff anymore. So is it American citizens, then SIVs, then refugees? Who is coming out in what order? And if I’m a woman or a girl and I show up at the airport, does that qualify me as a P2, as a person of special consideration?
Ned Price: (33:30)
So a couple of things. We are going to do, and we are doing, as much as we can for as long as we can to relocate, to bring to safety, whether that is the United States or elsewhere, vulnerable Afghans, whether they are SIV applicants, whether they have refugee status, whether they fall into other vulnerable categories. You’ve heard from DOD that the Department of Defense has been in a position to relocate tremendous lift capacity. So now that the airport is under the control of the Department of Defense, not only-
Ned Price: (34:03)
… is under the control of the Department of Defense. Not only US military aircraft have been able to land and take off, but also charter aircraft. It is also a goal of the United States and our international partners to see to it that the commercial flights are able to take off and land. This is something that we are working on very closely with our partners, with Afghans on the ground. The reinitiation of commercial operations will add a tremendous, would add tremendous capacity to those seeking to relocate from Afghanistan.
Ned Price: (34:40)
In terms of prioritization, of course, our first priority, our first responsibility is always going to be to the American people. So we’ve spoken of our relocation, repatriation of our direct-hire staff, that has now completed for the time being. I told you today that we have notified the first tranche of private American citizens who have expressed an interest in being repatriated to the United States. So, those Americans-
Speaker 2: (35:15)
Ned Price: (35:15)
We’re not offering numbers, but it’s the first tranche And I expect several tranches of Americans and their families, have given them explicit instructions about where and when to go. And we are going to do as much as we can for as long as we can for refugees or other vulnerable Afghans who may be interested in relocation. Nick.
Just a couple [inaudible 00:35:37] So the embassy staff that are still in Kabul, is it your expectation that they will remain in Kabul indefinitely and would they potentially return to the US embassy or would that constitute recognition of whatever government comes next? Are you thinking that they will leave once all these priority groups have been taken care of?
Ned Price: (35:58)
Right now, Nick, we’re focused on the mission at hand. And the mission at hand is precisely what I was describing to Christina. That is an effort to relocate, in some cases repatriate to the United States and other cases to relocate to third countries, as many individuals as we can over as much time as we might have. Right now, we are thinking about this in terms of August 31st. If it is safe and responsible for us to potentially stay longer, that is something that we may be able to look at.
Stay longer, meaning the diplomatic presence that’s on the ground now?
Ned Price: (36:36)
I’m sorry? Say that again.
The diplomatic presence that’s on the ground now, you’re referring to them potentially staying longer?
Ned Price: (36:42)
Look, our first responsibility has to be to the safety and security of our team on the ground. That is precisely why our embassy went on ordered departure on April 27th. That’s precisely why we conducted successive drawdowns of the embassy team after April 27th. It’s precisely why, last Thursday, we began the relocation to the Hamid Karzai International Airport and why we accelerated repatriations of our embassy staff after that. We are going to do as much as we can for as long as we can for vulnerable Afghans.
Okay. So then on Doha, just given what you said earlier about priorities shifting from negotiations with the Taliban to the other priority of reducing bloodshed, and given that senior Taliban leaders are now returning to the country, is it your expectation that Doha is essentially dead and it’s time to shift those conversations to some other format? I mean, what, what more can be gained out of Doha if senior Taliban leadership are now back in the country and apparently, or seemingly, would have no incentive to negotiate power sharing when they basically control the entire country?
Ned Price: (37:59)
Well, we believe that continued dialogue has the potential to be constructive. As I said yesterday, dialogue to date has had constructive elements. We have heard things that were welcomed. We are going to be looking to that follow through. So not the entire political office, the entire political office has not relocated to Kandahar or other parts of Afghanistan just yet. There are still Taliban representatives on the ground in Doha. But you are right, that in many ways the center of gravity is shifting from Doha to Afghanistan. We will continue to adjust, as I said before, we adjusted the focus of our dialogue as the conditions on the ground began to change rapidly in recent days, and we’ll continue to do that going forward.
Thanks, and then one last one from me. Just following up on your issue of, mention of, vulnerable groups and women being included in vulnerable groups. Would women in Afghanistan automatically qualify for P-2 status, given their gender and the threats that the Taliban have made or the way that they’ve treated women in the past?
Ned Price: (39:12)
So they’re really two different things. There is a so-called priority to referral status for those who are referred to the US Refugee Admissions Program. And that is defined in a set of categories. To paraphrase, it’s individuals who have worked for US-based NGOs, individuals who have worked for US-based media organizations. I should say on that score, I think as many of you know, we expanded the definition of employment to see to it that stringers and contractors and those working on assignments can also qualify for the P-2 program.
Ned Price: (39:48)
But then, Nick, there is a separate category of so-called “vulnerable” Afghans. These are Afghans who, because of the course of their work, their advocacy, their name recognition, what they have done over the years to stand up for the rights of their fellow Afghans, who may be especially vulnerable. That’s what we mean when we refer to vulnerable Afghans.
What about their gender?
Ned Price: (40:13)
What about their gender, I think it said?
Ned Price: (40:15)
Well, in many cases, they have stood up and been forceful advocates for their fellow Afghan women and girls.
Speaker 3: (40:23)
But what’s the process for that? Do people need a referral of some kind at this point? And if you’re committed to safely evacuating them, why have them still go through this sort of paperwork to get out of the country?
Ned Price: (40:37)
So, when it comes to referrals, there are, we are, and will be looking to relocate as many Afghans who may fall into the P-1 and P-2 categories as quickly as we can. We are going to continue sending very specific communications to American citizens, and we will provide guidance to others who may fall into these other categories about when and how they should seek to leave the country. In some cases that may be through the US military and some cases there may be charter operations. I can tell you that there are a number of American NGOs, private organizations that are seeking to charter flights to bring to the United States or bring elsewhere individuals with whom they have worked on the ground over the course of many years.
Ned Price: (41:38)
So yes, the United States government has mounted this ambitious, large operation to bring to safety as many Afghans as we can for as long as we possibly can. But we’ve also been working very closely, including many people here at the State Department, working very closely with private American organizations, with NGOs who are also engaged in the effort, including in some cases with potential charter options. Yes?
Speaker 4: (42:04)
The US was unable to foresee the speed of the fall of Kabul, even with the Taliban down the road. When it comes to spotting an emerging threat from Al-Qaeda, for example, shouldn’t your allies now expect substantially less from the US government?
Ned Price: (42:25)
We talked about this some yesterday, but it is especially important to us, in some ways it is especially important to us because it has a direct bearing on our top priority, and that is the safety and security of the American people. We know a couple of things to be true, over the course of the past 20 years terrorist groups that have been active in Afghanistan, principally al-Qaeda, the group that the United States military went into Afghanistan in October of 2001 to pursue has been degraded and decimated. That is absolutely true.
Ned Price: (43:11)
The terrorist threats that have emanated from Afghanistan in recent years have certainly not been on the scale of what we saw pre-9/11 or in the years post-9/11. And there are a couple of reasons for that, but the overriding reason for that is the fact that our military and our broader US government partners conducted their mission to degrade and to decimate that al-Qaeda network there, extraordinarily effective. They accomplished the goal that successive American presidents set out for them.
Ned Price: (43:53)
It is also true that when our service members, special forces, intelligence agencies first went into Afghanistan in the early part of this millennium, they were operating with a set of tools that were far less effective than what the US government can muster now. Over the course of the past 20 years, technologies, strategies, tactics have been honed have been refined, and we’ve seen the results of those in the degraded state.
Speaker 4: (44:27)
Where were those tactics and techniques last week as Kabul fell?
Ned Price: (44:32)
These are two separate things you’re talking about. Let me just talk about the terrorist threat, and then I’ll go to what you’re referring to. [inaudible 00:44:43] When it comes to the terrorist threat. We have heard from our intelligence community that we have the capacity to observe and to respond decisively, if we see a threat emerge in Afghanistan, that poses a threat to the United States.
But you don’t see it because you’re not there.
Ned Price: (45:09)
The contractors are gone-
Ned Price: (45:10)
Andrea, Andrea, there are many places where we don’t have American forces on the ground where we can and where we have responded decisively to terrorist threats that have emerged. Yemen is one example, parts of Syria is another example. I can give you a litany of countries where we don’t have service members, where we have responded effectively and decisively-
We do have service members in Syria.
Ned Price: (45:35)
In parts of Syria, I said. Where we have responded effectively and decisively. Now what you’re referring to is something entirely different. What you are referring to is the fact that we were taken by surprise. It is undeniable that we were surprised at the pace by which the Taliban were able to pursue their territorial advances and the speed with which they encroached on Kabul. But the decisive factor there was the way in which the Afghan National Security Forces, a force that on paper far outmatched what the Taliban had to muster by at least three to one, 300,000 trained well-equipped Afghan forces that had an air force, that had heavy equipment, that had special forces, that had received technology from the US government. There was not the capacity or the will, they could not find the capacity or the will to take on the Taliban advance.
Ned Price: (46:54)
On top of that there was the political question, that was also unexpected. As you know, President Ghani and some of his colleagues left the country. They left the country quite suddenly. With that, with those two elements converging, it is absolutely true that we were surprised at the speed at which the Taliban were able to approach Kabul. But that has nothing to do with the ability that we have and that we will retain to take on terrorist threats that may seek to threaten the United States.
Speaker 4: (47:40)
The Taliban today said they will not harbor foreign fighters to launch terrorist attacks abroad. Do you believe them?
Ned Price: (47:48)
Again, we are going to listen to their words, what we will be looking for are their actions. It’s their deeds that matter to us, especially on a matter of outmost importance like this. Connor?
[crosstalk 00:40:14] Can I get a non-Afghan question?
Yeah, yeah. While there is relative calm, there are reports of atrocities in other cities that the Taliban hold. Before the fall of Kabul the embassy was corroborating some of those reports, do you have anything to say about that? Do you have any confirmation of whether or not some of these atrocities have been committed, extra judicial killings, harassment of women, things like that?
Ned Price: (48:26)
We are going to be watching very closely. Right now, as we’ve said, this is a fluid situation. We of course had seen, and the world had seen atrocities occur over the course of weeks and months as the Taliban’s campaign progressed. Over the past 72 hours, the conditions on the ground have changed dramatically.
Ned Price: (48:51)
We are going to be watching very closely for a couple of reasons. Number one, we are going to be working with the international community to do all we can to provide humanitarian assistance, to provide support to vulnerable Afghans. Afghans who may be at risk, going forward, from the Taliban.
Ned Price: (49:14)
Now of course they claim otherwise, but we are going to be poised to work with the international community to pull every lever we can, to use every tool at our disposal with the international community to provide support and assistance.
Ned Price: (49:31)
But two, there’s the question of what comes next? The question, not only of what the United States does vis-a-vis a future Afghan government, but what the international community does. And so this is another reason why we’re watching very closely. We have made very clear our expectations of any government with which we could be expected to work in Kabul, if that government doesn’t respect the basic rights of its own citizens, including the rights of its women and girls, that is not a government that we would be expected to work with.
Ned Price: (50:07)
Importantly, it’s not a government that the rest of the world, or at least much of the international community would be expected to work with. And finally, but there’s a tangible element to this and it’s a point that is quite important, because it has practical implications. It is more than a matter of political recognition or diplomatic connectivity. It is a matter of, in some ways, it’s an existential question. It has the potential to be an existential question for any government. We know that the government that had existed in Kabul over the past week could not have endured were it not for the support of the United States, the largest bilateral donor. Were it not for the support of United Nations, were it not for the support of the international community. The same could-
Ned Price: (51:03)
Of the international community… The same could well be true of what comes next. It is a question of carrots. We certainly have carrots, in terms of the assistance that any future government in Afghanistan might be expected to need, but also the sources of leverage that we’ve talked about. The fact that working with our partners in the international community, working with the UN, there are significant costs that, collectively, we would be able to impose on any government that does not respect the basic rights of its people. And that’s something we’re prepared to do.
So you’re saying that the behavior of that future government is what matters. What happened to the idea that any government imposed by the barrel of a gun is what mattered?
Ned Price: (51:46)
We’ve always said that we, like our partners in the international community, supported a political settlement. We believe… It’s present tense. We believe that a political settlement stands the best chance of offering protection, offering inclusion for the people of Afghanistan. We continue to believe that. If you take a look at what the members of the UN Security Council said, they continue to believe that.
This group has seized power by force now, and they don’t care about those statements of what you believe. This is a terrorist organization that now has control of the country, and you’re saying that their future behavior is what you’ll weigh. Well, how does what has happened in the last week and a half, month not matter more?
Ned Price: (52:40)
All of this absolutely matters. All of this absolutely matters. And what we’re saying now will matter. It will matter to any future government, not so much because the United States is saying it, but because as you’ve seen over the past couple of days, the international community, a broad swath of the international community, the countries that are in many ways, will be most important. Afghanistan’s neighbors, important stakeholders in the region, some of the most generous countries on the face of the Earth, the countries that have allowed, had allowed, the Afghan government to endure over the past 20 years. When we’re speaking with one voice, and we’re talking about assistance, potential assistance, or we’re talking conversely about the tools, the implications, the sources of leverage that we are prepared to wield against any government that does not respect the basic rights of its citizens, those are more than words. Those have practical consequences. [Matt 00:53:43]?
There’s an assumption of a question. You answered it positively. I just want to make sure that it’s correct. Do you believe that the Taliban has taken power by force at the barrel of a gun?
Ned Price: (53:52)
There has not been a formal transfer of power. Of course, it’s a fluid dynamic. There are ongoing discussions between Afghan leaders following-
But the question was, you said you would never recognize or deal with a government that had seized power by the barrel of a gun. You’re not prepared to make that statement yet, that the Taliban has seized power at the barrel of a gun, right?
Ned Price: (54:25)
We are taking stock of what has transpired. There continues to be dialogue between Afghans, between representatives of the Taliban, and a representative of the Islamic Republic.
You say that also, that the center of gravity has shifted from Doha to Afghanistan.
Ned Price: (54:39)
Isn’t it clear from what’s happened over the past couple of months, that the center of gravity was always in Afghanistan and never in Doha, and that was basically a waste of time in Doha?
Ned Price: (54:51)
Look, we are not prepared to say that. We’re not prepared to say that for-
Because what happened in Doha has accomplished a great deal?
Ned Price: (55:02)
Matt, when you [crosstalk 00:55:03]-
I just want to know. Do you think that anything that has been achieved in Doha since February of 2020 has actually accomplished anything?
Ned Price: (55:09)
The Intra-Afghan dialogue, the discussions between the Afghans, in this case, the Taliban and the representatives of the Islamic Republic, those are ongoing. It matters very little whether that happens in Doha, whether that happens in Kandahar, whether that happens in Kabul. All along, our goal has not been to be prescriptive. Our goal has not been to forge a consensus, to create a consensus. Our goal has been to support that Intra-Afghan dialogue, and it’s a Intra-Afghan dialogue that remains ongoing.
Can I ask [crosstalk 00:55:43]… Did you get an answer to my question about Bahrain from the other week, and if you don’t have it right there, I can get it later from you. But then secondly, the secretary or you put out a statement, semi-late last night about the secretary… Well, it was a comment from the secretary about the legislation in Poland. And I’m just wondering if anything has changed since then, because the Israelis seem to have a stronger reaction than you did, at least on the restitution part. I’m wondering and suggesting that the US and Israel, that they and the US would be taking some kind of joint action. So is there anything new on that since the statement from last night?
Ned Price: (56:23)
Well, you’re right, we did issue quite a strong statement from Secretary Blinken. What he made clear is that we are deeply disappointed by [inaudible 00:56:32] the code of administrative procedure that restrict compensation for property wrongfully confiscated during Poland’s communist era. We have said all along, that Poland is an important NATO ally. The Alliance we have with Poland, the Alliance we share with Poland and our other NATO allies, is based on, among other things, mutual commitments to democratic values and to prosperity. And so with that in mind, the secretary and the broader department, we have urged the government of Poland to demonstrate its commitment to these very shared principles and to make good on that, to make good on that indeed. Thank you all very much.
Thank you. If you do have something on Bahrain, can someone get it to me?
Ned Price: (57:51)
Speaker 5: (57:52)
On the [inaudible 00:57:52]-
Ned Price: (57:54)
Speaker 5: (57:54)
… [inaudible 00:57:54].
Ned Price: (57:54)
That’s [inaudible 00:57:54]. I couldn’t say this on camera, but our orientation here is that, first, we’re going to do as much as we can [inaudible 00:58:07]. But there’s another guiding principle, in that there should not be any [inaudible 00:58:12]. So if someone is, and I would never say this publicly on record. We don’t [inaudible 00:58:20] because we don’t want to get people to [inaudible 00:58:30] here, but P1, P2 referrals, they are certainly on our priority list.
Speaker 5: (59:04)
Ned Price: (59:07)
If they’re notified.
Speaker 5: (59:08)
Ned Price: (59:08)
There are ongoing discussions about the level of that, and that means that [inaudible 00:59:10]. Obviously, it’s going to be a higher bar for the limited [inaudible 00:59:12] from the United States. But in the case of SIVs, for example, who haven’t cleared, that’s [crosstalk 00:59:19]. No, I know. I know. No, I’m [crosstalk 00:59:21]… No, I’m just talking-
Speaker 5: (59:23)
They have nothing. [inaudible 00:59:26].
Ned Price: (59:33)
And look, if they have no identity documents, I-
Speaker 5: (59:41)
A visa would get it.
Ned Price: (59:41)
Yeah, a visa, I think, is less important. I think it’s [inaudible 00:59:44].
Speaker 5: (59:46)
Ned Price: (59:50)
Yeah. We’re working on a fact sheet today [inaudible 00:59:53].
Speaker 5: (59:54)
Ned Price: (59:55)
Just for this group.
Speaker 6: (59:57)
Ned Price: (59:57)
It’s a hypothetical right now. First and foremost, it’s [inaudible 01:00:26]. Rarely, do we have a large [inaudible 01:00:35].
Speaker 7: (01:00:34)
Do you have [inaudible 01:00:35] say that the airport [inaudible 01:00:47]?
Ned Price: (01:00:48)
So right now, we’re operating under the assumption that we are there [inaudible 01:00:52].
Speaker 7: (01:00:54)
Ned Price: (01:00:54)
Yeah. Yeah. I think one of the… Again, this is off the record. One of the things we’re exploring with Kabul are [inaudible 01:01:40] so if staying there longer, provokes [inaudible 01:01:40], that’s something [inaudible 01:01:40].
Speaker 7: (01:01:40)
Speaker 8: (01:01:40)
Are you guys in the picture [inaudible 01:01:42]?
Ned Price: (01:01:53)
Well, so as of right now, the US Military controls the military side. I think that [inaudible 01:02:01] what happens. If that ceases on August 31st, and then what happens thereafter. In any country, the host government is going to [inaudible 01:02:04]. It’s hard for me to fathom [inaudible 01:02:04] a foreign entity controls an airport and an airspace in a country that’s not military [inaudible 01:02:04].
Speaker 8: (01:02:04)
[crosstalk 01:02:04]. You guys kept saying [inaudible 01:02:04] this is weeks away. Okay? Are you still [inaudible 01:02:41]-
Ned Price: (01:02:44)
Yeah. No, no, no.
Speaker 8: (01:02:44)
… or conversations about a government?
Ned Price: (01:02:50)
This has been a [inaudible 01:02:50] for weeks ago. When the expectation was that we would have more time, that it would just be a matter of fortifying an airport that was under the jurisdiction of the Islamic Republic. Now, that’s changed.
Speaker 8: (01:03:17)
When you say we’re exploring staying beyond August 31st, is that something you guys are doing internally [inaudible 01:03:17]?
Ned Price: (01:03:23)
I think, as a practical matter, we wouldn’t be [inaudible 01:03:30] to stay there if there wasn’t some level of [inaudible 01:03:37] help getting them security.
Speaker 8: (01:03:40)
In which you [inaudible 01:03:42].
Ned Price: (01:03:43)
No, not necessarily. Waiting on the [inaudible 01:03:47], whether it’s asset or…
Speaker 5: (01:03:51)
Ned Price: (01:03:57)
So they have been generous in allowing people to transit through their country. I think we’re-
Speaker 7: (01:04:11)
They being Israel?
Ned Price: (01:04:11)
Speaker 7: (01:04:11)
Ned Price: (01:04:14)
I think on [inaudible 01:04:14] a lot of others.
Speaker 5: (01:04:14)
You’ve been saying that.
Ned Price: (01:04:14)
We haven’t announced anything.
Speaker 9: (01:04:21)
Ned Price: (01:04:23)
When we’re going to… We will announce it if it [inaudible 01:04:32].
Speaker 10: (01:04:32)
Ned Price: (01:04:32)
It’s obviously something [inaudible 01:04:33].
Speaker 10: (01:04:32)
So [inaudible 01:04:34].
Ned Price: (01:04:37)
It has happened.