The spokesman for the senior Democrat denies Blinken comments on flights that landed in Afghanistan

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At a press conference in Qatar on Tuesday, Blinken said that without staff on site, they “would not have the means to verify the accuracy of the manifestos, the identity of the passengers on board these aircraft, the flight safety protocols or the location where they plan” check to land, among other things. And these raise real concerns. “

Senator Richard Blumenthal’s communications director denied the allegation, saying the Connecticut Democratic Office had provided information for passengers on two of these planes that was “beyond what was required to depart from (Hamid Karzai International Airport) just a day earlier is required”. “

“If what we have presented is not enough, then the message from the State Department is that they will not help Afghans leave the country. This contradicts the promises Foreign Minister Blinken and President Biden made to our allies – the Afghans who risk everything for our country – and we hope it is not true, ”said Maria McElwain in a statement on Tuesday.

“We are keen to work with the administration to ensure these flights take off safely,” she said.

The tensions between the administration and the legislature as well as interest groups about the non-starting flights in Mazar-i-Sharif are growing.

Speaking to the press in Doha, Blinken said the State Department “is working around the clock with NGOs, members of Congress and interest groups, providing all information and doing everything in our power to remove any obstacles it identifies to have”. ensure that charter flights with Americans or others to whom we have a special responsibility can leave Afghanistan safely. “

He also denied claims by the GOP that the Taliban are holding Americans “hostage” and said that the Taliban had assured the US that all American and Afghan citizens with valid travel documents are allowed to leave an airport in northern Afghanistan.

Blinken spoke after Rep. Michael McCaul, the Republican Supreme Leader on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Sunday that he received secret briefings that “hundreds” of American citizens and Afghan allies are stuck at Mazar-i-Sharif airport in Afghanistan.

The Taliban “are not clearing the planes for departure,” McCaul told Fox News, saying that “this … is turning into a hostage situation in which they will not allow American citizens to leave until they receive full recognition the United States received “. from America.”

‘Unaware’

Blinken told reporters in Doha that he had heard nothing of the sort. “We are not aware of anyone being held on an airplane or in a hostage-like situation in Mazar-i-Sharif,” he said. The top US diplomat added that he wanted to keep the Taliban on their promise to leave the airport in Mazar-i-Sharif. “You have made this commitment at least once in the past 24 hours with a family who could travel overland,” he said.

Blinken stated that there was a problem at the airport with people who did not have valid documents.

“There are groups of people who come together. Some have the appropriate travel documents and an American passport, a green card, a visa, and some do not,” said Blinken. “And as far as I understand, the Taliban have not refused entry to anyone with a valid document, but they have said that those without valid documents cannot leave at this point.”

The State Department told Congress on Saturday that charter flights in Mazar-i-Sharif have been suspended but are permitted to land in Doha. The message said it was the Taliban’s decision to land the flights.

Blumenthal’s communications director said his office “worked closely with a small group of NGOs, veterans, lawyers and journalists to ensure safe passage for two of these planes.”

“I can only speak for our two planes, but we made the manifest for our flights available to the State Department on August 30 and only yesterday,” McElwain said in Tuesday’s statement. “The information we have provided to the State Department goes beyond what is normally required to travel to Afghanistan.”

“Although some of our passengers are small children who admittedly do not yet have full adult records, in these cases we are providing shot recordings and offering to verify their identity in another way. The State Department has had this information for 8 days. On Friday September 3, the State Department officially stated that it had no objection to our planes landing in Doha, which is required by third-party governments to land planes, “she said.

“The State Department obviously cannot verify passengers on site because the US government has withdrawn its consular presence. The State Department also does not allow the airline to verify passengers, as has been its previous policy. As a result, it seems like they are indicating. ”The Taliban should be able to screen the passengers who would fly on these planes. The reality is that we have extremely vulnerable Afghans on these flights and it clearly appears problematic if the State Department expects the Taliban to screen our passengers one by one, “she noted.

In a glowing statement on Monday, Blumenthal, who sits on the Senate Armed Forces Committee, said he was “deeply frustrated, even angry, at our government’s delay and inaction.”

“There will be plenty of time to take responsibility for the inexcusable bureaucratic bureaucracy that has stranded so many of our Afghan allies. For now, my only focus is on getting these planes in the air and safely to our airbase in Doha, where they are already. ” Land has been cleared. I expect the White House and State Department to do everything in their power – absolutely anything – to make this happen. These are American citizens and Afghans who risked everything for our country. We can’t leave her behind. ”He said.

Marina LeGree, whose organization is trying to bring 34 women at risk out of Afghanistan on those flights, told CNN Tuesday that the planes were still on the ground.

She told CNN that the Taliban have said that those with a visa are allowed to leave, but not those who cannot leave Afghanistan.

LeGree, who runs a nonprofit called Ascend, said the women in their group did not have a visa and that was not an issue when the U.S. government manifested the flights. LeGree told CNN that she was discouraged by Blinken’s remarks and felt that the State Department was handing her over to the Taliban.

CNN reported on Aug. 17 that American personnel from the embassy in Kabul destroyed some Afghans’ passports as they got rid of all sensitive materials in preparation for a full evacuation, according to a message shared by Rep. Andy Kim’s office with those seeking help with evacuations from Afghanistan.

It is unclear why the passports were destroyed, but diplomats may have determined that it would have been dangerous for the documents to get into the hands of Taliban fighters who could then target these Afghans. But being without a passport causes great complications for Afghans, who are still desperately and desperately trying to leave the country.

Blinken’s trip to Qatar, where he arrived on Monday and was accompanied by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Tuesday, is part of a larger “thank you” tour that includes Germany. Both countries have been key to US efforts to conduct the largest airlift in US military history, pulling about 125,000 people out of Kabul, and both countries are hosting intense diplomacy over Afghanistan.

Qatar has become a hub for diplomatic efforts, with the country mediating between the US, its allies and the Taliban. In Germany, Blinken will jointly host a ministerial meeting on Afghanistan, while the US and its allies work to establish a unified position on Afghanistan and its dealings with the Taliban, amid reports of the group’s violence against demonstrators and growing concerns about theirs Treatment of women show up.

The ministerial agenda will almost certainly include a review of the Taliban’s interim government, the veterans of the Taliban movement and their allies in the Haqqani network, which the US has given the US for its deadly attacks on the US and coalition military and civilian personnel and their connections Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Government officials with bounties

The provisional government roster announced by Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid at a press conference in Kabul also includes members of the Haqqani network who have been individually designated by the US for terrorist activities.

The new prime minister will be Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund, a long-time member of the Taliban and leader of the Shura or the group’s leadership council for about two decades. He is seen as an influential and respected religious figure in the movement rather than a military leader. His deputy will be Mullah Baradar, head of the Taliban’s political bureau, who served eight years in prison before being released in Qatar as part of the Trump administration’s efforts to negotiate peace with the Taliban.

The transitional government also includes two high-ranking figures from the Haqqani network who are on the terrorist lists of the United States and the United Nations. Khalil Haqqani, the incumbent refugee minister, was named a Specially Designated Global Terrorist in 2011 by US officials who had offered him a $ 5 million bounty.

The chairman of the Haqqani network, Sirajuddin Haqqani, who was appointed acting interior minister, is also under the terrorist designations of the US and the UN. The State Department has also placed a $ 5 million bounty on his head.

Sirajuddin Haqqani has been one of two deputy leaders of the Taliban since 2016. The other deputy leader of the Taliban, Mullah Yaqoob, is a son of Taliban founder Mullah Omar and has been appointed acting defense minister.

This story was updated with additional details on Tuesday.

CNN’s Tim Lister, Jonny Hallam, Daniella Diaz, Nicky Robertson, Sonnet Swire and Lauren Fox contributed to this report


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