The Biden administration has left behind as many as 14,000 U.S. legal permanent residents in Afghanistan after President Joe Biden repeatedly promised that he would not leave any Americans behind after the U.S. withdrew troops from the country.
Following the Pentagon's disclosure last week that 439 American citizens are still in Afghanistan, a new report from Foreign Policy indicates thousands more U.S. green card holders are still stranded in the Taliban-controlled country.
The finding, disclosed by a congressional aide familiar with the matter, has been transmitted by the State Department to aides on Capitol Hill in private, but officials demurred on revealing the figure when questioned by Republican lawmakers on Wednesday, insisting the agency doesn't track the figure.
"Isn't the operating assumption about 14,000?" Republican Rep. Chris Smith asked Brian McKeon, deputy secretary of state for management and resources, at a hearing on Wednesday, referring to the figure briefed in private.
"We don't track [legal permanent residents]," McKeon responded. "It's a good question why we don't," he added, suggesting the lack of clarity might be because the State Department does not require Americans and legal permanent residents traveling abroad to report their whereabouts.
According to McKeon's testimony Wednesday, there are still 289 U.S. citizens in Afghanistan as of Tuesday and another 81 Americans who are ready to evacuate the country. McKeon said the Biden administration got 140 Americans out last week.
Foreign Policy reported that the State Department is prioritizing American citizens for evacuation over legal permanent residents and green card holders. In a statement, the State Department said there is no exact tally of U.S. legal permanent residents in Afghanistan.
"We do not have an exact number of LPRs and their immediate family members who have departed or who remain in Afghanistan," a spokesperson said. "In this extraordinary situation we are facing in Afghanistan, we have helped LPRs seeking assistance to depart wherever possible."
Foreign Policy noted that lawmakers have expressed frustration with the Biden administration for being opaque about the exact number of citizens, legal permanent residents, and Afghan allies of the U.S. who were left behind. Administration officials have responded by saying the number is in constant flux as more people are coming forward with a desire to leave the country.
On Aug. 19, Biden told ABC News: "If there are American citizens left, we're going to stay until we get them all out."
U.S. troops were withdrawn on Aug. 31. At the time, Biden estimated there were 100 to 200 Americans remaining in Afghanistan who wanted to leave.
Again on Sept. 5, White House chief of staff Ron Klain said about 100 Americans were still in Afghanistan who wanted to leave.
State Department deputy spokeswoman Jalina Porter echoed that estimate on Sept. 10.
But one month later in October, the Pentagon clarified there were actually more than 400 American citizens still in the country.
Now it's revealed that 14,000 green card holders are still trapped in Afghanistan, people who can apply for U.S. citizenship and enjoy many of the same rights as citizens with the exception of the right to vote.
The rapid Taliban takeover of Afghanistan as U.S. forces withdrew obviously complicated evacuation efforts. But the responsibility for failing to get thousands of American citizens and legal permanent residents out of the country before U.S. forces withdrew lies squarely with the Biden administration.