Republican Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, a ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Sunday that the Taliban are not letting flights ready to evacuate American civilians and allies leave Afghanistan and are “holding them hostage for demands.”
The Taliban is preventing Americans and allies from leaving the country on six charter planes at Mazar-i-Sharif International Airport in northern Afghanistan and making demands of the U.S., McCaul told Fox News on Sunday.
“In fact, we have six airplanes at Mazar-i-Sharif airport, six airplanes, with American citizens on them as I speak, also with these interpreters, and the Taliban is holding them hostage for demands right now,” McCaul said.
“The Taliban wants something in exchange. This is really … turning into a hostage situation where they are not going to allow American citizens to leave until they get full recognition from the United States of America,” he added.
When "Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace asked how many Americans have been evacuated out of Afghanistan since the withdrawal deadline on Aug. 31, McCaul said, "I understand, zero."
The flights have permission to land in Doha “if and when the Taliban agrees to takeoff,” according to an email from the State Department to members of Congress, CBS News reported, quoting sources as saying that the planes are not currently loaded and the passengers are being held nearby.
In response to McCaul’s claim that Americans are essentially being held as hostages, a State Department spokesperson told The Hill on Sunday that since the U.S. no longer has an embassy or staff in Afghanistan, it cannot confirm the veracity of those reports.
“Given these constraints, we also do not have a reliable means to confirm the basic details of charter flights, including who may be organizing them, the number of U.S. citizens and other priority groups on-board, the accuracy of the rest of the manifest, and where they plan to land, among many other issues,” the spokesperson said.
"We understand the concern that many people are feeling as they try to facilitate further charter and other passage out of Afghanistan," the spokesperson added, noting that the Biden administration will “hold the Taliban to its pledge to let people freely depart Afghanistan.”
Ascend, a group committed to developing young women as leaders through athletics, was quoted by CBS News as saying that they've had two flights waiting for six days to take between 600 and 1,200 people — including 19 American citizens and two permanent residents.
Following the drawing down of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the Taliban quickly seized control of much of the country, eventually taking the capital Kabul last month and forcing the government to flee. In response to the unexpected speed at which the terrorist group retook the nation, tens of thousands of Americans, Afghan allies, and others desperately tried to leave the country.
In its email, the State Department advised members of Congress to warn people seeking to evacuate out of Mazar-i-Sharif that the U.S.: “does not have personnel on the ground in Mazar, we do not have air assets in the country, and we do not control the airspace. … It is a Taliban decision to ground flights in Mazar-i-Sharif. We are, however, providing guidance and assistance to the extent possible — and with an emphasis on safety — to private entities working out of Mazar.”
Politico reporter Daniel Lippman posted a photo from Maxar Technologies showing the grounded planes on Twitter. “Newly released satellite images show six commercial airplanes at Mazar-i-Sharif airport in northern Afghanistan that are not being allowed to depart by the Taliban.”
Newly released satellite images show six commercial airplanes at Mazar-i-Sharif airport in northern Afghanistan that are not being allowed to depart by the Taliban. American citizens and Afghan interpreters are reportedly waiting to board the flights. ????: @Maxarpic.twitter.com/Ov7kB3z5VP— Daniel Lippman (@dlippman) September 5, 2021
In his interview with Fox News, McCaul said Biden has “blood on his hands.”
“I’ve said all along this president has blood on his hands, and this week, this last week, we had 13 servicemen and women come home, flag-draped coffins at Dover Air Base. This problem is going to get worse, not better, and we have left them behind. That's the basic creed of the military.”
On Aug. 26, a suicide bombing outside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul killed 10 U.S. Marines, two Army soldiers and one Navy Corpsman, along with as many as 170 civilians, most of whom were awaiting their evacuation.
McCaul also said those who have helped the U.S. military in Afghanistan are being persecuted.
“You have stories of interpreters being taken home to their families and watching their wives and families being beheaded, executed before they execute the interpreter,” he said. “This is not a new and improved Taliban. This is the same old Taliban. They are reverting back to with the same brutal practices.”
In an exclusive interview with Fox News' Bret Baier on Friday, Republican Rep. Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma said the Taliban was charging between $500 to $4,000 as a “tax” to get past each checkpoint to reach the Kabul airport, which is one reason why the French and British special forces carried out rescue missions to extricate their citizens who were stranded or had been turned away at checkpoints.