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Afghan Refugees arrival at Dulles International Airport as the last planes left Afghanistan after the US withdrawal on August 31, 2021 in Dulles, Virginia. (Associated Press via mpi34/MediaPunch /IPX) Afghan Refugees arrival at Dulles International Airport as the last planes left Afghanistan after the US withdrawal on August 31, 2021 in Dulles, Virginia. (Associated Press via mpi34/MediaPunch /IPX)

Afghan Refugees arrival at Dulles International Airport as the last planes left Afghanistan after the US withdrawal on August 31, 2021 in Dulles, Virginia. (Associated Press via mpi34/MediaPunch /IPX)

By Alan Hovorka January 4, 2022

Wisconsin Republican candidate mostly wrong on numbers of Americans left behind in Afghanistan

If Your Time is short

  • The U.S. State Department estimated as many as 15,000 Americans were in Afghanistan before the U.S. military withdrew on Aug. 31, 2021. About 6,000 requested evacuation and about 100 of those were not evacuated. 

  • The U.S. government can’t force its citizens to leave a country. Many Americans in the federal government’s estimate include individuals with dual citizenship. 

  • The number of Americans requesting evacuation grew in the ensuing months as humanitarian conditions in Afghanistan worsened. The Biden Administration said in early December that fewer than a dozen Americans who wanted to leave Afghanistan remained in the country.

The United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan remains a fixture of retired U.S. Navy SEAL Derrick Van Orden’s campaign for Wisconsin’s Third District congressional seat. 

Since last summer’s chaotic exit from the nation’s longest war, Van Orden has repeatedly criticized President Joe Biden for the number of American citizens left in the country.

Here’s how he framed it in a Dec. 7, 2021 tweet: "(President Joe Biden) abandoned 1000’s of our fellow American citizens to their fate w/ the Taliban & imported 10’s of 1000’s of random people from a country that we fought in for over 20 years." 

That echoed a Sept. 29, 2021 tweet that claimed, in part: "When officers do enlisted math. 10,000 - 15,000 American citizens abandoned to terrorists in Afghanistan. 6000 - pulled from the country. Equals - ‘less than 100’ "

The "less than 100," of course, is a reference to official tallies at the time of the Aug. 31, 2021 deadline of Americans who were not evacuated.

For purposes of this factcheck, we are going to focus on the claim that actions by Biden left "10,000 - 15,000 American citizens abandoned to terrorists in Afghanistan."

Is he right? 

Not exactly, since those Van Orden classifies as "abandoned" did not necessarily want to leave. Indeed, some have dual citizenship, between the U.S. and Afghanistan. 

How the number of reported American citizens in Afghanistan changed 

There are some key factors involved in counting Americans in Afghanistan, or any foreign country for that matter.

First, registering with the U.S. State Department, through an embassy, is not required. Second, in many cases individuals may have dual citizenship.

And, in this case, officials say not every American in Afghanistan wanted to leave.

When the evacuation of Afghanistan began, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin wrote in an Aug. 17, 2021, letter to Congress that there were as many as 15,000 Americans in the country needing evacuation.

Blinken then told reporters on Aug. 25, 2021, that the number of American citizens who wanted to leave was closer to about 6,000.

According to an Aug. 29, 2021 Washington Post analysis of those figures, the State Department started its initial figure of 15,000 citizens based on the known number of Americans in the country and assumed given the Taliban’s pending takeover many would need evacuation. 

The second number of 6,000 came after State Department officials and embassy workers had heard from people who wished to leave the country. 

So Van Orden may use the correct numbers in making the claim, but he misleads in assuming the estimated 9,000 Americans remaining in Afghanistan wanted to leave in the first place. 

When we asked Van Orden for backup, spokesman Justin Giorgio said the candidate’s broader point was about how the Biden Administration’s figure of exactly how many more Americans needed to be evacuated kept changing, more so than how some chose to leave after the Aug. 31 deadline. But that was not how it was stated.

In any case, we dug a little further.

On Sept. 13, 2021, Blinken told Congress that fewer than 100 American citizens who wished to be evacuated remained inside the country, according to a report that day from NBC News. Other news outlets reported the number of Americans left in Afghanistan was between 100 and 200. 

Since that point, as conditions in Afghanistan have worsened, the number of Americans seeking to leave has increased. Thus, the number of those "left" is constantly changing.

In all, the federal government has helped 479 American citizens and 450 permanent residents leave Afghanistan for the United States since the Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline, according to a Dec. 13, 2021, news release from the State Department. 

Jen Psaki, Biden’s press secretary, told reporters on Dec. 14, 2021, many of those evacuated since the withdrawal deadline had initially decided not to leave. 

"There were people who wanted — determined they wanted to leave since then, and it is our responsibility to help them depart. So that’s evidence of our commitment to do exactly that," she  said, according to a White House readout of the media briefing. 

Psaki and the State Department said at the time that about a dozen Americans were awaiting evacuation from the country. 

Our ruling
 
Van Orden claimed actions by Biden left "10,000 - 15,000 American citizens abandoned to terrorists in Afghanistan." 

The figures he uses are real, but they are dramatically mischaracterized – particularly with the use of the word "abandoned."  The State Department’s initial estimate included thousands who have dual citizenship. And even using a whittled-back number would suggest that every one of those individuals wants to leave.

After the August 31 withdrawal deadline, about 100 Americans remained who wished to be evacuated. Since then, the US has helped 479 American citizens and 450 permanent residents leave Afghanistan. As of mid-December, officials said, about a dozen were seeking help in leaving the country.

Our definition of Mostly False is a statement that "contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression."

That fits here.

 

Our Sources

Email interview with Justin Giorgio, spokesman for Wisconsin Republic 3rd District Congressional candidate Derrick Van Orden, Nov. 2, 2021. 

The New Yorker, "The Afghans Americans Left Behind," Dec. 20, 2021. 

U.S. State Department, "Afghanistan Relocation and Resettlement update," Dec. 13, 2021

U.S. White House, "Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, December 14, 2021," Dec. 14, 2021

The Washington Post, "How the number of Americans in Afghanistan went from 15,000 to 6,000," Aug. 29, 2021

U.S. State Department, "Secretary Antony J. Blinken On Afghanistan," Aug. 25, 2021

The Washington Post, "Administration estimates that up to 15,000 Americans remain in Afghanistan, Senate aides say," Aug. 17, 2021

Roll Call, "Hundreds of Americans remain in Afghanistan, Pentagon official says," Oct. 26, 2021

NBC News, "Secretary of State Blinken calls Taliban ‘the de facto government of Afghanistan’," Sept. 13, 2021

PolitiFact Wisconsin, "Patrick Testin: The vast majority of the (refugees) coming into Fort McCoy are not the SIVs" and some have "no documentation at all."," Aug. 29, 2021

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More by Alan Hovorka

Wisconsin Republican candidate mostly wrong on numbers of Americans left behind in Afghanistan

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