The U.S. has been in contact with and is actively working to evacuate around 500 Americans remaining in Afghanistan, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Friday.
Around 300 other Americans were evacuated from the country in the past 24 hours, he added.
“There are approximately 500 American citizens we are currently working with who want to leave, and with whom we are communicating directly to facilitate their evacuations,” Price told reporters during an afternoon press briefing.
An additional 100 American citizens have not yet decided, for various reasons, if they want to leave the country. Price could not say how many Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) holders had been evacuated from the country, saying the State Department expects more precise numbers in the coming days.
Price added that a “vast majority” of locally-employed staff and their families have either already been evacuated or are awaiting departure at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport.
Since Aug. 14, the government has evacuated at least 5,100 U.S. citizens from Afghanistan.
More than 100,000 people have been safely evacuated through the Kabul airport, according to the U.S., but thousands more are struggling to leave in one of history’s biggest airlifts.
The White House said Friday morning that 8,500 evacuees had been flown out aboard U.S. military aircraft in the previous 24 hours, along with about 4,000 people on coalition flights. That was about the same total as the day before the attack.
But the chances of helping those hoping to join the evacuation are fading fast. More European allies and other nations were set to end their airlifts Friday, in part to give the U.S. time to wrap up its own operations.
The Taliban have said they will allow Afghans to leave via commercial flights after the U.S. withdrawal, but it is unclear which airlines would return to an airport controlled by the militants.
Untold numbers of Afghans, especially ones who had worked with the U.S. and other Western countries, are now in hiding, fearing retaliation despite the group’s offer of full amnesty.
The new rulers have sought to project an image of moderation in recent weeks — a sharp contrast to the harsh rule they imposed from 1996 to 2001, when they forbade girls to get an education, banned television and music and held public executions.
Still, there are concerns that Afghanistan will once again become a base for militants to plot against the West, much like the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that triggered the U.S. invasion.
The U.S. maintains all troops to depart the country by Aug. 31, and plans to hand over control of Kabul’s airport to the Afghan people at that time. Price said there has not yet been a decision about whether the U.S. will retain a diplomatic presence in Afghanistan beyond the end of August, but said the government is in discussions with international partners on how to proceed.
“[The Taliban] have made very clear to us in our communication, they would like to see an American diplomatic presence remain,” Price said, adding: “Ultimately, of course, it's not up to the Taliban. It's a determination that we will need to make consistent with the overriding prerogative, and that is the safety and security of American officials.”
Price went on to say the United States is not yet ready to recognize the Taliban as the de facto rulers of Afghanistan, saying officials will wait to see if the group upholds a number of promises it made to the international community before making such a decision.
Those promises include allowing women and girls to participate in school and have jobs, a pledge not to retaliate against Afghans who worked alongside the United States and, most recently, that the country’s borders will remain open for international travel.
“Any future Afghan government needs to be one that we can work with,” Price said. “It needs to be inclusive. Ultimately, it needs to be a government that respects and upholds the rights of its citizens, importantly, that includes the many marked gains that Afghanistan's women and girls minorities have made with the help of the United States over the past 20 years, that's what we'll be looking for.”
Humanitarian aid, Price added, is a different story — U.S. officials believe they can “maintain a humanitarian commitment to, in this case, the Afghan people in ways that do not have any funding or assistance passed through the coffers of a central government.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.