President Biden missed a deadline Tuesday evening set by Republican senators who demanded he provide the exact number of Americans, green card holders and special immigrant visa applicants who remain in Afghanistan.
The group of 26 Republicans, led by Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, gave the president until 5 p.m. ET Tuesday to give the public a full, unclassified accounting of who was "left behind" after the last of the U.S. troops evacuated Kabul on Aug 30. They also wanted a detailed account of the vetting process of the Afghan refugees who are not SIVs or green card holders and whether they were evacuated to the U.S. with any pending immigration status.
Cotton tweeted a furious response about Biden's decision to ignore the deadline for information, saying, "The Senate gave the Biden administration a week to disclose how many Americans & allies they left stranded in Afghanistan, but they still haven’t responded. The American people will not forget President Biden’s incompetence & disregard for American lives."
"President Biden and Biden-Harris administration officials have no idea who has been getting on their planes, but they don’t want to admit that because it would show they stranded Americans and Afghan SIVs while failing to vet planeloads of incoming people," Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas told Fox News in a statement.
"Congress, staffers, veterans, volunteers, and NGOs have been working together to save them, but that can’t make up for the massive failure by the President and State Department to rescue Americans or their ongoing vetting failures, no matter how much they want to ignore those catastrophes," he said.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee said the Biden administration is "clueless."
"Joe Biden's incompetence and inability to understand foreign policy left 13 U.S. soldiers murdered and others injured," she told Fox News in a statement. "Biden willingly left hundreds of Americans stranded behind enemy lines. It is sadly not surprising that Biden's administration is so clueless, they are unable to even detail who they abandoned in Afghanistan."
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday that roughly 100 U.S. citizens remain in Afghanistan, but veteran-led rescue groups told the Associated Press that estimate is too low and also overlooks the hundreds of permanent legal residents with green cards.
State Department spokesman Ned Price confirmed during a Sept. 1 press briefing that the estimate of Americans still left in the country does not include U.S. legal permanent residents and that he was not able to provide "a firm figure as to how many LPRs may be in Afghanistan who wish to leave."
The administration has also declined to reveal how many Afghan allies who worked with the U.S. military and are eligible for special immigrant visas are still trying to flee the now-Taliban-controlled country. A State Department official said in a private briefing to reporters on Sept. 1 that "the majority" of SIV applicants were left behind in Afghanistan, though an official estimate is not yet available, Politico reported.
The senators’ Sept. 2 letter demanding the exact numbers was addressed to Biden, but the White House directed Fox News to the National Security Council (NSC) for comment.
"We appreciate that the commitment to ensure the safe departure of both American citizens and of our Afghan partners has bipartisan support in Congress and widespread support among the American people, including in the communities of veterans who faced threats alongside brave Afghans who supported us for decades," an administration spokesperson said.
The NSC then suggested Fox News ask the State Department for the specific numbers.
"As a general matter, we do not comment on communications with Congress," a State Department spokesperson responded to Fox News.
Regarding the vetting, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said last week that the Afghan evacuees who have not yet been screened have been sent to third countries, like Qatar and Germany, while their paperwork is being processed.
Senior U.S. officials confirmed to Fox News Tuesday that Camp Bondsteel, a U.S. military base in the Balkan country of Kosovo, will temporarily house those refugees who don't pass the initial round of vetting.
The Ramstein Air Base in Germany currently housing more than 11,000 Afghanistan evacuees and has departed more than 34,000 people. Evacuees who arrive there go through an interagency security screening, receive any necessary medical attention and then consult State Department consular officers, the base shared with Fox News.
Evacuees are then placed into "pods," which are facilities designed to organize, house and provide meals and other services to evacuees awaiting further transportation, the base said. Evacuees then go through a screening infrastructure similar to that found in most major international airports before flying to the U.S.