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Secretary Of State Antony Blinken Is Facing Pressure To Help More Afghans Evacuate

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Let's turn overseas now. Organizers of private evacuation flights out of Afghanistan are pressing the State Department to do more to help them get hundreds of people out of the country. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says he is working through some very tough security issues surrounding that effort. NPR's Michele Kelemen is traveling with him in Doha.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: A top Republican lawmaker likens it to a hostage situation, saying the Taliban are blocking these private charter flights and the State Department isn't doing enough. Secretary Blinken is pushing back.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANTONY BLINKEN: We are not aware of anyone being held on an aircraft or any hostage-like situation in Mazar-i-Sharif.

KELEMEN: He says the Taliban have agreed to allow Americans and Afghans with travel documents to safely leave. But there are some that don't have papers, and the U.S. doesn't have any personnel on the ground to verify the manifest. Journalist Elizabeth Rubin isn't buying that line.

ELIZABETH RUBIN: You know, you've promised to evacuate people in danger and not to abandon them. And you don't have people on the ground, so you have to find alternative methods. That's the humanitarian thing to do. People's lives are in danger.

KELEMEN: She's focused on two planes that she says are ready to evacuate Americans and Afghans, all of whom have documents, including visas for Albania. Rubin is frustrated with Blinken's comments that the U.S. can't verify the manifests.

RUBIN: Without an American on the ground, they need to find somebody else, or we can find someone else, which we have, that can make sure that the people who are getting on the planes are the people on the manifest.

KELEMEN: The drama over those left behind comes during a trip meant to highlight the evacuation effort that brought 124,000 people out of Afghanistan, nearly half of them transiting through Qatar.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BLINKEN: We have a deeply felt debt and obligation to you and to everyone else who has stood up and done the same thing.

KELEMEN: At the Al Udeid Air Base, Blinken spoke with five Afghan interpreters who were on the ground at the airport in Kabul pulling people to safety and are still helping out now in Qatar. He toured a massive hangar with hundreds of cots, now empty, where refugees waited for their security checks. And in Doha, he spent a bit of time with teenage girls from the Afghan robotics team.

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BLINKEN: You know, you're famous around the world and a source of inspiration around the world.

KELEMEN: Nine of the girls are staying in Qatar to finish high school. One of the founders, tech entrepreneur Roya Mahboob, says many of their teachers, coaches and family members are still struggling to get out of Afghanistan.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROYA MAHBOOB: Everybody is scared. Everybody is scared about the future of Afghanistan.

KELEMEN: She says she was hoping to hear a solid plan from Blinken on how the U.S. can help others get out.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Doha.

(SOUNDBITE OF ULRICH SCHNAUSS' "LIKE A GHOST IN YOUR OWN LIFE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.