Florida Republican Rep. Michael Waltz is joining the Biden administration in pushing back against referring to Americans still in Afghanistan as ‘stranded’ – because he believes the government created a hostage situation instead.
‘We need to stop calling referring to Americans still in Afghanistan as ‘stranded,’ and call them what they are, which is Taliban hostages,’ Waltz said in a statement to DailyMail.com
The retired Green Beret said the US ‘handed the Taliban a mountain of leverage on a silver platter’ by evacuating with American citizens still on the ground – predicting the Taliban will use them as pawns in negotiations with Biden officials.
As many as 100 to 200 Americans are still trying to flee Afghanistan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in remarks on Monday after the last US military flight departed Kabul.
Blinken called it a ‘small number’ of citizens.
‘They will seek to extort ransoms through billions of dollars in aid and assets,’ Waltz warned.
He echoed the point in a House GOP press conference on Tuesday and called the idea of ransoms ‘un-American.’
Rep. Mike Waltz called the possibility of paying ransoms to the Taliban in exchange for stranded US citizens is ‘un-American’ on Tuesday
Taliban fighters have been parading through the streets celebrating the US’s withdrawal as a defeat of western forces
‘We do not let terrorists dictate the time, place and method which we get our people out, but that’s what this administration is doing.’
Waltz added in his statement: ‘Additionally, U.S. Navy Veteran Mark Frerichs has remained a hostage of the Taliban since last year and we have not been able to secure his release.’
Frerichs is a 58-year-old Navy veteran who was kidnapped from Kabul in January 2020 while on construction contract work.
Before the US withdrawal he was believed to be the last American hostage held by the Taliban. US officials have said he was kidnapped by the Haqqani network, a group closesly aligned with the militants who now control Afghanistan.
The Navy veteran’s advocates previously expressed concern that the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan could make it harder to get him home, leaving the US without leverage to demand his release or without the intelligence needed to pinpoint his whereabouts in the country for a rescue operation.
Navy veteran Mark Frerichs is one of the Americans still held by the Taliban after he was kidnapped in January 2020
Waltz mentioned his concern for Frerichs again in the late morning press conference.
‘We have our government now engaging the Taliban, trusting them to let these people go,’ he said. ‘We have a Navy veteran, Mark Frerichs, that the Taliban and Haqqanis have held over the last year – is he free to go? Is this who we’re going to trust?’
‘People are dying, and you all need to do your jobs for accountability,’ Waltz told the present media.
The Green Beret warned that US troops would have to return to Afghanistan – but would be in a worse position than when they left.
‘Now they have no bases – we gave them away, they have no local allies – they’re being hunted down, and we have a terrorist army armed to the teeth that they’re going to have to fight through,’ he said.
‘That blood is on this administration’s hands.’
Waltz said President Biden’s Afghanistan advisers are the same people who advised former President Obama during the Benghazi disaster
Waltz pointed out that President Joe Biden’s team of advisers include the same top figures former President Barack Obama did – under whose watch the crisis in Benghazi unfolded.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby shrugged off concerns about the US citizens – and the billions of dollars in military technology – left in Afghanistan on Tuesday.
He also blamed stranded Americans for waiting until the last minute after the last US jets left the country, despite President Biden promising to stay until all Americans were evacuated.
In an MSNBC interview, Kirby said the military would no longer play a role in helping them get out but was confident diplomatic efforts would be enough – and said the desperate situation was ‘not completely unlike’ others around the world.
‘We have Americans that get stranded in countries all the time,’ he said bluntly.
His comment sharply contrasts with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, who last week got in a heated exchange with a reporter over using the word ‘stranded’ to describe the US citizens still in Afghanistan.
In an MSNBC interview, Kirby said the military would no longer play a role in helping Americans get out but was confident diplomatic efforts would be enough
‘I think it’s irresponsible to say Americans are stranded. They are not,’ she told Fox’s Peter Doocy. Her defense was widely criticized, prompting her to further elaborate on Twitter.
Psaki wrote: ‘We are not leaving Americans who want to return home. We are going to bring them home. And I think that’s important for the American public to hear and understand.’
Kirby said the Taliban is clear on what the US intends to do and if the militant group wants to govern as it says, ‘we’re going to hold them to their deeds not just words.’
In a separate interview on Fox News Tuesday, Kirby said the government wouldn’t ‘turn a blind eye’ to those Americans but there were ‘a lot of reasons why’ they didn’t leave.
He blamed US citizens for not deciding to leave earlier, despite reports of stampeding crowds and violent treatment by Taliban fighters guarding the airport gates over the last two weeks. Some people reported being turned away even with proper paperwork and American passports.
‘There was some – a lot of efforts trying to contact them, trying to get in touch with them and marshal them in. Some people didn’t want to make decisions until the endgame,’ Kirby said.
‘I don’t know the case with each and every one of these 100 or so that are left, but what I can tell you is that as a government, we’re going to continue to make every effort we can to help them find safe passage.’
On Monday Blinken declared ‘a new diplomatic mission has begun’ in Afghanistan to try and get those remaining Americans out.
He vowed to use diplomacy and leverage to bring out any Americans, allies, or Afghanis who assisted the US and want to leave, as critics pounded Biden for allowing the withdrawal before all Americans were out, comparing those who remained to hostages.
‘We made extraordinary efforts to give Americans every opportunity to depart the country,’ he said.
Blinken said some who stayed were dual citizens and US passports who weren’t sure they wanted to go and were ‘trying to decide whether or not they wanted to leave.’
He said the US and allies plan to hold the Taliban to keep the airport open and allow safe passage. ‘Any engagement with the Taliban-led government in Kabul will be driven by one thing only – our vital national interests,’ he said.
He also mentioned new ways out – including ‘overland routes,’ which means driving across Afghanistan’s famously inhospitable terrain.
But last week, when the State Department warned Americans to leave the airport over imminent terrorist threats, Blinken also blamed Americans still on the ground for not leaving fast enough after first being warned earlier this year to leave Afghanistan as soon as possible.
Rep. Darrell Issa told Fox News on Tuesday that he’s in contact with a pregnant American trapped in Kabul
From Monday into Tuesday reports of Americans trapped in Kabul begging for help have also emerged.
A pregnant woman who tried to get to the airport ‘multiple times’ with her husband and father is in contact with California Rep. Darrell Issa, who talked about trying to help her escape on Fox News this morning.
She was kicked in the stomach by Taliban fighters and is now forced to hide in an apartment, relying only on her friends to bring her food and keep her whereabouts secret.
The lawmaker referred to her as ‘Nasria.’
Issa is also trying to help an elderly couple in their 80s who were turned away at the airport despite having their US passports.
An American citizen who worked as an interpreter for the US military told CNN’s Chris Cuomo last night that she’s still stranded in Afghanistan
Going by the pseudonym ‘Sara,’ she said was sheltering 37 women and children in her home as she tried to organize them safe passage out of the country.
But she was unaware that the last US plane was leaving, after US forces completed their withdrawal almost 24 hours ahead of their August 31 deadline.
‘I just found out that they left, and I was just silent for a while,’ Sara said. ‘I just can’t believe no one told me this was the last flight.’
CNN’s Chris Cuomo on Monday interviewed ‘Sara,’ an American national who was left stranded in Afghanistan after the US military removed the last remaining troops from the country just hours before
After the final departure Monday, US Central Command chief General McKenzie revealed troops left behind 73 aircraft and 27 tactical Humvees at Hamid Karzai International Airport. He claimed they were demilitarized and would never be used again.
‘They can take pictures and walk around and look at them, but they can’t fly them or drive them or use any of the systems that we have at the airport,’ Kirby said.
However it’s clear some US aircraft left in the country are still operable – a video circulating last week showed Taliban fighters flying a Black Hawk helicopter gloatingly across the sky. Just one could cost as much as $20 million.
As for weapons the US handed over to Afghan government forces over the years – the US spent $83 billion training and arming troops – Kirby admitted there was ‘quite a bit of material in that batch that the Afghans had that the Taliban now have access to.’
But he was unconcerned about the impact those gadgets would have on the Taliban’s fighting capability – despite acknowledging they can be deadly.
Roughly $28 billion alone was spent on Afghan weapons from 2002 – 2017, Reuters reports.
Taliban fighters took control of Hamid Karzai International Airport after the US withdrew
The Pentagon said the US aircraft and vehicles left behind have been demilitarized and no longer pose a threat if in the wrong hands
The Taliban now controls all of Kabul after taking the airport when western forces departed
‘The kinds of equipment we’re talking about while certainly there is a lethality component to it, it doesn’t pose a threat to the United States. It doesn’t pose a threat to neighboring nations. These are not the kinds of things that the Taliban can make great strategic use out of them,’ Kirby said.
He didn’t elaborate on what the ‘lethality component’ was or whether it would pose a threat to the thousands of vulnerable Afghans left behind.
Before evacuating some US equipment and ammunition was destroyed by the military.
But that didn’t stop the Taliban from claiming victory. On Tuesday the Taliban held mock funerals for American troops and NATO allies as thousands turned out on the streets of major cities to celebrate the end of the 20-year US military intervention in Afghanistan.
Coffins draped with the US, UK and French flags as well as NATO’s insignia were paraded through the streets of Khost by crowds waving the Taliban’s flag, hours after the final US plane departed.
The taunting ceremony followed the deaths of 13 US troops in an ISIS-K suicide bombing on August 26 at the Kabul airport.
In Kandahar – a traditional Taliban stronghold – thousands also turned out waving white Taliban flags to celebrate what the group is referring to as its ‘independence day’, hours after the final American troops boarded an evacuation flight out of the country.
Fake coffins draped with the British, American, French and NATO flags were paraded through the streets of Khost in Afghanistan today as the Taliban celebrated the end of western ‘occupation’
It comes after celebratory scenes in Kabul overnight, where fireworks exploded and gunfire rattled through the air moments after the final US jet departed.
Speaking from the runway at Kabul airport this morning – and surrounded by Taliban special forces units dressed head to toe in American gear – spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid hailed the ‘victory’ over western forces.
‘It is an historical day and an historical moment…. we liberated our country from a great power,’ he added, saying the last 20 years should serve as a ‘big lesson for other invaders [and] a lesson for the world.’
Following 2,356 US military deaths, many thousands wounded and an estimated $2.3 trillion spent on a 20-year endeavor that ended with the Taliban sweeping back to power, many Americans are frustrated with President Joe Biden’s handling of the withdrawal.