EXCLUSIVE: The State Department refused to grant official approval for private evacuation flights from Afghanistan to land in third countries, even though the department conceded that official authorization would likely be needed for planes to land in those nations, an email reviewed by Fox News shows.
Furthermore, the State Department explicitly stated that charter flights, even those containing American citizens, would not be allowed to land at Defense Department (DOD) airbases. U.S. officials have pointed to possible security threats from landing charter planes at military bases, saying that they lack the resources on the ground to fully verify flight manifests.
Eric Montalvo, who organized a series of private flights evacuating those stranded in Afghanistan, shared that email and others with Fox News after his evacuation efforts were repeatedly hampered by the federal bureaucracy.
A Sept. 1 email that a State Department official sent to Montalvo underscores the extent to which private evacuation efforts have run into bureaucratic roadblocks.
“No independent charters are allowed to land at [Al Udeid Air Base], the military airbase you mentioned in your communication with Samantha Power. In fact, no charters are allowed to land at an [sic] DoD base and most if not all countries in the Middle Eastern region, with the exception of perhaps Saudi Arabia will allow charters to land,” the official wrote.
“You need to find another destination country, and it can’t be the U.S. either.”
The official noted that though some third countries “may require” official approval from the State Department before accepting the private charter flights, the department “will not provide” that approval.
“Once you have had discussions with the host/destination country and reached an agreement, they may require some indication from the USG that we ‘approve’ of this charter flight. DOS will not provide an approval, but we will provide a ‘no objection’ to the destination country government via the U.S. Embassy in that country.”
During briefings on Sept. 2, the day after the official noted that the State Department would not be officially approving charter flights, White House press secretary Jen Psaki and State Department spokesman Ned Price both said that the Biden administration was not preventing planes from leaving Afghanistan.
Price also addressed last week the security risks of allowing the charter flights onto military bases.
“If these charters are seeking to go to a U.S. military installation, for example, we have to weigh not only the threat to those who may be on board – especially if they’re American citizens, LPRs, other Afghans to whom we have a special commitment – but also to the safety and security of State Department personnel, U.S. military personnel, Department of Homeland Security personnel, other U.S. personnel on U.S. military installations,” Price said.
“These are among the risks that the Department of Defense, the Department of State, and the host government – which, of course, has an important say in all this – must consider,” he added.
A State Department spokesperson declined to answer Fox News’ questions for this story, referring instead to remarks that Secretary of State Antony Blinken made on Tuesday.
“We’re working around the clock with NGOs, with members of Congress and advocacy groups, providing any and all information and doing all we can to clear any roadblocks that they’ve identified to make sure that charter flights carrying Americans or others to whom we have a special responsibility can depart Afghanistan safely,” Blinken said.
“Without personnel on the ground, we can’t verify the accuracy of manifests, the identities of passengers, flight plans, or aviation security protocols. So this is a challenge, but one we are determined to work through. We’re conducting a great deal of diplomacy on this as we speak.”
Blinken also denied that the Taliban was seeking to block passport-holding Americans from leaving Afghanistan. “And it’s my understanding is that the Taliban has not denied exit to anyone holding a valid document, but they have said those without valid documents, at this point, can’t leave,” he said.
Americans involved in efforts to rescue those left behind in Afghanistan previously described their horror at what they say are inexplicable delays from the State Department that are preventing evacuation flights from leaving the country.
Rick Clay, who runs the private rescue group PlanB, previously told Fox News that the State Department is the only thing preventing the flights he’s organizing from leaving Afghanistan. Other organizers of separate rescue missions echoed Clay’s criticisms to Fox News.
Four Americans, a mom and her three children, were able to escape Afghanistan on Monday by traveling overland across the border to a neighboring country.
While the State Department claimed to have “facilitated” the family’s evacuation, the organizers behind the rescue mission said that the department was exaggerating its involvement and deserves little to no credit for the rescue.
Houston Keene and Jennifer Griffin contributed reporting