Did the US military give the Taliban the names of Americans and Afghans waiting to be evacuated in order to facilitate the process? The idea, not entirely denied by President Joe Biden, had his opponents screaming in Washington on Friday.
The controversy arose from a Thursday report by the respected Politico news website. Pressed by journalists, Biden did not rule out the possibility of names being provided to the Taliban.
“I can’t tell you with any certitude that there’s actually been a list of names,” Biden said. “I don’t – there may have been – but I know of no circumstance.”
He added, “It doesn’t mean… it didn’t exist, that, ‘Here’s the names of 12 people; they’re coming. Let them through.’ It could very well have happened.”
That caused an uproar in Republican circles in the US capital.
“Never in the history of this nation would we have ever thought that our own government would give the names of Americans to the Taliban,” said top House Republican Kevin McCarthy. “Why wouldn’t we have created a situation of safe passage?”
Thirteen US troops and dozens of Afghans were killed in a suicide bombing at Kabul airport on Thursday, highlighting the troubled evacuation effort and shaking the Biden administration.
The Pentagon has acknowledged being in touch with the Taliban to coordinate the mass evacuation, but the State Department hit back on Friday at the notion that anybody had been put at risk.
“The idea that we are providing names or personally identifiable information to the Taliban in a way that exposes anyone to additional risk – that is simply wrong,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
“We have developed and implemented effective tactics to be in a position to facilitate the safe passage of individuals to the Kabul airport,” he said.
For example, Price said, “the vast majority of our locally employed staff are safely on the airport compound.
“These are individuals (against whom) one might expect the Taliban would seek to exact some degree of retribution.”
State Department officials said information on vehicles or convoys, such as license plates or arrival times at the airport, is sometimes shared.
The officials, however, did not rule out that some names may have occasionally been given in order to facilitate the evacuations.