By Devan Cole, CNN
Republican Sen. Mitt Romney said Sunday that if American citizens and Afghan allies are left in Afghanistan following the planned withdrawal of US troops there this week that would represent “a moral stain” on the US.
“Leaving Americans behind and leaving our Afghan friends behind who’ve worked with us would put upon us and will put upon us a moral stain,” the Utah Republican told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” when asked if US troops should remain in the country following Tuesday’s withdrawal deadline to ensure that all US citizens, legal permanent residents and Afghan allies are evacuated.
“This did not have to happen. It was preventable,” added Romney. “We didn’t have to be in this rush-rush circumstance with terrorists breathing down our neck. But it’s really the responsibility of the prior administration and this administration that has caused this crisis to be upon us.”
The comments from the senator come as concern mounts over the US’ frantic exit from Afghanistan as the withdrawal deadline nears. While President Joe Biden said last week that he’s keeping the deadline, which was established during the Trump administration, lawmakers from both parties have said they pressed Biden administration officials to extend it, to give the military more time to carry out evacuations.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan told Tapper in a separate interview Sunday on “State of the Union” that the administration is committed to “safe passage” of Americans and Afghans who helped the US government after the withdrawal deadline, saying, “After August 31st, we believe that we have substantial leverage to hold the Taliban to its commitments to allow safe passage for American citizens, legal permanent residents and the Afghan allies who have travel documentation to come to the United States.”
And the US State Department, along with governments from numerous other countries across the globe, released a statement midday Sunday saying they will hold the Taliban to their promises that they will allow people to leave the country after Tuesday.
“We are all committed to ensuring that our citizens, nationals and residents, employees, Afghans who have worked with us and those who are at risk can continue to travel freely to destinations outside Afghanistan,” the statement said in part.
Roughly 250 Americans who are attempting to leave Afghanistan remain in the country, according to new figures from a State Department spokesperson on Sunday. Approximately 50 evacuations have taken place in the last day, bringing the total number of American citizens evacuated to 5,500.
“Our team on the ground continues to coordinate assistance around the clock for this group, while taking the current security situation into account,” the State Department spokesperson said in a statement.
The US has evacuated or facilitated the evacuation of about 111,900 people overall since August 14, according to a White House official.
Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, who along with GOP Rep. Peter Meijer of Michigan took an unauthorized trip to Afghanistan last week to see the evacuation situation, told Tapper later on “State of the Union” that the process isn’t going as smoothly as the White House describes it.
“One of the things we learned on the ground there is that one of the biggest burdens on the troops are all these haphazard requests coming in from members of Congress and members of the administration in not — in no sort of organized way,” said Moulton.
The US troops “are doing this incredibly heroic effort, not only out there … in front of the gate to find these Afghans, but behind the wire in the airport to simply identify which ones we need to get, to sift through thousands and thousands of requests, and figure out which ones we need to bring over the wire,” he said. “So the system is not working very well.”
In a letter to House Republicans Sunday evening, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy outlined plans for addressing the situation in Afghanistan in the days and weeks ahead.
The letter urges GOP lawmakers “to communicate the human stories of our fellow countrymen still in Afghanistan by meeting and doing events with local veterans” and encourages Republicans to “message on TV and local media.”
McCarthy also signaled that Republicans plan to investigate Biden’s planning and decision-making, writing that “our ranking members are already making formal requests for document and record preservation pertinent to the Administration’s decision-making surrounding this debacle.”
On Sunday, the White House announced that about 2,900 people had been evacuated from Kabul from 3 a.m. ET Saturday to 3 a.m. ET Sunday. Those evacuations were carried out by 32 US military flights that carried approximately 2,200 evacuees and nine coalition flights that carried 700 people.
This story has been updated with additional details Sunday.
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CNN’s Barbara Starr, Jason Hoffman, Paul LeBlanc, Melanie Zanona and Chandelis Duster contributed to this report.