Normally when there is a crisis like the one unfolding in Afghanistan, the State Department would establish a Citizens Emergency Services Task Force. There is no such entity up and operating on the 7th Floor of State Department.
Let me explain how such a Task Force is supposed to operate. When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in August 1990, the Secretary of State directed the Office of Counter Terrorism to stand up a Task Force. We were in the main Task Force room. In addition, the Bureau of Political Military Affairs set up a Task Force in room number 2. And down the hall, the Bureau of Consular Affairs tasked two of its most experienced diplomats–Elizabeth Ann Swift and Mary Ryan–to head up the Consular Affairs Task Force. Ann was in charge of Citizen Emergency Services and Mary was the principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs. Ann Swift brought unique experience to the mission–she was one of the hostages held by the Iranians starting in 1979.
Those two women set up a 24-7 operation staffed by at least 10 Consular Affairs officers. There were multiple phone lines and a computer at every position. The State Department published a number that anyone could call to report the location of an American citizen in Kuwait. As the calls rolled in a database was created that included the name, address, phone number, date of birth, social security number and passport number of the American stranded in Kuwait.
This was a dynamic list and grew by the minute. All the Secretary of State had to do to know the number of Americans in Kuwait was to call the Task Force and get the current number. That is how State Department did it back in the day.
But such a Task Force is not up and running. Instead, there are Consular Affairs officers (one per shift I’m told) attached to the Afghan Task Force. If you go to the State Department website you will find the following:
U.S. Citizens and Legal Permanent Residents:
- U.S. citizens seeking assistance to depart Afghanistan should utilize this link: Repatriation Assistance Request or in an emergency, call 1-888-407-4747 (U.S. Canada) or +1-202-501-4444 (overseas). Legal permanent residents (LPRs) and spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens in Afghanistan who are awaiting immigrant visas should also complete this form.
There is no dedicated number for American citizens in the United States to call to report the situation about a loved one left behind in Afghanistan. Note the odd language, “in an emergency, call 1-888-407-4747.” What constitutes a frigging emergency?
Secretary of State Blinken and his staff have failed to employ the basic plan for handling this type of human crisis. I had a friend call the 888 number. None of the prompts gave the following option, “if you have the name of an American in Afghanistan please press #.” I spoke with the Consular Affairs rep on the main Task Force. The person was very polite, professional and overwhelmed. The person suggested that it would be better to contact the US Embassy in Kabul (I was given that advice around 930pm on 25 August).
This is a disgrace and it explains why Blinken does not know what is going on.