White House approves plan to coordinate with outside groups on evacuating US citizens and Afghan allies
By Zachary Cohen, Kylie Atwood and Oren Liebermann, CNN
(CNN) -- The White House has approved a plan for the State Department to take the lead in coordinating with outside groups that are working to evacuate at-risk US citizens and Afghan allies who were left behind after US and NATO troops withdrew from Afghanistan, an administration official and US official told CNN.
The move comes after Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, met with representatives from several outside groups involved in the private efforts on Tuesday afternoon, the US official and another source with knowledge of the discussions said.
The groups brought different lists with various criteria for evacuating people to the meeting, the US official said, and Milley suggested creating a single, unified list with better defined requirements and criteria so that everybody could work from the same page.
Milley then raised the idea at an interagency discussion later Tuesday, the official added. The combination of the private and public efforts is not the launch of a new program or effort, the source noted. Rather, it is the unification and streamlining of efforts that have worked separately to this point.
It would also outline next steps for Afghans who have not been able to get out of the country, the second source familiar with the plan said, noting that under the proposal discussed in the meeting, which was attended by State Department and Pentagon officials, the effort would be led by the US government.
"The inner workings are not yet ironed out," a third source involved in the discussions, working on the humanitarian side of various operations being led by military veterans, told CNN. "The commitment is there — how it will work is still being ironed out."
"But it is a huge step forward," the source added, "as this work isn't possible without it."
The White House's approval of the plan and Tuesday's meeting were first reported by Politico.
While the plan approved by the White House stops short of establishing an official partnership, according to the administration official, it does place the State Department in a leading role in helping facilitate the evacuation of those who remain in Afghanistan.
Responding to a question from CNN Thursday, State Department spokesman Ned Price declined to speak about Milley's role in the discussions but acknowledged the department is now leading efforts to coordinate with outside groups on evacuation efforts.
"We are organizing an effort to help us organize these efforts on the part of NGOs, on the part of advocates, on the part of other outside actors, to see to it that we can provide them with ... the information that they need and overall so that we can organize the broad and oftentimes disparate efforts of outside groups to see to it that all of these efforts are as effective as they can be," Price said.
"This is an effort that will be run out of the State Department," he added, noting there will be more details shared in the coming days.
Though the exact nature of the Pentagon's role in this effort remains unclear, Milley's involvement stemmed from the fact that many of the private efforts to evacuate American citizens and at-risk Afghans involved military veterans, many of whom served in Afghanistan, who then reached out to the military looking for help, support or the latest information.
Task Force Pineapple, which has been working to help evacuate those remaining in Afghanistan since the last US military flight left Kabul, was among the groups represented in Tuesday's meeting, the US official and source familiar with the situation told CNN.
CNN previously reported that Afghans and Americans -- many of them military veterans -- were tapping into their networks and working around the clock to help get those vulnerable to Taliban retaliation out of Afghanistan.
As the US presence in Kabul began to wind down, there was a strong sense of frustration among the volunteers working to help their Afghan allies, as many of these individuals have been warning the administration for months about the need to have an evacuation plan in place.
Since then, the White House say the Taliban have been "cooperative" and have "shown flexibility" in getting Americans out of Afghanistan, including a flight that left the Kabul airport on Thursday.
"The Taliban have been cooperative in facilitating the departure of American citizens and lawful permanent residents on charter flights from HKIA. They have shown flexibility, and they have been businesslike and professional in our dealings with them in this effort. This is a positive first step," a statement from National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne reads.
The administration will "continue these efforts to facilitate the safe and orderly travel of American citizens, lawful permanent residents, and Afghans who worked for us and wish to leave Afghanistan."
"Because there is an ongoing terrorist threat to operations of this nature," the statement adds, "We will not be sharing details of these efforts before people are safely out of the country."
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