'Intense, consuming': Phillips and staff work to evacuate Americans from Afghanistan

A U.S. Air Force aircraft takes off.
A U.S. Air Force aircraft takes off from the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Monday.
Aamir Qureshi | AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. military has officially withdrawn from Afghanistan, but on Tuesday, as the last U.S. military plane left and President Joe Biden declared the 20-year-long war over, there were still about 100 to 200 Americans in the country.

U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota’s 3rd District was one of the first members of Congress to announce that anyone in Afghanistan having trouble getting out could call his office.

After that, his staff began receiving desperate calls.

“This is probably the most intense and consuming and, perhaps, important mission on which my team and I have been dedicated,” Phillips told host Cathy Wurzer.

Phillips and his staff have been collecting the names of people who need help leaving Afghanistan, initiating contact with the State Department and trying to ensure safe evacuations.

As of Wednesday morning, Phillips said his office had 65 cases open involving over 500 individuals and had added over 2,000 names to State Department rolls.

“It has been tedious, it’s been emotional — and the very best of America,” Phillips said. “We will not rest until every single American who wishes to leave does so safely.”

Phillips expressed his support for the decision to exit Afghanistan but disagreed with its execution.

“One of my great disappointments is that our government has not coordinated this effort terribly well behind the scenes. Herculean work to get 124,000 people out of the country, indeed, but behind the scenes a lot of struggles” with coordination and communication, Phillips said.

Phillips added that he felt Congress should have been consulted regarding former President Donald Trump’s agreement with the Taliban and Biden’s withdrawal plan.

Phillips, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, made clear that there “absolutely” would be congressional hearings on the entirety of the Afghanistan war.

Looking ahead, Phillips said he sees promise in Biden’s “new path forward” for American foreign policy: fewer soldiers on the ground, more diplomacy and more use of cyber strategies.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

Phillips encouraged anyone in need of assistance regarding leaving Afghanistan, either for themselves or for friends or family, to reach out to his office. Contact information for Phillips’ office can be found at phillips.house.gov/contact.

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.