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Rescue groups tell AP: US missed hundreds still in Afghanistan

FILE - In this Aug. 24, 2021, file photo provided by the U.S. Marine Corps, Families walk toward their flight during evacuations at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, in an Aug. 24, 2021 photo provided by the U.S. Marine Corps. More than 30 California children are stuck in Afghanistan after traveling to the country to see their relatives weeks before the Taliban seized power and US forces left, according to school districts where the children are enrolled. (Sgt. Samuel Ruiz / U.S. Marine Corps via AP, File)

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San Diego-based reporter Julie Watson and New York investigative reporter Bernard Condon fact-checked the Biden administration’s estimate that no more than 200 American citizens were left behind in Afghanistan, finding veteran-led rescue groups and members of Congress who say the figure is too low and also overlooks hundreds of others they consider to be equally American: permanent legal residents with green cards.

The pair’s reporting was the most detailed look yet into the true toll of the Americans left behind after the U.S. military’s chaotic and deadly pullout from Afghanistan. Rather than take the administration’s estimate at face value, Watson and Condon decided to report on the independent experiences of volunteer groups and lawmakers working with people in Afghanistan and their loved ones in the states.

The leader of one volunteer group told AP that the official count of U.S. citizens is off by hundreds, and California Rep. Darrell Issa, said the calls his office is receiving lead him to estimate the true toll of U.S. citizens left in Afghanistan is about 500.

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Parwana Faizi, 7, left, and Palwasha Faizi, 10, accompany their father, Mohammad Faizi, a green card holder, during a news conference in El Cajon, Calif., Sept. 2, 2021. The family were visiting relatives in Afghanistan in August and were forced to escape as the Taliban seized power. – AP Photo / Gregory Bull

As for green card holders — who have lived in the U.S. for years, paid taxes, owned property, can serve in the military, and often have children who are U.S. citizens — the true number who want to get out is in the hundreds and perhaps more than 1,000, according to rescue groups and lawmakers. Watson and Condon highlighted the plight of one family of green card holders who lived in Sacramento for years and has been texting daily with their children’s elementary school principal while trying to escape Afghanistan. “I’m loosing the hope,” texted the mother.

AP’s story, with contributions from Kathy Gannon in Kabul and Matt Lee in Washington, was among the most-read on the AP News app on the Labor Day holiday weekend and was featured prominently on major news sites.

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