US Secretary of State Antony Blinken testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 22, 2023 in Washington, DC. AFP
Blinken was speaking before Congress where lawmakers from the rival Republican Party went on the offensive over the 2021 US withdrawal from Afghanistan and demanded the release of an internal dissent cable at the State Department.
Blinken, in response to a question, said that Taliban authorities were detaining "several Americans."
"We are working to secure their freedom. Their families have asked that we protect their identities and don't speak publicly to their cases," Blinken said.
The United States, despite poor relations with the Taliban rulers, has worked quietly to assist US citizens who wish to leave.
Blinken said that the State Department has assisted around 975 US citizens in leaving since the Taliban takeover and that about 175 self-described Americans remain in the country, including some who arrived since the US withdrawal.
"Forty-four of them are ready to leave and we are working to effectuate their departure," Blinken said.
Representative Mike McCaul, the new Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, raised the August 26, 2021 attack outside Kabul airport where US-led forces were rushing to evacuate US citizens and Afghan allies.
The attack, claimed by the Islamic State-Khorasan group, killed 13 US troops and some 170 Afghan civilians.
McCaul gave Blinken a Monday deadline to turn over a dissent cable, widely reported in the media, by US diplomats who had warned presciently that the Afghan government would collapse quickly with the US withdrawal.
Addressing the mother of a Marine killed in the attack, McCaul vowed to act "until people are held accountable."
"I will not rest until we get answers, and we will, even if we have to go all the way up the chain of command to do it," McCaul said.
Blinken promised to cooperate in providing information but said that dissent cables are shared in their entirety only with senior State Department officials.
"This tradition of having a dissent channel is one that is cherished in the department and goes back decades. It's a unique way for anyone in the department to speak truth to power as they see it," Blinken said.
Blinken said he wanted to "protect the integrity of the process to make sure we don't have a chilling effect on those who might want to come forward, knowing that they will have their identities protected and that they can do so again without fear or favor."