Back in late June, there was a major Covid outbreak at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, leading to at least 159 cases. Some at the embassy had to be put on oxygen or get medically evacuated.
Wilson didn’t personally send any emails to the entire embassy staff urging people this year to get vaccinated, according to a person familiar with the matter, although among the all-embassy messages that were sent was a holiday card of him and his wife wearing masks and Santa Claus hats.
Wilson, reached by email on a plane, didn’t provide a comment on getting coronavirus but told POLITICO he was one of the first people in the embassy to get vaccinated and “made many appeals to people to get vaccinated as soon as they became available to us in January.”
The State Department declined to comment, saying it doesn’t discuss the individual health status of employees.
“I would not be surprised if a lot of people working on this operation get Covid,” said one person who worked on the effort to get Americans and vulnerable Afghans out. “It was tight quarters. There are high Covid numbers in Afghanistan and a low vaccination rate.”
Wilson was on the last C-17 out of the country on Monday night along with Army Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted a picture of Wilson and his colleagues, all wearing flak jackets and not wearing masks, on the Kabul tarmac with Wilson holding the folded American flag that flew over the embassy.
Blinken said on Monday that Wilson did “exceptional, courageous work during a highly challenging time.”
Embassy operations have been moved to Doha, Qatar, as the U.S. evaluates whether to recognize the Taliban as Afghanistan’s legitimate government, a prospect that Biden administration officials view as unlikely at least for a while. Ian McCary, who was the deputy chief of mission in Kabul, will lead those operations in Doha.
Wilson came out of retirement to serve as the acting U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan starting in January 2020. He is expected to return to retirement. During a four-decade-long diplomatic career, Wilson was the ambassador to Azerbaijan and Turkey, and also served in Russia, Australia, Georgia and the Czech Republic.
He hasn’t made many public appearances since the Afghan government fell apart, although in one interview in late August with CBS News, when asked why they didn’t get Americans and Afghan allies out before the Taliban took Kabul, he said that the embassy had “put out repeated warnings every three weeks to Americans going back to, I think, in March or April, each one in stronger terms. Leave now. Leave immediately.”