U.S. struggles with who’s who in Afghanistan’s 124,000 airlift

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Days after the Biden administration finished evacuating approximately 124,000 people from Afghanistan, she is faced with the reality that she does not know who many of these people are.

What is emerging, according to government officials and advocates, is that a small percentage of Afghan citizens who have stepped out are those the United States has pledged to place at the top of its list of priorities: the thousands who had worked for the United States and its allies as as well as employees of nongovernmental groups and media organizations.


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Instead, initial results suggest that while some who escaped were local employees, many got out because they were part of the initial crash of people who made their way to Kabul airport as the town either fell into Taliban hands or secured passage through the airport gates thanks to luck. or help from people in the United States or elsewhere.

The United States is examining reports that older men may have been admitted with young girls they claimed to be “wives” or suffered other sexual abuse, according to an official who raised the concern under the guise of ‘anonymity. This problem was reported earlier Friday by the Associated Press.

In fact, many of the Afghans most vulnerable to the Taliban – applicants for the special immigrant visa program for translators and others who aided the US war effort – failed to make it because that the United States told them that going to the airport was too dangerous. And they never got a call before the last US plane left to meet President Joe Biden’s August 31 departure deadline.

The findings spark new anger from advocates who took Biden at his word when he said the United States would stay until the Americans and Afghans who worked for the United States during the 20 Years’ War were able to escape. Instead, thousands of people who wanted to leave through the SIV program were left behind.

“These are the people who upheld the rule of law, they were waiting for the State Department to evacuate them, and that was another promise that was broken,” said James Miervaldis, of No One Left Behind, a non-profit organization that assists with resettlement. “The figures are very worrying.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said this week that the SIV program was “designed to be a slow process.” He said “we need a different kind of capability” for a mass evacuation.

General Glen VanHerck, head of US Northern Command, told reporters on Friday that the “vast majority” of those treated by the United States were not visa applicants.

In a briefing Friday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that 70 to 80 percent of those who were airlifted out of Afghanistan were Afghans at risk, including a “significant number” of SIV candidates. But he said the administration was still figuring out who they were.

It also created headaches for officials who said many of the Afghans who show up had few identification documents. The Defense Ministry said Thursday that only one of those arriving at bases in Europe has so far been reported as a possible threat.

Looking ahead, Blinken said it was “hard to see” the Taliban would get crippling sanctions relief if they reneged on their commitments to let those who wish to leave Afghanistan do so.

Few options

What is clear as the United States and its allies take stock after the evacuation is that the administration faced a chaotic situation with few good options, exacerbated by the panic caused when the Taliban surprised the world with the speed of their takeover in August. Instead, the United States and other countries have prioritized the evacuation of their own citizens and staff employed locally by their embassies.

“Given the situation the government faced when the Taliban took power, it is no small feat that over 100,000 people were airlifted from Kabul airport,” said Eric Schwartz, President of Refugees International. “As for what they did when the grease hit the fire, I’m inclined to give the administration a pass, but in terms of planning around the withdrawal – it’s just hard to prove that the planning was well done. ”

Now a thorny question remains: what will happen to Afghans who fail the vetting process? Putting them back on a plane to Afghanistan is an unlikely solution, but the administration won’t say it.

It has become a problem for the Department of Homeland Security to deal with.

“We have a plan, but again, these aren’t always plans that we can detail publicly,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a briefing Thursday. He said the United States is seeking “to expedite these security checks in accordance with the rigor with which they must be carried out.”

© 2021 Bloomberg

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