Days after the Biden administration finished evacuating about 124,000 people from Afghanistan, it is beginning to face the reality that it doesn’t know who many of those people are.
What comes out, according to government officials and proponents, is that a small percentage of Afghan citizens who got out are the ones the US promised to put at the top of their priority list: the thousands who had worked for the US and its allies as well as employees of non -governmental groups and media organizations.
Instead, initial findings suggest that while some who escaped were local personnel, many got off because they were part of the initial infatuation of people who reached Kabul airport when the city fell to the Taliban or luckily cleared the passage through the airport gates. managed to secure or aid people in the US or elsewhere.
The US is investigating reports that older men may have been admitted along with young girls they labeled “brides” or otherwise sexually abused, according to an official who discussed the concern on condition of anonymity. That issue was reported earlier Friday by the Associated Press.
Many of the Afghans most vulnerable to the Taliban — applicants for the special immigrant visa program intended for translators and others who helped US war efforts — didn’t make it out because the US told them going to the airport would be too dangerous. And they never got a call to come before the last US plane took off to meet President Joe Biden’s August 31 departure deadline.
Those findings sparked new anger among supporters who took Biden at his word when he said the US would stay until the Americans and Afghans who worked for the US over the 20-year war could escape. Instead, thousands of people were left behind who wanted to leave through the SIV program.
“These are the people who followed 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 nonprofit that helps with resettlement. “The numbers are very worrying.”
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said this week that the SIV program was “designed as a slow process”. He said “we need a different type of power” for a mass evacuation.
General Glen VanHerck, the head of the US Northern Command, told reporters on Friday that the “vast majority” of people processed by the US were not visa applicants.
In a briefing Friday, Foreign Minister Antony Blinken said 70 to 80% of people flown in from Afghanistan were Afghans at risk, including a “significant number” of SIV applicants. But he said the government was still figuring out who they were.
That also worried officials who said many of the Afghans who show up have few identification documents. The Defense Ministry said on Thursday that only one of the people arriving at bases in Europe has so far been identified as a possible threat.
Looking ahead, Blinken said it’s “hard to see” that the Taliban will get some relief from crippling sanctions if they backtrack on pledges to let people who want to leave Afghanistan do so.
What is clear as the US and its allies take stock after the evacuation is that the government was faced with a chaotic situation with few good options, exacerbated by panic caused when the Taliban surprised the world with the speed of their takeover in August. Instead, the US and other countries prioritized the evacuation of their own citizens and staff locally employed by their embassies.
“Given the situation faced by the government when the Taliban took over, it is no small feat that more than 100,000 people flew in from the airport in Kabul,” said Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International. “In terms of what they did when the grease hit the fire, I’m inclined to give the administration a pass, but in terms of the planning around the withdrawal — it’s just hard to argue that the planning was done right.”
Now a thorny question remains: what will happen to those Afghans who fail the vetting process? Putting them back on the plane to Afghanistan is an unlikely solution, but the government won’t say anything.
That has become a problem for the Department of Homeland Security to solve.
“We do have a plan, but again, these aren’t always plans that we can make public,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said at a briefing on Thursday. He said the US was looking to “speed up these security checks in line with the rigor with which they should be performed.”
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NewsMadura staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.)