The “mass evacuation” of tens of thousands of visa-eligible Afghans who helped the U.S. during the war remains the only option to protect them and their families from Taliban reprisals after the upcoming American troop withdrawal, a former envoy testified Wednesday.
However, former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker warned that the mass extraction of what he estimated to be 70,000 Afghans waiting for the U.S. to process their requests for a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) would trigger a “panic” in the war-ravaged country.
“If we do a mass evacuation of SIV eligible, potentially eligible individuals, that would instill a panic, I think, in the population of Afghanistan, and its security forces, and its government,” Crocker testified before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Safety.
Crocker warned, however, that if President Joe Biden fails to evacuate them in a short amount of time, “We’re going to have a lot of blood on our hands.”
Crocker’s estimate of 70,000 visa-eligible Afghans includes about 18,000 caught in SIV backlogs after working for the U.S. government and military as interpreters, contractors, security personnel, and in other capacities, and nearly 52,000 of their family members.
“We’ve got a huge number” of Afghans potentially eligible for a special immigrant visa, awarded to people who face threats because of work they did for the American government and military, many times risking their lives in combat zones, Crocker noted.
“That presents an enormous security and logistical challenge if we have to turn to evacuation, and frankly, I don’t see any other alternative right now,” the former ambassador, who now serves as a nonresident senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, added.
A bipartisan group of House lawmakers is “lobbying the Biden administration in an improbable bid to arrange for a mass evacuation of Afghan applicants, perhaps to the U.S. territory Guam, while the visas can be processed,” the New York Times reported last Friday.
Crocker proclaimed that President Biden owns the effort to extract the Afghans who helped the United States and fear Taliban reprisals against them and their families for supporting the foreigners.
“President Biden owns this policy. It’s his. I think at a minimum, the White House is going to have to take action to say this is now a top-tier issue — what can we do for this people?” he testified.
“I would hope even at this very late date, the Biden administration will step forward, follow the lead of the American people, and ensure our national honor is not left behind with those who risk their lives for us,” he noted.
President Biden agreed to end America’s involvement in the nearly two-decade-old war by this year’s anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that triggered the Afghanistan war in October 2001.
The completion of the U.S military pullout may reportedly conclude as early as the middle of next month.
Crocker acknowledged that efforts by Congress and Biden to expedite the SIV process would likely be futile given the time constraints linked to the American withdrawal.
Still, he insisted that a mass evacuation could “halt” the long-awaited end of the Afghanistan war.
Crocker told lawmakers:
I increasingly see no alternative than some effort adding evacuation. As I noted, there are incredible problems associated with that. I mean, effectively, I would think, it would pretty much halt the withdrawal of the forces we have left. We would need all of them and probably more, again, to deal with root security, with marshaling, perimeter control.
“We would also be in a situation where we’re really not be able to check on the credentials of the people that might show up in an airhead,” he added.