The Biden administration revealed Thursday it will evacuate thousands of Afghans who helped the departing U.S. military during the war to other countries until American entry visas for them and their families are processed.
Asked about the “mass evacuation” to third countries expected before the looming U.S. military withdrawal, President Joe Biden told reporters Thursday, “They’re going to come. We’ve already begun the process. Those who helped us are not going to be left behind.”
“They’re welcome here just like anyone else who risked their lives to help us,” he added.
“I am confident that at some point, we’ll begin to evacuate some of those people soon,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told a House panel on Wednesday.
Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who testified alongside Austin, added, “I consider it a moral imperative to take care of those that have served along our side. We are prepared to execute whatever we are directed.”
Citing anonymous administration officials on Thursday, the New York Times reported:
With the American military in the final phases of withdrawing from Afghanistan after 20 years of war, the White House has come under heavy pressure from lawmakers and military officials to protect Afghan allies from revenge attacks by the Taliban and speed up the lengthy and complex process of providing them special immigrant visas.
On Wednesday, administration officials started notifying lawmakers that they will soon begin what could be a wholesale move of tens of thousands of Afghans. Officials said the Afghans would be moved out of Afghanistan to third countries to await the processing of their visa requests to move to the United States.
The officials declined to say where the Afghans would wait, and it is not clear whether third countries have agreed to take them. The opportunity to move will be given to people who have already begun the application process.
A senior administration official said that under the plan, family members of applicants would also be moved out of Afghanistan to a third country to await visa processing. Transportation out of Afghanistan will not come with any assurance that a visa to the United States will be granted. It was unclear whether people who somehow do not qualify would be sent back to Afghanistan or left in a third country.
More than 18,000 Afghans, with over 50,000 family members, are caught up in bureaucratic limbo waiting to obtain a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV), available to people who face threats because they worked for the U.S. government, a lengthy and complex process long plagued by chronic delays and backlogs.
President Biden told reporters he does not yet know which countries will take the Afghans who worked for the U.S. government and military as interpreters, drivers, engineers, security guards, fixers, embassy clerks, contractors, and other capacities.
Biden added that he plans to discuss that issue during his Friday meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
On Wednesday, former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker told a Senate panel that the Biden’s administration’s failure to address the fate of the alleged Afghan allies sooner, before agreeing to a withdrawal timeline, has made a “mass evacuation” the only option.
Crocker warned a Senate panel Wednesday that there are “incredible problems” associated with extracting tens of thousands of Afghans as the American forces leave amid worsening conditions in Afghanistan.
For one, Crocker warned Senators that a “mass evacuation” amid the U.S. withdrawal, which the witness noted looks a lot like an American defeat, would instill a panic … in the population of Afghanistan and its security forces, and its government.”
Biden agreed to America’s longest war by this year’s anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that triggered the conflict in October 2001.
The completion of the U.S military pullout may reportedly conclude as early as the middle of next month.
Crocker warned that if Biden fails to evacuate the Afghans in a short amount of time, “We’re going to have a lot of blood on our hands.”
In a rare show of bipartisanship, Senators and representatives from both parties have pushed the Biden administration to act swiftly on the Afghans’ behalf.