Biden Scrambling to Evacuate Afghan Allies Waiting for U.S. Visas Before Troop Withdrawal

This June 13, 2017 photo released by Operation Resolute Support headquarters shows U.S. Ma
Sgt. Lucas Hopkins, Operation Resolute Support headquarters via AP

The Biden Administration is racing to evacuate thousands of Afghans who aided the U.S. before the American troops’ withdrawal in weeks, asking some Central Asian countries to temporarily house some of the allies waiting for visas to the United States.

U.S. officials are in discussions with Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan to take 9,000 of the estimated 18,000 Afghans who worked alongside the American military and government during the nearly two-decade-long war and fear Taliban reprisals after the American troops leave by the end of August, Bloomberg reported July 2, adding:

Some officials had suggested the idea of sending those [18,000] Afghans [and their families] to the U.S. island of Guam in the Pacific, and the island’s governor even tweeted that he was in favor of the idea. But that was never seriously considered given officials’ fear that if the visa applicants went to Guam, it would be impossible to force them to leave if their SIV applications were denied.

About 18,000 Afghans, with an estimated 50,000 family members, are caught in bureaucratic limbo waiting to obtain Special Immigrant Visas, available to individuals who fear retaliation for working for the U.S. as interpreters, drivers, engineers, security guards, embassy clerks, fixers, contractors, and in other capacities.

On Monday, the U.S. military announced it had completed over 90% of the entire troop withdrawal process, including handing over Bagram Air Base, their largest facility in Afghanistan, to the Afghans.

In April, President Joe Biden promised to pull out the 3,500 U.S. troops that remained in Afghanistan by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that triggered the Afghan war in October 2001.

The military expects to have all American troops leave Afghanistan by the end of August, a few weeks ahead of Biden’s deadline.

While testifying before a Senate panel, former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker blasted the president for not thinking of the Afghans who helped America during its longest war when deciding on a withdrawal timeline.

Lisa Curtis, a former National Security Council director for South and Central Asia who is now director of the Indo-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, also criticized Biden’s plan to withdraw troops.

Curtis, also a member of the non-profit foreign policy group the Vandenberg Coalition, told CNN, “The SIV [Special Immigrant Visa] situation is indicative of the poor planning of the drawdown overall. It’s been abrupt and a bit too sudden.”

“The good news is the administration is trying to find a solution because this is obviously a major problem, and it’s becoming more urgent as the security situation in Afghanistan deteriorates more quickly than people expected,” she added.

Lengthy and complex, the SIV process has long suffered from backlogs and delays. Some applicants have waited years to obtain a special visa to travel to the United States, potentially making some countries hesitant to take the Afghan evacuees.

Veterans, including lawmakers from both parties, are demanding that Biden help the Afghan allies, Fox News reported Tuesday. One of those lawmakers who served multiple combat tours as a Marine, Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA), demanded that Biden evacuate the Afghan allies now.

According to Crocker, Biden’s poor withdrawal planning has made a mass evacuation the only option to help the Afghan allies, which he believes will “instill panic” in the government, domestic troops, and civilians who will stay behind as security conditions deteriorate.

Late last month, the New York Times revealed that the Biden administration was notifying lawmakers that America would soon begin evacuating tens of thousands of Afghan allies to third countries to await the process of their SIV.

However, congressional members from both parties have yet to receive details.

With the complete pull-out of U.S. troops expected in weeks, the Biden administration is scrambling to find third countries that will temporarily house the Afghan allies waiting for SIVs.

CNN noted:

One administration goal is to spread the Afghans out across a number of countries so that no one nation has to take all 18,000 who are currently in the long process of getting a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV), according to a source familiar with ongoing discussions.

The number of Afghans waiting for a special visa and their families is estimated to stand at about 70,000.

CNN further noted:

While the immediate focus will be on getting about 9,000 of the 18,000 applicants out of the country — people in the final stages of the visa process — the effort could extend to upwards of 50,000 people, as Afghans who applied for visas will be given the opportunity to bring family members, sources said.

Crocker also warned that a mass evacuation might ultimately delay the U.S. withdrawal.


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