Veterans Group: The White House Admitted They Left Most Special-Immigrant Visa Holders Behind | National Review

Veterans Group: The White House Admitted They Left Most Special-Immigrant Visa Holders Behind | National Review

Taliban fighters patrol in Kabul, Afghanistan October 5, 2021. (Jorge Silva/Reuters)

Matt Zoeller, co-founder of No One Left Behind, met with White House officials who are coordinating the resettlement of Afghan allies.

Zoeller wrote on Twitter last night that he was told from August 15 to August 31, the U.S. evacuated 86,000 Afghans. Out of that group, 5,000 were U.S. citizens, 3,5000 were green-card holders, or legal permanent residents, and 3,000 were on special immigrant visas (SIV). The nonprofit group Association of Wartime Allies estimated that as of August 15, roughly 88,000 Afghan SIV holders needed to be evacuated — meaning that the overwhelming majority of SIV holders were left behind.

The remaining 71,000 or so evacuated Afghans were “humanitarian parolees,” who qualified because they “have a compelling emergency and there is an urgent humanitarian reason or significant public benefit to allowing [them] to temporarily enter the United States.” SIV holders were supposed to be given top priority, because their past work as interpreters or other roles for the U.S. military made them the top targets for Taliban retribution.

Unfortunately, there is some evidence that the U.S. government security vetting for the Afghans who did make it out was slipshod, disorganized, and insufficient:

An internal memo, drafted by Republican aides to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee who visited U.S. military bases used to process Afghans domestically and overseas, said that certain standard steps for refugees, such as in-person interviews and document verification, were skipped or delayed. The memo, which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, was prepared ahead of a closed-door briefing from Biden administration officials for committee members, including Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio), the top Republican on the panel.

Those without paperwork or identifying biometric or biographic information were allowed to give their own names and dates of birth for entry into U.S. government tracking systems, an additional source of concern, the memo said. The screenings also didn’t include an assessment of the individual’s ties to the U.S., it added.

Ten evacuees who made it to the U.S. have been detained because they are national security risks, an administration official told lawmakers in the Tuesday briefing, according to a person familiar with the matter. It wasn’t clear how they were determined to be security risks.

Then there is the issue of Americans left behind. Roughly one month ago, Task Force Pineapple said it knew of five American citizens who wanted out but who couldn’t leave, the September Group knows of seven, Project Exodus says it knows of nine, and Task Force Argo’s database includes 45 American citizens and 116 green-card holders — although no one knows if these groups’ lists overlap. On November 3, Foreign Policy reported that the State Department believes as many as 14,000 U.S. legal permanent residents remain in Afghanistan.

I’m afraid my reader nicknamed Samaritan doesn’t have a lot new to report, and the meager updates he has are not good. One of the former employees he’s trying to get, out, a civil engineer is continuing to hide with his family. This civil engineer reported that his friend, a doctor, was beaten and killed by the Taliban shortly before Thanksgiving. The civil engineer and his family are scrounging for food as their savings run out.

Those with green cards have heard that they can’t get through passport control or immigration in Afghanistan, because the Taliban will yank them out of the line. The land borders remain closed. “The only way to get these guys out is through an unconventional airlift extraction, which are not happening at the moment,” Samaritan told me.

It would be easy to blame the U.S. State Department for the colossal failure to prioritize the evacuation of those who had SIVs, but most front-line State workers did the best they could in overwhelming circumstances. No one in the U.S. government had prepared to get 88,000 or so people out of a war zone, with a collapsing central government, with only one airport. (President Biden says he doesn’t remember his military advisers urging him to keep 2,500 troops in the country. Biden also claimed his advisers told him that there was not much value in keeping Bagram Air Base open.)

Last month, Politico checked in with State Department employees involved in the evacuation, and found that some who worked on the evacuation said the harrowing experience of being unable to help so many desperate people “broke a lot of people.”

Interviews with more than half a dozen State Department employees in addition to government officials and advocates, as well as a review of internal administration emails POLITICO obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, reveal the desperation and disorganization that consumed frontline State Department employees. As they feverishly attempted to assist Afghans and Americans stranded in the war-torn country and fielded a crush of calls and emails — the inbox where the State Department directed Afghans to send Special Immigrant Visa applications crashed at least once — officials say they were unclear of their own authorities and what policies they were allowed to employ to help evacuate people. It all triggered mental health issues for some staffers, from which some are still attempting to recover, months later.

Their stories are a testament to the U.S. government’s lack of preparedness for the cratering security situation, even as President Joe Biden pushed through his decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by Aug. 31.

“This experience broke a lot of people, including me,” a second State Department official said. “We were all getting inundated by personal requests to help specific people from everyone we’ve ever known or worked with. And we were powerless to do anything, really. Feeling like you’re supposed to be the government’s 911, but knowing the call for help didn’t go very far beyond you was extremely demoralizing.”

The evacuation of U.S. forces from Afghanistan went about as badly as it possibly could. Even beyond the terrorist attack at the airport that killed 13 American service members, American citizens, and green-card holders were left behind, the overwhelming majority of Afghan allies who were supposed to be evacuated were left behind, the ones who did get out included at least a handful of people who were security threats, and the State Department employees who tried to do the most to get people out were left traumatized by the experience.

On December 6, State Department spokesman Ned Price said:

In our engagement with the Taliban, we have made very clear to them, and we made clear to them before they took over Kabul, and certainly after, including last week when Special Representative for Afghanistan Tom West met with a senior Taliban delegation, that we would be looking to the Taliban’s conduct in key areas, and that includes in human rights, that includes in terms of their counterterrorism commitments, that includes in terms of providing safe passage to Americans, LPRs, and to others who wish to leave the country.

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About the Author

Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.