Evacuating Afghanistan

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In Doha, Qatar on February the 29th in 2020, the United States entered into an agreement with the Taliban. The four part “comprehensive peace agreement included the following two provisions concerning the security of the United States and its allies:

  1. [It] Guarantees and enforcement mechanisms that will prevent the use of the soil of Afghanistan by any group or individual against the security of the United States and its allies.
    1. [It] Guarantees, enforcement mechanisms, and announcement of a timeline for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan.

    Just above the signing declaration at the conclusion of the agreement is one final operative paragraph that states:

    The United States will seek economic cooperation for reconstruction with the new post-settlement Afghan Islamic government as determined by the intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiations, and will not intervene in its internal affairs.

    Now if, despite all the ambiguity, the guarantees concerning the security of the United States and its allies somehow covered the withdrawal operations, why did they not commence immediately upon the execution of the agreement, in February of 2020? At that time, if indeed the withdrawal was covered, special squads could have moved throughout the countryside with minimal risk. They could have moved vulnerable individuals allied with the “freedom forces” to evacuation points where the aircraft could have also operated with minimal risk. 

    Stephen Miller, then a top adviser to President Donald Trump, was incredulous during a fall Cabinet meeting in 2018. According to one person in the room Miller asked: “What do you guys want? A bunch of Iraqs and ‘Stans across the country?” According to CNN, several sources claimed the Trump administration was purposefully slow-walking the entry of all refugees – including allies who aided American soldiers in Afghanistan.

    The Special Immigrant Visa program was created in 2008 It issues visas that are sometimes referred to as SIVs. The program was later expanded to offer visas to any Afghan who was able to demonstrate “at least one year of faithful and valuable service” to or on behalf of the U.S. government. Military interpreters – whose lives were in danger because of their work for U.S. forces in Afghanistan have sometimes had to wait years to obtain a visa through the SIV program.

    According to data from the U.S. State Department, from the beginning of Fiscal Year 2008 through June of 2021, more than 76,000 Afghans, including visa recipients and their families, have been allowed into the country under the SIV program. The U.S. Congress amends the legislation every year, to make sure enough visas are available. It wasn’t until July of 2021, that lawmakers authorized an additional 8,000 visa slots and more than $1 billion to fund the Afghanistan evacuation.

    The quarterly reports that are published on the State Department website show that between March and June of 2020, only 3 SIVs were approved. Between July and September of 2020, an additional 283 were approved.. And, from October to December of 2020, only 237 additional visas were approved. In all three of the quarterly reports, the number of people interviewed for the visas in Kabul was listed as zero. The reports do show that two Afghans were scheduled to be interviewed during the July to September period and nine were scheduled to be interviewed from October through December. According to the reports these interviews were to be conducted outside of Afghanistan.

    According to the International Rescue Committee, “Only 16,000 Afghan SIVs have been issued since 2014 despite the availability of 26,500 total authorized visas during that time.” They said “There are more than 18,000 applications in the current pipeline, impacting a potential total of 53,000 individuals including family members.” The Congressional Research Service reported that 2,134 Afghan interpreters and family members were admitted in 2017. Then, in 2018, the number dropped to 524. In 2019 we saw that number cut by more than half to 248. And in 2020 it dropped to 98. Although some point to the Pandemic as one cause for the decline, the downward trend was well underway prior to the time CoVid even became a factor.

    At this juncture we must consider the extent to which the outgoing administration was engaging in deliberate obfuscation during the 2020-2021 transition. The State Department’s slowdown, with respect to visa processing, didn’t became clearly evident until Biden took office and Antony Blinken was sworn-in as the new Secretary of State.

    The desperation and bottle-necked evacuation we witnessed at the airport in Kabul, indicates a failure on the part of prevaricating politicians that refused to act on a timely basis in accordance with their prior agreements. No amount of blame shifting is going to resonate with those citizens that are cognizant of the agreement together with the timeline.

    It should also be noted that the willingness of the Afghan Army to lay down their weapons was clearly foreseeable in light of the failure to adopt a coherent strategy going into the country twenty years ago. Ask yourself, why would any army stand and fight when their leadership had already fled. 

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