September 23, 2021

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Biden’s promise not to leave America’s allies behind is tested – Roce Today

WASHINGTON – Evacuation flights for Westerners have resumed, but thousands of at-risk Afghans who had helped the United States are still stranded at home with the U.S. Embassy closed, all American diplomats and troops gone and the Taliban now at command.

With the United States and the Taliban both insisting on travel documents that may no longer be available in Afghanistan, the plight of those Afghans is testing President Joe Biden’s promises not to leave America’s allies behind.

On Thursday an evacuation flight from Kabul, operated by the Gulf state of Qatar and the first of its kind since the US-led military evacuations ended Aug.30, focused on US passport and green card holders and others. foreigners.

For US lawmakers, veteran groups and other Americans scrambling to get former US military interpreters and other Afghans at risk on charter flights, the revival of evacuation flights did little to allay fears that states United may they abandon countless Afghan allies.

Of particular concern are those whose special US immigration visas – intended for Afghans who helped Americans during the 20 Years War – were still in the works when the Taliban took Kabul in a lightning offensive on August 15. The United States abandoned their embassy building that same weekend.

“For all intents and purposes, these people’s chances of escaping the Taliban ended the day we left them behind,” said Afghanistan war veteran Matt Zeller, founder of No One Left Behind. It is among dozens of US grassroots groups working to get Afghan translators and others who have supported Americans.

About 200 foreigners, including Americans, are estimated to have left Afghanistan on a commercial flight departing Kabul on Thursday with the cooperation of the Taliban. Ten US citizens and 11 green card holders made the flight on Thursday, State Department spokesman Ned Price said. Americans organizing evacuation charter flights said they know of more US passports and green card holders in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif and elsewhere awaiting flights.

In the United States, National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne said Thursday’s flight was the result of “careful and hard diplomacy and commitment” and said the Taliban “showed flexibility and were professional and professional in their work. our relationship with them in this endeavor. “

But many doubt that the Taliban will be equally accommodating to the Afghans who supported the United States. papers – blocked, waiting for permission from the Taliban to leave.

Afghans and their American supporters say the Taliban are preventing all passengers in Mazar-e-Sharif from boarding waiting charter flights, including those with adequate travel documents.

Zeller pointed to the appointment of the Taliban this week for an uncompromising government. It includes Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is on the FBI’s most wanted list with a $ 5 million bounty for alleged attacks and kidnappings, as interior minister, a position that places him in charge of the passport grant.

The Trump administration almost stopped approving Afghan Immigrant Special Visas, or SIVs, in its final months. The Biden administration has also been criticized for failing to move faster in evacuating Afghans before Kabul fell into the hands of the Taliban.

The United States had also required some visa applicants to leave the country to apply, a requirement that became much more dangerous with the Taliban’s takeover last month.

“There are all these major logistical obstacles,” said Betsy Fisher of the International Refugee Assistance Project, which provides legal services to SIV applicants. “How are people going to leave Afghanistan?”

He said that without a clear plan in place, the US government could end up encouraging people to take risky travel.

In July, after Biden welcomed the first airlift home, he made it clear that the US would also help those Afghans with pending visa applications get out of Afghanistan “so they can safely wait while they finish their applications. of visa “.

Since military airlifts ended on August 30, however, the Biden administration and the Taliban have stressed that Afghans needed passports and visas. State Department spokesman Ned Price said Thursday that the administration is looking into passages such as e-visas.

Hundreds of Afghans claiming to be in danger of Taliban reprisals gathered for more than a week in Mazar-e-Sharif, awaiting permission to board evacuation flights chartered by US supporters.

Among them was an Afghan who worked for 15 years as a US military interpreter. He moved from hotel to hotel in Mazar-e-Sharif and ran out of money as he, his eight children and his wife waited for the Taliban to leave.

“I’m afraid of being left behind,” said the man, whose name was withheld by the Associated Press for his safety. “I don’t know what the problem is: is it a political problem or do they not care about us?”

The interpreter’s visa was approved weeks before the last US troops left the country, but he was unable to stamp it in his passport because the US embassy closed.

On Thursday he said he does not trust the Taliban’s assurances that they will not retaliate against the Afghans who worked for the Americans.

Biden, already criticized for his handling of the evacuation, is pushed by Democrats and also on both sides by Republicans, with some saying he is not doing enough to help America’s former allies and others not doing enough to help. keep potential threats out of us

Senator Lindsey Graham and Representative Mike Waltz, both Republicans, said in a statement that hundreds of those Afghans and US residents at risk remain “trapped behind enemy lines.” The Biden administration “must provide Congress and the American people … with a plan to get them out of Afghanistan safely.”

The Wartime Allies Association estimates that tens of thousands of special immigrant visa applicants remain in Afghanistan.

A US citizen in New York is trying to take two cousins ​​out of the country who applied for SIVs late last year and were still waiting for approval when the US embassy closed. He said both cousins ​​have worked for a US aid group for eight years and are afraid the Taliban will find them.

“They are afraid, they feel abandoned. They put their entire lives at risk and when the United States was leaving, they were told they would leave, “said American Fahima, whose surname and name of the aid group were hidden to protect her cousins. “Where’s the help?”