Kabul: U.S., Afghan allies face daunting departure
- By FederalSoup Staff
- Aug 17, 2021
As the U.S. and NATO mission in Afghanistan lurches to a close, media and other reports foretell a difficult time ahead in the lives of federal employees, contractors and others there as they try to get safely out of the country—and in the lives of those on the ground and back home working overtime in that effort.
While it is not clear how many U.S. nationals remain—estimates by media sources range from 5,000 to 15,000—it is clear the State Department and Department of Defense, along with other U.S. agencies, face a huge task in evacuating them safely over the coming days and hours. The White House has ordered the operation to be complete by Aug. 31.
For now, the lead agencies are ramping up military and charter flights out of the last remaining practical way out of the country: Hamid Karzai airport in Kabul. The aim is to rapidly increase the number of evacuees on planes from around 1,000 each day early this week to between 5,000 to 9,000 per day, according to the DOD. Even if this target is achieved, there remain tall obstacles to evacuating all U.S. nationals and even higher hurdles to gaining the departure of far more Afghan and foreign nationals (some estimates range as high as 80,000) who aided the allies over the 20-year conflict.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (CIS), Health and Human Services (HHS) and particularly its Office of Refugee Resettlement, and many other U.S. agencies have been tapped to crank up a massive emergency effort to help oil the wheels at all levels—to get as many U.S. personnel and their allies out, according to a new piece in GovExec.
One reason cited in the piece for slow initial progress is the apparent U.S. failure to predict the speed of the Taliban takeover of Kabul and the government. But the piece also covers a less-discussed failure to reform the long-stumbling management of the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program that could have delivered far many more endangered Afghan translators and other contractors out of the country. The report notes there are tens of thousands of applicants stuck in the application pipeline.
For now, the State Department is surging personnel—and seeking volunteer federal employees from multiple agencies—to manage its part of the evacuation, while the DOD is acting on President Biden’s orders to place at least 6,000 U.S. forces to buttress the tenuous security of the airport and final departures.
The problem remains, however, that most people who need to get out fast—particularly eligible Afghan evacuees—may not make it, or even try. Media report chaos and Taliban checkpoints around the airport, and note the State Department sent mixed messages about evacuating, first advising shelter in place, then urging evacuees to make their way to the airport—with the caveat that “the U.S. Government cannot guarantee your security as you make this trip,” as reported by the National Review and other outlets. Indeed, Taliban authorities have already detained, and according to some media reports, tortured and killed some who aided the American, European and Afghan government efforts to prevent the insurgent ascent to power in Afghanistan.