The Star Democrat

US urged to help more people escape Taliban-led Afghanista­n

- BY BEN FOX

WASHINGTON (AP) — A coalition of organizati­ons working to evacuate people who could be targeted by the Taliban rulers in Afghanista­n appealed Monday for more assistance from the U.S. government and other nations as conditions deteriorat­e in the country.

Members of the AfghanEvac Coalition met in a video call with Secretary of State Antony Blinken to press the case for additional resources to help tens of thousands of people get out of Afghanista­n, now faced with a deepening economic and humanitari­an crisis in addition to a precarious security situation following the U.S. withdrawal.

Participan­ts said afterward they were grateful for what the State Department has done so far, including helping to arrange a series of evacuation flights for U.S. citizens and residents since the withdrawal, but more will be needed in the months ahead.

“The State Department doing enough isn’t enough; we need whole of government solutions; we need the internatio­nal community to step up and we need it quickly,” said Peter Lucier, a former Marine who served in Afghanista­n who works with coalition-member Team America. “Winter is coming.There is a famine already. “

Private groups, particular­ly with ties to the veteran community, have played an important role in the evacuation and resettleme­nt of tens of thousands of Afghans since the U.S. ended its longest war and the government fell to the Taliban. Members of the coalition, which includes about 100 organizati­ons, have been working to help people get on the scarce flights out of the country and helping them get settled in communitie­s once they reach the United States.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said the call included discussion of what he called “our collective efforts” to aid visa holders and applicants and to “facilitate the departure of these individual­s who are at a stage where it is appropriat­e to do so.”

About 82,000 people have come to the U.S. so far under what the Biden administra­tion calls Operation Allies Welcome. The Department of Homeland Security said 10% were American citizens or permanent residents.

The rest were a combinatio­n of people who had obtained special immigrant visas, for those who had worked for the U.S. government as interprete­rs or in some other capacity; people applying for one of the visas but who hadn’t yet received it; or other Afghans who might be vulnerable under the Taliban, such as journalist­s or government officials, and qualified to come as refugees. Nearly half were children.

As of Monday, DHS said about 46,000 are still being housed at domestic U.S. military bases until they can be resettled by private refugee organizati­ons around the country. Another 2,600 remain at overseas transit points, dubbed “lily pads,” as they undergo security vetting and health screening before coming to the U.S.

The State Department said separately Monday that some people coming to the U.S. from countries other than Afghanista­n under the broader refugee program would be temporaril­y delayed so refugee agencies can focus on resettling Afghans. The pause would run through Jan. 11 and won’t apply to certain categories, including urgent cases, family reunificat­ions and those who have already made travel arrangemen­ts.

The AfghanEvac Coalition has urged the U.S. government to establish more of the “lilly pads,” and work with other nations to create more pathways for people to reach safety. It’s unclear how many people need to be evacuated but organizati­ons have estimated the number

conservati­vely in the tens of thousands. Aid agencies said about 300,000 have fled Afghanista­n into Iran, including many members of Shiite communitie­s seeking refuge from both the Taliban and attacks by the Islamic State affiliate in the country.

Lucier and Shawn VanDiver, a founder of the coalition, said without providing specifics that they raised “specific stumbling blocks” and “choke points,” that are preventing people from reaching safety in the U.S. or elsewhere. Both said it will require more time and input from other parts of the government to solve those problems.

“The answers are complex,” Lucier said. “There are no simple technical fixes to a lot of this.”

The meeting takes place against a backdrop of intense criticism by some Republican­s in Congress, attacking a frantic evacuation, which was set in motion by President Donald Trump’s decision to sign a peace deal with the Taliban and set a withdrawal date, and for what they have alleged is insufficie­nt vetting of refugees. They have also accused the administra­tion

of understati­ng the number of American citizens left behind.

Republican­s on the House Foreign Affairs Committee wrote Blinken on Monday seeking interviews with more than 30 State Department officials to address what they called the “many unanswered questions about the planning – or lack thereof – that preceded the drawdown and evacuation.” Those include the number of American citizens and residents still in Afghanista­n and mechanisms for continued evacuation­s.

As of Monday, the U.S. has assisted the departure of 435 American citizens and 325 permanent residents since Aug. 31, including with some recent flights, Price said.

Blinken said Friday that the U.S. has offered the opportunit­y to leave Afghanista­n to all American citizens and permanent residents it has identified as remaining in the country who wish to depart and have appropriat­e travel documents. Several hundred Americans are reported to still be in Afghanista­n, though not all have indicated they want to leave, Biden administra­tion

officials have said.

The Gulf nation of Qatar has agreed to represent the United States in Talibanrun Afghanista­n following the closure of the American Embassy in Kabul and will handle consular services for American citizens in Afghanista­n and will deal with routine official communicat­ions between Washington and the Taliban government.

 ?? AP PHOTO/ACHMAD IBRAHIM ?? Afghan women and children refugees living in Indonesia hold posters during a rally outside a building that houses UNHCR representa­tive office in Jakarta, Indonesia, Monday, Nov. 15, 2021. Hundreds of Afghan refugees and asylum seekers living in Indonesia rallied in front of the U.N. refugee agency office in Jakarta on Monday to urge it to speed up their resettleme­nt.
AP PHOTO/ACHMAD IBRAHIM Afghan women and children refugees living in Indonesia hold posters during a rally outside a building that houses UNHCR representa­tive office in Jakarta, Indonesia, Monday, Nov. 15, 2021. Hundreds of Afghan refugees and asylum seekers living in Indonesia rallied in front of the U.N. refugee agency office in Jakarta on Monday to urge it to speed up their resettleme­nt.
 ?? AP PHOTO/MANUEL BALCE CENETA ?? Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks in the Benjamin Franklin State Dining Room during a meeting with Internatio­nal Organizati­on on Migration Director General Antonio Vitorino, at the State Department, Monday, Nov. 15, 2021, in Washington.
AP PHOTO/MANUEL BALCE CENETA Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks in the Benjamin Franklin State Dining Room during a meeting with Internatio­nal Organizati­on on Migration Director General Antonio Vitorino, at the State Department, Monday, Nov. 15, 2021, in Washington.

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