Biden airlifted tens of thousands of unknowns after promising to evacuate Americans and allies

Biden airlifted tens of thousands of unknowns after promising to evacuate Americans and allies
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President Joe Biden vowed to evacuate American citizens and Afghans who helped the United States during the war but failed to fulfill that promise and instead flew tens of thousands of people who at present don’t meet either criterion out of Afghanistan.

The U.S. government does not yet know who made up the bulk of the people who boarded the flights out of Kabul.

It was the largest air evacuation in U.S. history — the Biden administration airlifted 124,000 people from Afghanistan in total — and had been planned for months, even delayed an additional four months to ensure everything could go as planned. In the end, though, it was not what was promised.

Biden agreed when he took office in January to carry out former President Donald Trump’s plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan. He moved the withdrawal date from May 1 to Aug. 31 to give his administration and the Pentagon more time to plan and boldly vowed in the weeks leading up to the deadline to get every American out of the country. “If there are American citizens left, we’re going to stay until we get them all out,” Biden told ABC News on Aug. 19.

Of the 6,000 Americans in Afghanistan before the evacuation, up to 200 were left stuck in Afghanistan at least until Thursday, when a flight left Kabul reportedly with 200 Americans on board.

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Biden also pledged to evacuate U.S. allies who helped troops during the 20-year war on terror. The U.S. government had created a special visa category, known as the Special Immigrant Visa program, for those who helped the U.S. during the war. Obtaining this type of visa requires going through a 14-step process. The government was so behind approving applications in the lead-up to August that just 750 of the 20,000 applicants were in the final stage of the process.

It's not clear who got on airplanes out of Kabul in addition to the SIV applicants. As of Thursday, approximately 63,000 people have arrived in the U.S., according to the Department of Homeland Security. Of that number, according to a DHS official, roughly 7,000 are U.S. citizens, 3,500 are lawful permanent residents, and the remaining 84%, or 52,000, are "other vulnerable Afghans, including visa holders, SIV applicants, and others."

The agency did not provide a further breakdown of the category of "vulnerable" Afghans, a term that Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has used to discuss the people who found their way onto planes out of Kabul.

When asked how many of the 124,000 people in total airlifted out of Kabul had worked with the U.S., Mayorkas told the Washington Post, “I can’t really quantify it or measure it against expectations.”

Separately, the White House National Security Council said in response to a request for information from the Washington Examiner only that the "majority" of Afghans being resettled worked with the U.S., including family members of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.

“We can’t get good numbers,” said Chad Wolf, the former acting secretary for the Department of Homeland Security from 2019 to 2021, referring to how many people were SIV applicants versus Afghan citizens who had not qualified for any legal status.

The State Department defended the management of the airlift when asked for comment for this article. A spokeswoman wrote in an email that "the United States mobilized an unprecedented, global effort through our diplomatic channels to evacuate U.S. citizens, personnel from partner nations, and at-risk Afghans from Kabul."

The confusion about which people were airlifted out of Kabul is a result of the chaotic management of the exit. The State Department in late July broadened the pool of people eligible for SIVs, leading more Afghans to believe they may qualify, which in turn led to more hysteria. Afghans who were desperate to escape would have jumped at the chance to board the planes.

In June, State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter said SIV applicants would be airlifted “before we complete our military drawdown by September.”

Biden himself was the one who approved the decision to bring people who had not been approved for visas into the U.S., an unprecedented move from a commander in chief. As a result, there was an opportunity for Afghans to take advantage of that chaos.

Wolf told the Washington Examiner that because the administration refused to consider that Kabul could fall so quickly, it did not make a plan for how to get people out in the case that it did, resulting in the chaos of trying to rescue people in the moment. On July 8, Biden said the "likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely."

“They had enough time if they really wanted to get those people out,” Wolf said. “They didn’t plan for the Taliban to take control of the country so quickly. ... It's messy because the withdrawal was not adequately planned."

The chaotic situation "was the result of a quickly collapsing situation around the Kabul airport that allowed Afghans to be moved out of the country regardless of SIV status," wrote David Lapan, a former spokesman for the Pentagon and the DHS.

Multiple media outlets have reported thousands of people attempting, and succeeding in some cases, to get on board U.S. planes without having their identities verified by U.S. officials.

“There are multiple other ‘rogue’ flights that are seeking the same permissions” to land, according to a Qatar-based State Department official who made the admission in an email obtained by the New York Times. “We have 300 people in Doha now who are basically stateless. Most have no papers.”

The U.S. is using eight to 10 air bases nationwide to vet the hoards of people being taken out before they are released here. DHS sent emergency requests to federal agents and officers to help screen new arrivals. At Dulles International Airport outside Washington, Afghan passengers on government planes waited 12 hours to deplane because customs officers were so backed up. Forty thousand people who were not cleared for visas have arrived in the U.S., and up to 50,000 are expected in total.

Biden had no plan to bring refugees to the U.S., but because of the chaos in Kabul, thousands of people succeeded at getting out of the country. Because the government had not approved this group for refugee status before admitting them to the U.S., they are not eligible for government benefits. Each person is expected to receive $2,500 through a 90-day emergency program operated by the State Department.

On Aug. 31, the final withdrawal day, Biden declared the operation an “extraordinary success.” In his defense of the operation's many problems, he blamed Americans for refusing to leave and the Afghan government for not having a strong enough desire to survive.

"Some of the Afghans did not want to leave earlier — still hopeful for their country," Biden said. "Afghanistan political leaders gave up and fled the country. The Afghan military collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight. We gave them every chance to determine their own future. What we could not provide them was the will to fight for that future."

Now, the administration faces the task of deciding what to do with the tens of thousands of people who were brought to the U.S. before being given legal permission to immigrate.

"I think the administration will assess the circumstances and cases of those Afghans in the US and elsewhere to determine if they should be admitted and, if so, under what conditions or status," Lapan wrote.

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Those seeking asylum will have to wait to appear before an immigration judge. More than 1 million people were in line waiting to appear before immigration judges before the arrival of the Afghans.

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Tags: News, Afghanistan, Terrorism, Immigrants, Joe Biden, White House, DHS, National Security, Visas

Original Author: Anna Giaritelli

Original Location: Biden airlifted tens of thousands of unknowns after promising to evacuate Americans and allies

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