My reader who is trying to get his company’s former employees out of Afghanistan offers another update, and another illustration of the Kafkaesque process for getting an Afghan ally authorization to leave the country.
My reader says his senator’s office has been helping him get through to employees of the U.S. State Department who might be able to give him more useful information, as his emails are “stuck in auto-reply hell.” He was able to get a number for an Afghanistan American citizen/Legal Permanent Resident hotline from a call center in Kentucky, area code 606. (I suspect this is the State Department’s Kentucky Consular Center in Williamsburg.)
“I explained his situation – a U.S. legal permanent resident since 2017, and his wife and kids’ visa interview interrupted by closing of Kabul embassy,” my reader said. “Her first response was to read to me, verbatim, the text of the auto-reply emails that we have been receiving. ‘The U.S. embassy in Kabul is closed, blah, blah, blah…’ I let her do that on the off chance that there might be new information. There wasn’t.”
When the woman on the hotline had finished repeating the old, and not terribly helpful information, my reader asked: “How do we get him and his family out of Afghanistan?”
My reader says the State Department hotline operator’s advice was to leave Afghanistan, contact any of the neighboring country U.S. embassies, travel to that embassy, finish the interview process, get the visas, and then buy tickets and fly to the United States.
My reader replied that that step one is impossible without first having a visa, “and that the Taliban have made it clear that no Afghans like his former employee’s wife and children are allowed to leave, and that the northern border is closed to Afghan refugees. She had no answer.”
I will make one small defense of this State Department employee; she didn’t establish or get a say in setting any of these policies; she just gets to be the one answering calls to the hotline and offering these utterly useless recommendations. The plight of these Afghans is now a catch-22; they can’t leave without a visa, and without a functioning embassy in the country, the U.S. government cannot issue them visas.
My reader continued, “after a long pause, she suggested I call the nearest local embassy in the area and see what they recommend. Get that? The U.S. Department of State’s Afghanistan AMCIT/LPR helpline is telling me that in order for him to leave Afghanistan, he must leave Afghanistan. He must cross a border where one side won’t let you leave and the other side won’t let you in, and that we should call the U.S. embassies in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan or Tajikistan and see what they recommend. She gave me the numbers, told me there is nothing more she could do, and thanked me for calling.”
The message of this administration, as articulated by White House press secretary Jen Psaki, is that “we have enormous leverage over the Taliban.” And yet, we never see any. If the U.S. had leverage over the Taliban, they would be using it to ensure that the Taliban did not impede the safe departure of U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents and their families, and Afghan allies from the country.
You cannot solve a problem if you remain in denial that the problem exists. If the U.S. government has no leverage over a government full of the kinds of men who enjoy throwing acid in the faces of schoolgirls, then the arsenal of democracy and the leader of the free world needs to go and get some new form of leverage. And the U.S. government needs to use that leverage to protect its people.
Otherwise, we will be stuck with an impotent, inept, pathetically enfeebled government that absurdly tells endangered U.S. legal permanent residents that to get a visa to leave the country, they must first leave the country.