A “majority” of Afghan interpreters and other visa applicants were left behind in the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, a senior State Department official said in a briefing with reporters on Wednesday.
Over 20,000 Afghans who helped the U.S. during the two-decade war in Afghanistan applied for Special Immigrant Visas as of August 15, with that number ballooning to 100,000 if you include family members. Many Afghans were reportedly turned away at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul over the last several weeks, where overcrowding, Taliban security checkpoints, and a terrorist attack hindered the evacuation.
The State Department official said initial reports indicated that most Afghan SIV and other visa applicants were not able to evacuate.
“Everybody who lived it is haunted by the choices we had to make and by the people we were not able to help,” the official said, according to the Wall Street Journal.
While the U.S. helped evacuate over 120,000 people from Afghanistan during the second half of August, the exact breakdown of evacuees’ nationalities is unclear. Just 8,500 Afghans were evacuated during the entire process according to initial estimates reported by NBC News, but according to CBS News, the U.S. is currently housing 17,000 Afghan refugees with another 40,000 in processing at military bases overseas.
Afghanistan war veterans have criticized the SIV application process as unnecessarily slow. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the program was “not designed” for an evacuation like the American withdrawal from Kabul.
“The SIV program is obviously not designed to accommodate what we just did in evacuating over 100,000 people. Perhaps this program should be looked at going forward,” Austin said. “For the type of operation that we just conducted, I think we need a different kind of capability,” he added.
The BBC is reporting that the Taliban are presently engaged in a bloody reprisal campaign against Afghans that worked with the American military.