On the menu today: I’m going to warn you ahead of time, I’ve heard from my reader trying to get his former Afghan employees out of the country, and the news is very bad. Don’t let the happy talk coming from well-dressed officials behind lecterns in Washington fool you. The situation on the ground is chaotic and dangerous, and the outlook for hundreds of thousands of Afghans is about as grim as it gets.
Biden Chooses to Abandon our Afghan Allies
This morning, the New York Times reports that, “at least 250,000 Afghans who may be eligible for expedited American visas remain in Afghanistan.” But that’s a big number, an abstraction too big to get our heads around.
One of my readers has been trying to get his former Afghan employees out of the country, as they are eligible for expedited visas under the State Department’s Priority 2 program. (See here, here, and here for background.) I hadn’t heard from him in a day or two and felt worried. Unfortunately, the news is about as bad as it gets.
“My phone is melting, and my inbox is jammed, from grown Afghan men pleading, crying to get out with their wives and children,” my reader begins:
All of them used to work for our company. They are engineers, electricians, lab technicians, urban planners, CAD drafters, surveyors, concrete masons, welders — all skilled technical and professional people who enjoyed what we would consider a solid middle-class life. Some went on to become lecturers at university. These aren’t herders and farmers — they are civilized, educated, middle class tradesman and professionals who trusted their government to maintain the safety and security of the nation. Their average age of the parents is late thirties. Their average family size is seven. The youngest child among them is 10 days old. Inside of a month, their lives are uprooted by bloodthirsty barbarians. They are hunted because they helped the Americans.
One of our families has been waiting in the Entry Control Point for four days straight – living in trash and filth, with no shelter, jammed among thousands of others. The parents know full well what awaits if they are fortunate to get out. They are willing to live the life of a refugee in a camp near a military installation. Essentially a one room United Nations Refugee Center shack, or group expeditionary tents, no indoor plumbing, no kitchen. They share public toilets and showers and live in a fenced compound in a sea of other shacks or tents surrounded by gravel — for at least 12-18 months while they wait for the State Department to process their visas. They are willing to walk away from their middle-class comforts and live in refugee camps for well over a year, possibly two, for the freedom and liberty of the United States. Amanullah asked me yesterday if I could get him to Mexico so he could walk to Texas so he wouldn’t have to live in a refugee camp. They know.
Don’t let anyone claim that Afghans who worked for America or international organizations will be fine.
“Here’s a kick in the gut,” my reader continues. “Fawad — not his real name — called me crying last night after midnight. His brother-in-law was killed by the Taliban earlier that day. He had worked for an American contractor in Zabul [a southern province considered part of the Taliban’s heartland]. He was beaten in the street and then shot in the head so the villagers could see.”
‘It’s Like They’re Trying to Escape a Burning Building and All the Doors Are Locked’
It gets worse. You’ve probably noticed the administration keeps specifying “American citizens” in its numbers. This is a way to not include U.S. green-card holders, who are authorized to live and work in the U.S. permanently. Green-card holders can apply for citizenship after three to five years and enjoy almost all the benefits of American citizenship except voting. According to the website of the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan, when it comes to the evacuation, citizens and lawful permanent residents are equal priorities: “The Department of State’s efforts are devoted to evacuations at Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA). Our first priority is U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs) of the United States, along with eligible family members.”
Lawful American permanent residents are going to get left behind.
My reader continues:
While everyone is a high priority on my desk — the toughest one is this. One of our schedulers — a computer software whiz — got his green card and permanent U.S. residency back in 2017. His Afghan parents disapproved and would not let him take his wife and six children to America, but his wife told him to go anyway and send money back home. He did — lots of it. He works for a large energy company on the east coast and makes a good living. In early July, he realized the country was doomed. He flew back to Afghanistan to get his wife and kids. They needed visas to get out. He tried to navigate the interview and paperwork zoo at the U.S. embassy in Kabul — but it was taking forever, and then the embassy closed the visa window. He is now stuck. He can’t get out with his family, and he won’t leave without them. Three hours ago, he texted me. He said he tried to get to the north side of the airport. He ducked around Taliban checkpoints and couldn’t even get close. He said the road is mobbed with “thousands and thousands of Afghans. It’s like they’re trying to escape a burning building and all the doors are locked.” He said there is no way he could get his children through the mob to get to the gate. We are formulating plans to have him drive to Tajikistan or Pakistan for an airlift. He said, bitterly, if only I could get them to Mexico.
You may have seen a misleading headline in The Hill — do they have any other kind? — declaring, “Dozens of California students, parents stranded in Afghanistan after summer trip abroad.” From that headline, you might think it was a school-organized trip and picturing some sort of naïve, overgrown hippies from Marin County or someplace, seeking a cultural-exchange program with the Taliban.
In fact, these are Afghan-American families from El Cajon, outside of San Diego, who traveled back to Afghanistan on summer break to see family members back in the old country — who have made similar trips in past years:
Cajon Valley Superintendent David Miyashiro and Mike Serban, the district’s director of Family And Community Engagement (FACE), said the children range from preschoolers to high school students. They said the students went there on summer break with their families to visit extended family members.
“We have a long summer break, and nobody knew the extent of what was going to happen, nobody knew what was coming,” Serban said. “Their extended family is in Afghanistan, and they wanted to see their family. They went back, likely before the troops left, so they could say hello or goodbye one more time. What wouldn’t you do to go see your family one more time, let alone know you have only a window of time to go see them?”
Miyashiro said that the families involved are on special Visas for U.S. military service and that the Department of Defense considers them “allies.” He said the district was able to provide information on the families and that government officials are working to locate the children and their families. He said he was encouraged by the help.
Last night brought a little good news, as at least one of the families had made it safely back to the U.S., leaving five families with 19 children missing:
District officials have reached out to US Rep. Darrell Issa for help getting the affected families back to the United States.
Issa and his staff “are aware of the location of several American citizens,” and are in direct and consistent contact with them, said Jonathan Wilcox, a spokesperson for the representative.
“They are scared, stranded and trapped in the Kabul area,” Wilcox said in a statement. “So far, they’ve been unable to reach the airport. I know the President and his Press Secretary have previously said this isn’t happening, but that’s dead wrong.”
Kids who were in San Diego-area public schools this spring are now stuck behind Taliban lines.
I first heard from this reader during this crisis when his emails to the State Department’s Priority 2 program started bouncing back because the email’s inbox was full. His emails are no longer bouncing back, but there’s no sign that sending employment information, as the State Department required, is doing any good. “The State Department P2 program is a black hole. Not one of our referrals has been replied to yet. It feels like we’re calling in for an air strike and getting a busy signal.”
Somehow, my reader is finding it within himself to resist despair, at least for now. “More tomorrow or the next day. We won’t give up like some people.”
With no U.S. troops or reliable partners left, jails emptied of militants and the Taliban in control, doubts are mounting within President Joe Biden’s administration over Washington’s ability to stem a resurgence of al Qaeda and other extremists in Afghanistan, six current and former U.S. officials told Reuters. . . . Nathan Sales, the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism until January, estimated it would now take al Qaeda six months to reconstitute the ability to conduct external operations.
We are recreating the conditions that forced us to invade Afghanistan in the first place.