By: The Editorial Board – wsj.com – September 12, 2021
“The United States has pulled every lever available to us to facilitate the departure of these charter flights from Mazar,” a State Department spokesman said Thursday, adding that “we were very clear” they should be allowed to leave. This helplessness is humiliating, and across Afghanistan a massive tragedy is unfolding.
The Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program offers a path to U.S. citizenship for Afghans who worked with the American government for at least a year during the war. The process can take years, and hundreds of applicants and family members have been killed over time. A State Department official acknowledged that “the majority” of SIV applicants remained after U.S. forces departed. This is one of the worst wartime betrayals in U.S. history.
“There are about 18,000 so-called principal applicants in the system. Of the 18,000, half are at the very early stages,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in June. “Then there is another 9,000 who are much further along.” Mr. Blinken played down the risk of a quick Afghan government collapse, and Foggy Bottom did little to avert the nightmare now unfolding for thousands of SIV applicants.
James Miervaldis of the nonprofit No One Left Behind says that his organization is aware of some 200 approved SIV applicants and their families hiding throughout the country. Fully vetted with paperwork in hand, they were told by the State Department to remain in place during the chaotic evacuation. Then the last American planes left.
Organizations like No One Left Behind have the financial wherewithal to pay for their flights out of the country, but they’re at the mercy of the Taliban to allow safe passage. Remember these families whenever the White House brags about the scale of the August airlift.
The thousands more still in the 14-step application process should have been evacuated to a secure location months ago. Politico reports that only 705 SIV applicants left during the evacuation. Some U.S. officials have denied that number but declined to provide their own. Mr. Blinken is testifying before the House and Senate this week, and Congress should demand exact numbers.
The Taliban said last week that it will let only foreign passport- or visa-holders leave the country. Are the thousands of endangered Afghans supposed to wait for the process to play out from Washington? And if they survive long enough to get a visa, who expects the Taliban to grant safe passage? The new government’s security forces are run by a leader of the terrorist Haqqani Network wanted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The State Department says “we are considering and we are developing additional processing alternatives so that we can continue to deliver important consular services, including to these American citizens, these LPRs, these Afghans at risk.” Consular services? No wonder the Taliban feel free to humiliate the Biden Administration.
The White House needs to tell—not ask—the Taliban that whoever wants to leave can do so at America’s invitation. If the Taliban refuse, the U.S. can oppose the new government economically and diplomatically, as well as assisting the internal opposition. Second, the U.S. needs to take every action possible—overt and covert, overland and in the air—to get people out. The State Department should commend and work with private groups on rescue missions, not treat them as a nuisance.
The Biden Administration wants nothing more than to wash its hands of the debacle in Afghanistan, and it has a political incentive to play down or obfuscate the number of trapped Afghans eligible to come to America. But the world shouldn’t forget that thousands of would-be Americans—men, women and children—face arrest, torture or death because of the White House rush to the Afghan exits.
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