As the Taliban tightens its control over Afghanistan after sweeping to power this weekend, veterans of America’s longest war are begging the Biden administration to pick up the pace of evacuating Afghans who aided them on the battlefield.
In remarks from the East Room of the White House Monday, President Joe Biden announced that 2,000 Afghans awarded so-called Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) have been relocated to the US along with their families since July.
However, as increasingly desperate Afghans attempt to catch flights out of Kabul’s airport by any means necessary, thousands more who acted as interpreters for American forces are in danger of being left behind to face a brutal fundamentalist regime that is bent on revenge.
“I have been personally trying to tell this administration since it took office – I’ve been trying to tell our government for years — that this was coming,” Matt Zeller, a former CIA officer and co-founder of the nonprofit No One Left Behind — which works to resettle Afghan interpreters and their families in the US — told MSNBC Monday. “We sent them plan after plan on how to evacuate these people. Nobody listened to us. They didn’t plan for the evacuation of our Afghan wartime allies.”
“I have a list of 14,000 names right now of people who want to get out of Afghanistan,” added Zeller, who blasted Biden for his assertion earlier Monday that some Afghans eligible to go to the US did not do so because they were “still hopeful for their country.”
“What we need to be doing right now … is that we need to be talking about how we’re going to get every single one of these people out,” Zeller said. “Because let’s be abundantly clear: People like me looked these people in the eye and made them a promise. We promised them that in their time of need we would take care of them. How do you expect anyone to ever trust us again if we don’t do that now while we can?”
Zeller’s call was echoed Monday by the organization Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), which called on the government to “waste no additional time in bringing the thousands of Afghan allies who have stood shoulder to shoulder with our forces, and their families, to safety in the US now.”
“They are in grave danger and many have already been targeted and killed. We must keep our promises to those who have sacrificed so much on our behalf,” said IAVA Executive VP for Government Affairs Tom Porter. “Unfortunately, the US has failed since the Special Immigrant Visa Program’s inception in 2008 to have a plan in place to properly ensure the safe and timely evacuation of our personnel and our Afghan allies.”
“What we are in the midst of right now is a humanitarian crisis,” Army veteran and IAVA board member Kristen Rouse told MSNBC Monday.
“I’ve been getting messages from people at the airport [in Kabul] right now, throughout this catastrophe that has broken out around the airport, people absolutely struggling to get in, to get a flight, saying that the Taliban are waiting right outside … [saying] ‘If the Taliban get me away from the airport, they are going to kill me,’” Rouse added. “There are tens of thousands, if not more than that, Afghans who are trying to get out.”
At a Pentagon briefing Monday afternoon, press secretary John Kirby announced the airfield at Hamid Karzai International Airport had reopened to receive the first of 1,000 US troops deployed to secure the airfield, back up the 2,500 already there and get evacuation flights back up and running.
Late Monday night, hundreds of people remained trapped between American forces trying to push them out of the airport and Taliban forces trying to keep them in, witnesses said.
Earlier, more than 300 people were evacuated aboard a Turkish Airlines flight after Turkish soldiers cleared the runway. Senol Celik, who identified himself as a Turkish Embassy employee, said people “threw themselves in front of the plane.”
“They wanted to board the plane. They wanted to escape Afghanistan,” he said. “We were afraid that the plane would return and that we would enter that chaos. We were sad for those people.”
Also Monday, Biden directed Secretary of State Antony Blinken to direct up to $500 million to aid “refugees, victims of conflict, and other persons at risk as a result of the situation in Afghanistan,” including SIV applicants.
No One Left Behind estimates on its website that more than 300 Afghan interpreters and family members have been killed in retaliation for aiding US troops. It was unclear whether that number reflected the latest reports of Taliban reprisals.
With Post wires