Topics: Department of State Spokesman . . . off the mark, AMCITs in Afghanistan, evacuation flights, humanitarian disaster, security in Afghanistan, and more.
DoS Press Briefing
Ned Price, the Department of State spokesperson, provided some information on the evacuation of AMCITs, LPRs, and at-risk Afghans during a DoS press briefing held on Thursday, September 7, 2021.
Since August 31st. The State Department has facilitated in the departure of 105 U.S. citizens and 95 lawful permanent residents from Afghanistan since the end of August on either flights or through border crossings with neighboring countries. Many others have left Afghanistan using private charter flights or making their own way out of the country by land crossing a border.
Number of AMCITS Remaining? When discussing the number of American citizens in Afghanistan Ned Price does a fair amount of waffling. Presenting a number of different ‘excuses’, the spokesman says it is hard to pin down exactly how many AMCITs remain in Afghanistan. Hmmmm.
There are over 50 nonprofit organizations involved in the Afghan evac effort. Almost all of them have a list of American citizens who have contacted them requesting assistance. These organizations have submitted their lists to the Department of State since the last days of August. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to open up an Excel spreadsheet, start doing a little data entry, sort by name, eliminate ‘dups’, and then tally up one of the columns using the Excel auto sum feature. Of course, it probably isn’t that easy but still . . .
Ned, the spokesman, goes on to say that they have little visibility on the number of American citizens that come out of Afghanistan on the private charters – but at the same time insisting that the State Department does a ‘scrub’ of the manifests prior to the planes leaving MeS. Many times DoS and the Department of Homeland Security is on site in the third country receiving the flight to conduct screening of the disembarking passengers (biometrics and background checks). Saying DoS does not have visibility on the private flights is probably one way of masking an inconvenient fact that the private charters have evacuated more AMCITs than the State Department has since August 31st.
Manifest Fidelity. The spokesman goes on to say that one of the challenges of the private flights is the status of the people arriving in a third country coming from MeS. On many occasions the passenger manifest of a plane leaving MeS does not square up well with the people actually coming off the plane in Qatar, the UAE, or other third countries. A little bit of bribery, corruption, and / or document forgery will get someone on a plane in MeS that does not have the appropriate status for onward movement to the United States. This puts the State Department in a bind. While it wants the private organizations to be successful in their efforts to evacuate AMCITs, LPRs, and Afghans with Afghan passports and approved visas it is reluctant to accept Afghans who have no specific DoS status (SIV, P1, P2, HP, etc.). Unfortunately, many of the flights from MeS have a combination of both groups of people. These inaccurate manifests challenge relations between the U.S. and partner countries helping in evacuations. “State Department blames private charters for ‘several’ inaccurate Afghan refugee flight manifests”, Fox News, October 7, 2021.
Overworked, Overwhelmed, and Understaffed. The Department of State is coming away with a black eye over the Afghan evacuation event. For sure, the DoS employees working on the Afghan task force are doing their best – working long hours – trying to solve wicked problem sets with limited resources. However, to those on the outside looking in . . . Perhaps if the DoS spokesperson were a little more candid then the perception many people have of DoS would be different.
More Action, Less Excuses for HP Applicants. Jill Goldenziel believes that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is failing the at-risk Afghans who worked for the U.S. military and government and now seek the safety of the United States. Since August 31st, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration (USCIS), a part of DHS, has stop processing Humanitarian Parole (HP) applications from Afghans in Afghanistan. They also have refused to waive the $575 per person application fee – which is unaffordable for most Afghans, especially those with large families. Although the fee is waiverable on an individual basis, it will delay and sometimes derail the HP application process. “Department of Homeland Security Owes Afghan Allies More Than Poor Excuses”, Forbes.com, October 8, 2021.
More Evac News
MeS Flights by Sayara. Senator Blumenthal’s (D-CT) office stated that two flights with 800 people left Mazar-e-Sharif on private charter aircraft chartered by Sayara International. The aircraft flew to Al Udeid Air Force Base in Qatar arriving on September 21 and October 3.
Operation Recovery Press Release. ‘Operation Recovery’ has issued a press release dated October 7, 2021, about its efforts to rescue 382 at-risk Americans and allies from Afghanistan.
Stranded Britons Call for Help. More than 60 British nationals who remain stranded in Afghanistan have criticized their government for abandoning them and their families in an increasingly dangerous situation. Most of the group are former refugees who arrived in the United Kingdom over 20 years ago. They had returned to Afghanistan to bring out family members but get caught up in the rapid fall of the Afghan government and could not get on a commercial flight out. Although provided with instructions to proceed to the Kabul airport for a military evacuation most found it impossible to get through the massive crowds of Afghans blocking the entry gates to the airport. The stranded British nationals say that strict visa requirements are making it impossible to leave with immediate family members such as wives and children. “Britons Stranded in Afghanistan Call for Urgent Evacuation Help”, The Guardian, October 7, 2021.
DoS vs Private Orgs. There are numerous news articles that have been published about how the Department of State has been less than helpful in their efforts to help those Afghans who worked for the U.S. military and now are being hunted down and killed by the Taliban. In addition, they believe the guidelines DoS has adopted with its manifest review of aircraft attempting to leave Afghanistan is too strict – and State is slow in granting ‘no objection certificates’ for the departure of aircraft from MeS. Despite the roadblocks posed by DoS a virtual underground railroad of U.S. military veterans and humanitarian organizations continue to work to free at-risk Afghans. Read more in “Those we left behind”, World.org, October 7, 2021.
A Humanitarian Disaster? Some representatives of the private organizations believe that if the U.S. government declared the situation in Afghanistan a ‘humanitarian disaster’ that the avenues for at-risk Afghans for passage out of that country would open up and the State Department would have more flexibility. There are specific humanitarian assistance response mechanisms that could be invoked that involve the DoS, USAID, and other government agencies and organizations. In addition, the vast resources of the Department of Defense could be utilized as well.
Some Afghans Doing Okay in the U.S. The media is full of reports about 55,000 Afghan evacuees living in old barracks or in tents on several U.S. military bases. The food is not great, winter is coming, and clothes are in short supply. But not all Afghans are suffering. The son of Abdul Rahim Wardak, one of Afghanistan’s former Defense Ministers, just purchased a $21 million Beverly Hills Mansion. Apparently the $5.2 million Miami Beach condo at the prestigious St. Regis Bal Habour resort wasn’t swank enough for him. (Yahoo!Life, October 7, 2021.)
EU and Afghan Refugees. The United Nations (UN) is calling on the European Union (EU) nations to resettle Afghans over the next five years. However, at resettlement forum held on Thursday in Brussels there were no new EU pledges to take in Afghan refuges. “EU Offers No New Pledges to Take in Afghan Refugees”, The Wall Street Journal, October 7, 2021. (subscription).
Video – Learning English. Morgan Guinn is a ‘English as a Second Language’ volunteer at Rhine Ordnance Barracks. She is now also, along with other volunteers, holding English classes for Afghan me, women and children at the barracks in Kaiserlautern, Germany. “Lessons for a New Life”, DoD News, October 7, 2021.
The Situation in Afghanistan
Deadly Mosque Bombing. A blast in the northern city of Kunduz has killed a large number of people. The incident happened at a Shiite mosque during Friday prayers on September 8, 2021. Estimates on the death toll – between 46 and over 100, and over 150 wounded and taken to hospitals. “Over 100 dead in suicide bombing in Afghan mosque”, The Jerusalem Post, October 8, 2021.
Weekly Humanitarian Update. The humanitarian news on Afghanistan for the week of 27 Sep to 3 Oct has been captured in this report by Humanitarian Response. Topics include IDPs, natural disasters, NGOs, etc.
Hazaras At Risk. The Taliban are moving Shi’ite Hazara minority families out of their homes and forcing them to resettle elsewhere. The Taliban, predominately Sunni and mostly made up of members of the Pashtun ethnic group, have historically discriminated and terrorized Hazaras. “Afghan Hazaras Fear the Worst After Forced Taliban Evictions”, Gandhara Blog / RFE, October 6, 2021.
Cash Drops for Afghans. Western governments and international organizations are contemplating some unique ways of infusing money into the Afghan financial system so that Afghans would benefit without the Taliban having contact with the process. The World Food Programme is looking at flying in cash and distributing it directly to people so they can buy food. The United Nations is looking at having cash flow into Afghanistan and held in banks on behalf of the United Nations. That would be used to pay salaries to the staff of U.N. agencies and non-governmental organizations. Meanwhile western governments and international organizations are wrestling with how to release funds to Afghanistan without propping up the Taliban regime. “Cash airlifts planned to bypass Taliban and help Afghans”, Reuters, October 7, 2021.
The EU, Taliban, and Aid to Afghanistan. The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan has been exacerbated with the suspension of external funding for the Afghan government. Population displacement, drought, food shortages, a failing economy, COVID-19 pandemic, and other factors have increased the suffering of the Afghan people. The European Union is struggling with how to provide aid to the Afghan people without supporting a regime that does not offer protection of fundamental freedoms, equal rights for women, and rule of law. The International Crisis Group has put forth some recommendations for the EU. Read more in “Thinking Through the Dilemmas of Aid to Afghanistan”, October 7, 2021.
UN Human Rights Team for Afghanistan. The Human Rights Council in Geneva adopted a resolution to install a special rapporteur and a team of experts to monitor human rights under the Taliban. The European Union-led resolution was endorsed by 50 countries. Five countries voted ‘no’ against the resolution – China, Russia, Eritrea, Pakistan, and Venezuela. A number of countries abstained to include Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cuba, Gabon, Indonesia, Libya, Mauritania, Nepal, Uzbekistan, Senegal, and Somalia. The team will be set up by March 2022. Russia and China were opposed to the resolution. “U.N. Votes to Appoint Human Rights Watchdog in Afghanistan”, The New York Times, October 7, 2021. (subscription).
DoS Official Visits Pakistan. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman visited Pakistan on Thursday, September 7, 2021, to discuss the situation in Afghanistan with senior Pakistan officials. No news from State on the results of the meeting. The two countries are in the midst of a worsening relationship. Pakistan is pressing for greater engagement with the new Taliban regime and is urging the U.S. to release billions of dollars to the Taliban so the country can avoid and economic meltdown. Pakistan is also smarting from the reports that some Republican senators are calling for sanctions on Pakistan for its long support of the insurgents during Washington’s involvement in the Afghan conflict. “US, Pakistani officials in strained talks on Afghanistan”, by Kathy Gannon, Associated Press News, October 8, 2021.
Think Tank Stuff
India and the New Taliban Regime. Shashi Tharoor says that India has lots to worry about with the recent defeat of the Afghan National Security and Defense Forces (ANDSF) and fall of the government of Afghanistan. The Taliban victory will embolden their fellow jihadists and shake up the region’s geopolitics. China will gain access to more of Central Asian – providing additional access to raw materials and transportation corridors. Pakistan gains the ‘strategic depth’ it has always desired – providing additional security in the event of hostilities with India. “India’s Taliban Problem”, The Strategist, Australian Strategic Policy Institute,October 8, 2021.
CIA, Afghanistan, Paramilitary Ops, and the Future. Daniel Drezner, a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, argues that the Central Intelligence Agency disengagement will help it do its traditional mission in the intelligence community. He echoes the belief of others that think the CIA’s shift toward covert action and paramilitary operations undermined traditional espionage work. “How the Afghanistan withdrawal helps the CIA”, The Washington Post, October 7, 2021.
Afghanistan and the Legacy Debate. The United States involvement in the Afghan war is over but the debate over America’s participation has begun and will continue for many years. One aspect of this debate will be answering the question of whether the United States will have the grit necessary to fight and win long wars in the future. Ultimately, the type of wars and conflicts that occur in current times and in the future will be those that are a battle of wills and endurance. Raphael S. Cohen, a former Army officer and political scientist at RAND Corporation, presents his view on the topic in “The Big Unanswered Question of the Afghanistan War”, Lawfare Blog, October 3, 2021.
Photo: Afghan evacuees are escorted into living spaces at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia (photo by Lance Cpl. Scott Jenkins, Aug 29, 2021.