Afghanistan in the News – Monday, November 22, 2021

COVID-19 Vaccine Fort McColy

Topics: News about Afghanistan, evacuation of AMCITs, LPRs, and at-risk Afghans, Day 100, Taliban and climate change, aid groups and money, opium production, Task Force Argo, Liberty Village, vetting questions, Afghan female footballers in UK, and more.

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Evacuation from Afghanistan

Day 100 for Afghan Colleagues. A volunteer assisting in the evacuation of Afghan Air Force personnel writes on how she and others are filling the gap left by the Department of State and other U.S. governmental agencies. She states “I should not be the government’s plan, and yet somehow I am.” A full-time graduate student, she fills her spare hours with phone calls, emails, and messages over Signal working the escape of ‘at-risk’ Afghans. “An American hellscape: Afghan evacuations take toll on veterans, volunteers”, Military Times, November 21, 2021.

“The evacuation burden should not be on American veterans’ shoulders, and America must muster the political will to clean up the mess we made – it will not get better by ignoring it and we cannot afford more blood on our hands.”

Lark S. Escobar

Humanitarian Parole – A Broken System. More than 28,000 Afghans have applied for temporary admission into the United States for humanitarian reasons since August 2021. But only 100 of them have been approved. The U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services agency has struggled to make the program effective. The USCIS is making lots of money with the program. Each humanitarian parole (HP) application comes with a $575 filing charge. That would mean USCIS is sitting on some $11.5 million from Afghans hoping to enter the United States. One would think USCIS would hire some temporary staff to ease the backlog . . . but then that would be the government actually doing something to help at-risk Afghans. “Thousands of Afghans Seek Temporary US Entry, Few Approved”, Voice of America, November 19, 2021.

Vetting Questions – Honest Answers? It took a while for Senator Graham to get Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to finally admit that many of the Afghans that got on planes during the chaotic Kabul NEO in August 2021 were not vetted. At first Mayorkas claimed that 99% were vetted . . . but Graham zeroed in on the question. Amazing how much these administration officials will stretch the truth even when under oath. Read more about the ‘give and take’ at a Senate hearing about the border and Afghanistan on Tuesday, November 16, 2021 in “Graham grills Mayorkas on border, Afghanistan at Senate hearing”, New York Post, November 16, 2021.

Canadian Efforts for Afghan Interpreters – A Long Wait. Of the more than 14,000 applications received so far under the special immigration program for Afghans who assisted the Canadian government, only 3,385 Afghans have arrived in Canada since mid November. “We really don’t know what’s going on: Afghans, advocates frustrated by long wait for getting refugees to Canada”, Ottawa Citizen, November 18, 2021.

UK’s ARAP Program. If you are an Afghan national and are eligible or have been approved for assistance under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP), or are at serious risk and fall within a priority group for ARAP, visit the FCDO website for foreign travel advice.

Afghan Women Footballers Now in UK. An international rescue effort brought 35 teenage footballers and their families to the United Kingdom. Their attempts to evacuate via the Kabul NEO were unsuccessful – as they could not get onto the airport. They eventually made their way to Pakistan and an international group applied pressure to see them accepted in the the UK. “A Modern-Day Schindler’s List: Afghan junior women footballers land in UK”, The Guardian, November 18, 2021.

Nepal – A Place of Refuge? Maybe Not. The growing unstable political scenario in Afghanistan has created a refugee problem for Nepal despite having no common borders. Most Afghan refugees find their way to the mountain nation through India. Then enter through the efforts of brokers who, for a price, can get them across the border into Nepal without having any visa or other legal documents. Usually through illegal channels, the cost is $1k to $2k per family member. Nepal is stepping up its border security processes. “Fallout of Afghan crisis in Nepal”, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), November 15, 2021.

Nangarhar Passport Office Overwhelmed. The passport office in this eastern city can handle 200 to 250 passports a day . . . but over 2,000 people show up each day. “Passport Requests Overwhelm Nangarhar Office”, Tolo News, November 19, 2021.

Afghan Evacuee Resettlement

Resettlement Plan for Afghan Refugees is Lacking. The federal government is careening forward with an ill-conceived plan to resettle our Afghan allies with well-intentioned but untrained and lightly supervised volunteers who do not know what they’re getting into. This new federal program plans to use “private sponsorship” as one way to settle the huge numbers of Afghans now residing in temporary camps on military installations in the United States. This will be a big mistake. Rabbi Will Berkovitz, of the Jewish Family Service in Seattle and an outspoken national voice on refugee resettlement, offers his perspective in “The Afghanistan exit was bad – our refugee resettlement plan is no better”, The Hill, November 16, 2021.

45,000 Afghans Refugees Await Resettlement. Thousands of Afghan refugees are located on seven military installations across the United States awaiting the call by a resettlement agency for relocation to their new home and community. Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico is one of the temporary holding camps. Currently the air base is hosting 4,300 Afghan ‘guests’ in a compound made up of tents and trailers known as Aman Omid – which in Persian means “peace and hope”. Most of the refugees are not Afghans with a Special Immigrant Visa or SIV – provided to those who could document their service as interpreters to the U.S. military or in some other similar role. “Thousands of Afghans evacuated during U.S. withdrawal awaiting resettlement”, The Washington Post, November 20, 2021.

Liberty Village – Tent City on Fort Dix. A large temporary camp at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, a military installation in central New Jersey, is the home for about 8,500 Afghan evacuees. They are waiting on resettlement agencies to place them in communities across the United States. The camp officials are attempting to resettle about 250 people a week. The biggest bottle neck appears to be the lack of affordable housing for the evacuees. “Music and Cookouts in a Tent City for Afghans Starting Life in the U.S.”, The New York Times, October 11, 2021.

Life at Fort McCoy. The days are long at one of the refugee camps in the United States for those Afghans evacuated from Afghanistan. Most spend their time talking, eating, and sleeping. Once relocated to an American community the pace of life picks up. “Life at (& beyond) Fort McCoy: Conversations with two refugees from Afghanistan”, We Are Green Bay, November 15, 2021.

Former Interpreter Meets His “Helpers” at Airport. For many Afghans it is a long, complicated, and dangerous process to leave their native country. This was true for one former U.S. interpreter. After time in the Middle East in ‘lily pad’, and time spent in a holding camp in the United States, he and his family arrived at the Fort Worth, Texas airport – and met the Americans that helped him escape Afghanistan. “Couple that helped refugee family make it out of Afghanistan gets to meet them at DFW Airport”, Fox 4 News, November 17, 2021.

UWC and Afghan Students. The United World Colleges is a global movement that makes education a force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future. UWC is offering a special program for Afghan refugees who wish to further their academic studies. Learn more about this residential two-year program.

Mi-17 Resettlement. Three Russian made Mi-17 Hip Helicopters have found their way to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona. There is speculation that they are from the exodus of Afghan Air Force personnel who flew to Uzbekistan in August 2021. They were transported to Arizona on a Antonov An-124 Ruslan cargo plane belonging to Maximus Air. A large number of Afghan Air Force aircraft flew to Uzbekistan – including 22 fixed-wing and 24 rotary-wing aircraft. The aircraft included Mi-17s, UH-60s, A-29s, AC-208s, and PC-12NGs. Twelve C-208s flew to Tajikistan as well as at least one PC-12NG. “Trio of Afghan Mi-17 Helicopters Quietly Arrive at the U.S. Air Force’s Boneyard”, The Drive / Warzone, November 20, 2021.

Taliban and Security

Foreign Diplomats, the Taliban, and No Women. The international community has been slowly stepping up its outreach to the Taliban regime. Delegations have arrived in Kabul for talks with senior Taliban officials. Notable absent from most of these delegations are female representatives. “Grotesque and Wrong: Foreign Diplomats Called Out for Meeting Taliban Without Women”, Gandhara / RFE, November 19, 2021.

Russia Will Help Afghanistan. The Russian special representative for Afghanistan was interviewed and detailed how his nation will work with regional partners to reduce the suffering of Afghans by prioritizing humanitarian aid as well as empowering more moderate elements of the ruling Taliban. “Russia Lays Out Path to Stabilize Afghanistan, Avoid Another 9/11”, Newsweek, November 16, 2021.

UAE Embassy Reopens. The United Arab Emirates has reopened its embassy in Kabul. There are reports that Germany, Italy, and Turkey may soon reopen their embassies as well. Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan have already reopened their embassies. (Khaama Press, Nov 21, 2021).

Afghan Embassy in D.C. – The Lights Are Still On . . . For Now. There may be a new government in Kabul but around the world the same ambassadors are still serving who were in place during the Ghani regime – excepting, of course, Pakistan. In the District of Columbia, the Afghan embassy has a shell of a staff but it continues to do some work on behalf of Afghan citizens where it can. “In Washington, the last employees at the Afghan embassy work until the lights go off”, National Public Radio, November 18, 2021.

Economy and Humanitarian Assistance

Opium Production – Fueling the Economy. Some economic sectors are showing promise in Afghanistan. In 2021 there was an 8 percent increase in the production of opium. This production makes up about one-tenth of the Afghan economy. “Afghanistan’s Opium Production Continues to Rise, UN Report Says”, Gandhara / RFE, November 17, 2021.

Govt Workers – Will They Finally Get Paid? Thousands of Afghan government workers are owed at least three months of salary. They haven’t been paid since the Taliban took the reigns of the government in mid-August. “Taliban to start paying overdue salaries of Afghan government workers”, Reuters, November 20, 2021.

Aid Groups Struggle to Pay Staff. The international aid organizations currently do not have a mechanism for transferring funds into Afghanistan. Some are carrying bags of cash into Kabul and then converting dollars into the local currency. There is a lack of cash to pay salaries of the people that deliver local social services. “Key aid group says Afghanistan’s most pressing need is cash”, ABC News, November 19, 2021.

Taliban Request Funds . . . for Climate Change. The spin doctors in the Taliban’s info ops shop in Kabul are working overtime. The jihadi terror group has jumped on the lucrative climate change gravy train and has issued a call for aid from international organizations to help it establish clean energy programs and making Afghanistan green. “Not a Joke: Taliban Asks for International Aid to Help it Fight . . . Climate Change”, PJ Media, November 2, 2021.

‘Humanitarian Financial Corridor’. Alex Zerden is a adjunct fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) and previously served as the Treasury Department financial attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul from 2018 to 2019. He argues that the U.S. and international community must find ways to deliver humanitarian assistance and provide support to Afghanistan’s economy without financing the Taliban regime. “Establishing a Humanitarian Financial Corridor for Afghanistan”, Lawfare Blog, November 15, 2021.

Afghanistan Weekly Humanitarian Update. This update covers the period of 8-14 November 2021. Provided by OCHA via Humanitarian Response.

Commentary, Analysis, and Opinion

Three Months In – An Assessment of the Taliban. Andrew H. Watkins, a senior expert on Afghanistan with the United States Institute of Peace, has penned a 14-page essay on the new regime in Kabul. “An Assessment of Taliban Rule at Three Months”, CTC Sentinel, Combating Terrorism Center, West Point, November 2021.

Zalmay Khalilzad – Defending the Doha Agreement. A career envoy for the United States appears to be on the wrong side of history. For many years he represented the United States during negotiations with the Taliban. The February 2020 Trump administration agreement with the Taliban for the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is now viewed as a tragic error. However, Khalilzad is not scurrying to hide from the glare of his critics or the media, but, instead is taking to the airways to defend his actions. It is doubtful that he will be successful in this effort. “A Veteran Diplomat, a ‘Tragic Figure’, Battles Critics in the U.S. and Afghanistan”, The New York Times, November 16, 2021.

Podcasts, Videos, Books

Podcast – Saboe and Parker on Afghan Evac. Two prominent players in the Afghan Evac effort are interviewed in this 32 minute-long podcast. Joe Saboe of Team America Relief and Russell Worth Parker TF Dunkirk provide their perspective on the Afghan evac, organizational agility, and leadership. “Future of Work: Lessons from Afghanistan”, Sal Silvester on the Future of Leadership, November 2021.

Video – Task Force Argo. Zach Nunn, the co-founder of a Afghan evac organization, and Yousef Rezai, a former interpreter whose wife has been evacuated from Afghanistan by Task Force Argo. Listen to Zach describe how he and other volunteers got involved in saving ‘at-risk’ Afghans and bringing them to safety. Yousef describes the difficulty in his wife’s journey to safety. “Task Force Argo works to evacuate Americans and partners from Afghanistan”, CBS News YouTube, November 18, 2021. YouTube, 9 minutes.

Video – Women’s Rights in Taliban-Controlled Afghanistan. The U.S. Senator from Iowa, Join Ernst speaks with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution in a 47 minute long video. November 19, 2021, YouTube.

Book Review – The Afghanistan File. Turki AlFaisal Al Saud has produced a memoir (2021) that provides some insightful information on the Saudi role in Afghanistan from 1979 (Soviet invasion) and the start of the American war in 2001. Read “A Memoir From the Head of Saudi Intelligence”, Lawfare Blog, by Bruce Riedel, November 18, 2021.


Photo: Army Pfc. Riley Tiedt with the 2-127th Infantry Regiment, 32nd Infantry Division, Wisconsin National Guard, administers a COVID-19 vaccination to an Afghan evacuee during Operation Allies Welcome at Fort McCoy, Wi., Sept. 3, 2021. The Defense Department through Northern Command, and in support of the Department of Homeland Security, is providing transportation, temporary housing, medical screening, and general support for at least 50,000 Afghan evacuees at suitable facilities, in permanent or temporary structures, as quickly as possible.