Topics: Evacuation Czar needed, Afghan passport update, OSINT map tracker, Afghan pilots wanted, US and Taliban meet in Doha, refugees, humanitarian assistance, women’s parliament in exile, NATO lessons learned, and more.
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Evacuation from Afghanistan
Senator Calls for ‘Evacuation Czar’. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) has sent a letter to the White House expressing deep concern for the lack of effort on the part of the Department of State to bring the at-risk Afghans who aided the U.S. military during the 20-year involvement in the Afghan War to the United States. He wants a review of the policies as well as a speeding up and expansion of the evacuation effort of those Afghans with Special Immigrant Visas (whether issued or pending). He also wants greater support from DoS for the private organizations funding and organizing charter flights from Afghanistan to other countries. “Democratic senator calls on Biden to appoint Afghanistan ‘evacuation czar'”, CNN Politics, November 30, 2021.
“I don’t mean to be overly harsh, but the charter flights are the only game in town and the State Department is doing nothing to get them off the ground. They seem almost antagonistic to them.”Senator Blumenthal, November 2021
Evacuation of ‘Afghan Allies’ Painfully Slow. Over the past few months, since the end of the U.S. military non-combatant evacuation operation (NEO) at the end of August, the Department of State has been involved in assisting in the departure of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs with green cards) from Afghanistan. This has been through charter flights utilizing Qatar Airways – with direct DoS involvement or in the ‘assistance’ provided to private volunteer organizations that are coordinating and funding charter flights. The process has been painfully slow with many of the volunteer organizations casting doubt about the sincerity of the State Department. The ‘bench’ of staff working the evacuation effort from Afghanistan at DoS seems thin. There are questions about why DoS has not surged more personnel address this evacuation process.
Flights Continue. The pace of flights from Afghanistan to Europe and the Middle East for Afghan evacuees has picked up a bit. Qatar Airways is flying more frequent charters from Kabul to Doha. There are some occasional flights taking people from Pakistan and the ‘Humanitarian City’ in the United Arab Emirates to the United States. European nations are also conducting flights from Kabul as well. And, of course, the U.S.-based veteran volunteer organizations continue to work through the obstacles placed in front of them by the Department of State to get flights out of Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif to the Middle East and Europe. The number of American citizens and foreign nationals on these flights is diminishing, replaced by lawful permanent residents (LPRs with green cards) and with Afghans with a current Afghan passport and issued Special Immigrant Visa. So, finally, the ‘Afghan allies’ that the Department of State has said it has been assisting over the past three months are actually getting flown out of Afghanistan. In addition, many Afghans are taking advantage of the international flights now offered commercially by Kam Air and Ariana Afghan Airlines.
Afghan Passport Updates. The distribution of passports in Kabul was interrupted for about two weeks but is ready to resume. Passport offices were reported to be open in 17 other provinces. 20,000 passports have been sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with 5,000 destined to Saudi Arabia. “Govt to Issue Passports for Afghan Citizens Abroad“, Tolo News, November 30, 2021.
UA Pilot Gives Hope to Afghan Evacuees. In the aftermath of the Kabul non-combatant evacuation operation the U.S. government called on the Civil Reserve Air Fleet to provide commercial planes to transport Afghan evacuees from the ‘lily pads’ in the Middle East and Europe to the United States. Many pilots volunteered for this task, to include Zak Khogyani – a United Airlines pilot. He flew on flights from Germany to the U.S., greeting the evacuees as they boarded the planes in Pashto. He had fled Afghanistan as boy at the age of 9. His family immigrated to the United States and he grew up to be a commercial pilot. “This pilot fled Afghanistan as a child”, CNN, November 26, 2021.
“As the evacuees looked at Khogyani, resplendent in his United Airlines captain’s uniform, many kept evoking one word. It was hope. It was something that only Khogyani could give because he had taken their same journey and built a prosperous new life.”
OSINT Map Tracker for Afghan Evac. As the Kabul non-combatant evacuation operation (NEO) unfolded a number of volunteer organizations made up of veterans and others began assisting Afghans seeking to get on an evacuation flight out of Kabul airport. These ‘Afghan evac’ groups continued providing assistance when the Kabul NEO ended on August 31st. Several mapping utilities emerged during the NEO and in the aftermath. One of these was a open source intelligence online mapping application developed by a Tampa-based firm – Quiet Professionals. Read more in “After the Evacuation of Afghanistan, Offering Hope to Those Left Behind”, ESRI, November 23, 2021.
Afghan Evacuee Resettlement
An Afghan Thanksgiving. Thousands of Afghan refugees are still being housed on seven U.S. military installations across the country. Some of these bases provided a traditional Thanksgiving meal for their ‘Afghan guests’ in addition to conducting some activities to introduce them to the meaning of the holiday. “Once Banned by the Taliban, Kites Mark First Thanksgiving for Afghan Refugees on US Military Base”, by Richard Sisk, Military.com, November 29, 2021.
Housing Shortage for Afghan Refugees. Afghan evacuees are still being processed on several US bases and awaiting resettlement into American communities across the country. One major problem is the lack of affordable housing across the nation. Housing units are reported to be almost filled to capacity and rents of 1, 2, or 3 bedroom apartments far exceed the stipend provided to the relief agencies involved in the resettlement process. Another factor is that Afghans want to go to regions or communities that have existing Afghan populations – however, many of these cities and towns are in expensive areas with costly housing conditions.
Taliban and Security
Afghanistan’s New Air Force – Pilots Wanted. Prior to the collapse of the Afghan government and its military forces in the summer of 2021 the Afghan Air Force (AAF) provided a significant amount of combat power to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF). The AAF was provided with modern aircraft like the A-29 Super Tucano, MD-150 helicopter, and others to provide close air support, medivac, and logistical support. In August, many of the aircraft were destroyed or flown to Uzbekistan or Tajikistan. However, some aircraft survived intact and remain in Afghanistan. The Taliban regime is now asking former members of the AAF to rejoin the air force and for those who left the country to return. Of course, it is a widely documented fact that the Taliban are hunting down members of the Special Mission Wing (SMW) for their support of the Afghan special operations forces. So there is that one consideration to take into account if you are a former member of the AAF. “Islamic Emirate Air Force Performs Exercises in Balkh Province“, Tolo News, November 29, 2021.
Taliban Meet with US Reps. A U.S. delegation met with senior Afghan Taliban representatives in Qatar on Monday and Tuesday. The two sides discussed the international community’s response to the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. The U.S. expressed its concern for human rights, the policy of general amnesty, and the need for an inclusive and representative government in Afghanistan. In addition, the US expressed its concern for the safe passage of U.S. citizens and its Afghan allies to whom we have a special commitment. “U.S. delegation met with Afghan Taliban representatives in Qatar”, Reuters, November 30, 2021. See a DoS press release about the meeting.
OCHA and Humanitarian Profiles of Afghan Provinces. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Aid of the United Nations has published profiles of the humanitarian situation in each of the 34 provinces of Afghanistan. https://www.humanitarianresponse.info/en/operations/afghanistan/provincial-profile
Refugees and HA. Roie Yellinek, a non-resident scholar at the Middle East Institute, examines the role of regional powers (Iran, Pakistan, and China) and other international players (US, Russia, and India) in the future of Afghanistan – with a focus on the plight of refugees and humanitarian assistance. “The superpowers and the future of Afghanistan”, MEI, November 30, 2021.
Commentary, Analysis, and Opinion
Afghan Withdrawal – a Strategic Failure. Seth Jones, a frequent commentator on events in Afghanistan, provides his thoughts on the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban and the role of the Biden administration. “Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan was a strategic failure”, USA Today, November 29, 2021. (paywall).
Afghan Women’s Parliament in Exile. Before the Taliban takeover, women made up 27 percent of the Afghan Parliament. After the Taliban took power these same women became targets for kidnapping, torture, and assassination. Many of them have found their way to Greece where they continue the effort to protect the rights of Afghan women. “Afghanistan’s women leaders persist despite exile – the US must follow their lead”, by Teresa Casale, The Hill, November 29, 2021.
The Taliban and the UN. Michael Rubin argues that the United States should reject United Nations recognition of the Taliban regime, refuse to distribute aid through the group, and offer diplomatic and other support to the National Resistance Front (NRF). “Biden must block UN recognition of the Taliban”, Washington Examiner, November 30, 2021.
Books, Reports, Podcasts, and Videos
Podcast – Joan Barker and Afghan Evac. A former Peace Corps volunteer and a defense contractor teaching English to members of the Afghan Air Force in Kabul is an alumni of Providence College. She is interviewed about her work experience as well as her participation in the evacuation of at-risk Afghans from Afghanistan. “Breaking hearts and minds – Joan Barker ’04”, Providence College Podcast, November 29, 2021, 40 minutes.
Report – NATO Lessons Learned. NATO foreign ministers met to discuss a recent North Atlantic Treaty Organization report on the lessons learned from NATO’s 18-year security effort in Afghanistan. NATO took over the U.S.-led coalition mission in 2003, two years after the United States invaded Afghanistan. The consensus of the report is that the security operation to remove the terrorist regime from power became one of rebuilding an impoverished country and instituting democratic rule under a central government. There is no indication that the report will be made available for the public. “NATO debates the lessons of mission creep in Afghanistan”, ABC News, December 1, 2021.
Photo: Evacuees from Afghanistan board a United States bound U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III, at Naval Station (NAVSTA) Rota, Sept. 1, 2021. NAVSTA Rota supported the Department of State mission to facilitate the safe relocation of U.S. citizens, Special Immigration Visa recipients, and vulnerable populations from Afghanistan. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Nathan Carpenter)