Topics: News about Afghanistan, relocation, immigration, resettlement, humanitarian crisis, commentary, books, podcasts, events, and more.
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Allies Left Behind – Process is Too Slow. The chaotic withdrawal of U.S. forces and the subsequent return to power of the Taliban has put tens of thousands of Afghans who worked for the United States in jeopardy. The ongoing efforts of the U.S. government to relocate these at-risk Afghans has been dismal at best. The Kabul NEO of August 2021 was plagued by Department of State mistakes; despite the best efforts of the U.S. military and other nations as well. Many of the Afghan allies remain in Afghanistan or are languishing in third countries pending a bureaucratic process (in many cases a years long effort) for entry to the United States.
One ‘Lily Pad’ Is Not Enough. The Department of State (DoS) has apparently locked itself into one or two courses of action in relocating our Afghan allies, principal among them those who qualify for a Special Immigrant Visa. The air flow of our Afghan allies is slow and minimal; with only one ‘lily pad’ in Qatar that fills to capacity whenever the pace of flights from Kabul to Doha resume or ‘picks up’ (these flights have been ‘on and off’ over the past two years). Even if the number of infrequent flights from Kabul increases the military camp in Qatar does not have the capacity for processing the numbers of arrivals. Attempts by the Afghan Evac coalition to persuade DoD to increase the number of lily pads have thus far been unsuccessful. While the individual worker bees at State are working hard on this problem set; the higher ups a ‘foggy bottom’ have failed in the policy and diplomatic aspects of the relocation effort.
Passports. The availability of Afghan passports is limited; primarily to those applications that were made months earlier. Of course, Taliban officials – and friends of – can obtain passports. No word on when the Kabul office will open for all.
Afghan Commandos Recruited by Russia. A Special Forces NCO who trained up and went into combat with Afghan Commandos laments inaction by the Department of State (DoS) to take care of America’s allies. He sees the possibility of Afghan members of the Afghan National Army Special Operations Command (ANASOC) fighting in Ukraine on behalf of Russia a missed opportunity by DoS. “The Afghans I Trained Are Fighting for Putin in Ukraine”, The New York Times, January 24, 2023.
UK Immigration. The resettlement and relocation schemes of the United Kingdom for Afghan citizens is explained in a 46-page document published by the UK House of Commons. UK Immigration routes for Afghan nationals, by Melanie Gower, House of Commons, January 26, 2023.
UN’s Chaotic Departure From Kabul – August 2021 AAR. The takingn of Kabul in August 2021 by the Taliban seemed to have caught the security officials of the United Nations off balance. The departure of UN staff during the non-combatant evacuation operation was plagued by poor planning and a breakdown in communications. “Inside the UN’s chaotic flight from Taliban takeover”, by Colum Lynch, DEVEX, January 24, 2023.
EHC Update. Not mentioned in the news very much any more is the status of the Afghans who are ‘guests’ in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) living in Emirates Humanitarian City (EHC). Some reports on social media indicate that there still over 2,000 Afghans living there. Movement out of EHC to the United States and other countries is slow and plagued with bureaucracy. The residents are getting concerned that they have been forgotten – some are demonstrating inside the walls of the compound. An action that surely will not be looked upon kindly by the UAE. Of course, if the Department of State moved a little quicker in processing . . .
Relocations Continue for Veteran. A former U.S. Army veteran helped refugees escape from Afghanistan during the August 2021 period which saw the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, the take-over of Afghanistan by the Taliban, and the chaotic non-combatant evacuation operation from Kabul airport. Alex Plitsas is still working on assisting Afghans out of the country 18 months later. “Veteran Still Evacuating Afghan Refugees More Than Year After Headlines Faded Away”, by Christopher Keating, Military.com, January 22, 2023.
‘Categorical Parole’. More than 74,000 Afghan citizens are hiding from the Taliban in Afghanistan. They are being hunted down because they worked for the United States military during its twenty-year long involvement in the Afghan conflict. About 50,000 of these “. . . Afghan allies have cleared the most onerous U.S. visa requirements but remain stuck in Afghanistan, awaiting administrative processing that could take years under the State Department’s current system.” However, there is a process called ‘categorical parole’ that would allow these at-risk Afghan allies who are eligible for a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) to come to the United States to finish their administrative processing. Read more in “How to Save Thousands of Afghan Allies”, by Loren Voss, Lawfare Blog, January 30, 2023.
Afghan Commando Detained by CBP Released. Abdul Wasi Safi, an Afghan Commando, fled the Taliban by crossing the border into Iran. He then applied for and was granted a humanitarian visa by Brazil. From there, he made his way to Mexico where he then crossed the border into Texas. He asked for asylum but instead was detained in a facility for four months. His case generated a lot of media attention and gained some Congressional support. He is now free from detention and has joined his brother – a former interpreter who worked for U.S. Army Special Forces and who lives in the United States. “Feds drop charges against Afghan soldier trying to claim asylum in Texas”, Texas Tribune, January 24, 2023. See also, “Afghan soldier says he will live the “American dream” after being released from immigration detention center”, The Texas Tribune, January 27, 2023.
Biden’s Failure. Dalia Al-Aqidi, a senior fellow at the Center fo Security Policy, points to the case of Abdul Wasi Safi as one example of the current administrations failure to take care of the Afghan allies of the United States. “Abdul Wasi Safi’s trauma a reminder of Biden’s Afghanistan failure”, Arab News, January 29, 2023.
Camp Atterbury and Resettlement of Afghan Evacuees. A battalion of the 1st Cavalry Division based at at Fort Hood, Texas got the mission to help receive, process, and resettle Afghans who were air lifted from Afghanistan during the Kabul non-combatant evacuation operation (NEO) of August 2021. Major Jeb Graydon, the battalion’s operations officer, explains how his unit took on and executed the mission at Camp Atterbury, Indiana. “Operation Allies Welcome: Lessons from a DSCA mission”, Modern War Institute at West Point, January 18, 2023.
CRS Paper on Afghan Immigrant Benefits. The Congressional Research Service has updated its report entitled Afghan Eligibility for Selected Benefits Based on Immigration Status, CRS, January 18, 2023, PDF.
USCIS Future Plans. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigrations Services has published its FYs 2023-2026 Stratetgic Plan. PDF, 28 pages. On page 9 it notes that the USCIS interviewed over 6,250 refugee applicants from Afghanistan, completing decisions for over 2,000 applications during 2022.
Welcome Corps. The U.S. Department of State has established a new program that provides the opportunity for American citizens to sponsor refugees from abroad. The first phase to begin in 2023 will be primarily for refugees from Africa. “Launch of the Welcome Corps – Private Sponsorship of Refugees”, DoS Fact Sheet, January 19, 2023. See also a State Department briefing about the Welcome Corps (Jan 19, 2023).
News About Afghanistan
Electricity Shortage. Much of Afghanistan is suffering from a lack of electricity. One of the main providers of power is Uzbekistan; and there appears to be technical problems in the supply. Several provinces have had shortages for over three weeks. This comes at a time when Afghanistan is experiencing the coldest winter in 15 years. “Kabul still ‘in the dark’ as Uzbekistan fails to reconnect power supplies”, AMU.TV, January 26, 2023. See also “Uzbekistan Providing Less Power Than Agreed: DABS”, Tolo News, January 27, 2023 and “Turkmenistan and Afghanistan renew power supply contract”, Ariana News, January 27, 2023.
Jails Filling Up. When the Taliban took over Afghanistan they opened the doors to the jails and the inmates walked out to freedom. Criminals, terrorists, and others returned to Afghan society. Almost two years later, the empty jails now have thousands of prisoners. “Taliban Refill Afghan Jails”, Voice of America, January 26, 2023.
Afghan Adjustment Act (AAA). One of the lead organizations in the effort to pass the AAA is Evacuate our Allies (EOA). There was a lot of dissappointment that the AAA was not included in the 2023 Omnibus package by Congress this past December. The EOA plans to continue the advocacy fight once the new Congress settles in.
Afghan Arms for Russia? The conflict in Ukraine is not going so well for Russia. It is now turning to other nations to provide military equipment for its war effort. There are press reports that Afghan arms and military equipment may be heading towards Russia. However, the White House says it has no evidence to support published reports on this topic. “No Evidence Russia Turning to Taliban for Arms, White House says”, Voice of America, January 28, 2023.
EU and Central Asian States Meet on Afghanistan. A joint press statement was issued by representatives and special envoys for Afghanistan of the European Union and five Central Asian states following their meeting on January 20, 2023 in Brussels. (EU, Jan 20, 2023). See also “EU and Central Asia Representatives meet to discuss Afghanistan”, The Khaama Press, January 23, 2023.
UAE – Careful Engagement. The United Arab Emirates is treading softly and carefully when it engages with the Taliban of Afghanistan. Although the UAE does not formally recognize the Taliban it is engaging with the regime more than many other Middle East countries at the diplomatic and economic level. It is also, to a degree, working with the United States on Afghan issues. For instance, during the Kabul NEO of August 2021, the UAE helped move over 28,000 refugees. Over 14,000 ended up in its Emirates Humanitarian City (EHC) – flown there by U.S. military aircraft and planes chartered by non-governmental organizations. There are still about 2,000 Afghan refugees at EHC – ‘guests’ of the UAE. Read more in “The UAE’s Approach to the Taliban”, by Giorgio Cafiero, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, January 24, 2023.
Life Under the Taliban
Lawyers in Danger. January 24th marked the ‘Day of the Endangered Lawyer’. There was a fair amount of media that took the occasion to draw attention to the plight of Afghans who were part of the legal and judicial structure of Afghanistan prior to August 2021. See “Afghan lawyers and judges in danger”, by Tebasum Durrani, The Lawyer’s Daily, January 24, 2023.
Afghan Lawyers Need Assistance. When the Taliban took over, many of the lawyers, judges, and prosecutors became targets of the new regime. Some have fled the country while others are in hiding. There are a few remaining in Afghanistan who have found work related to their fields and continue to participate in the legal system – but they stay under the radar. There are many ways that the Afghan lawyers can be assisted. Read more in “Afghan Lawyers on Rule of Law’s Frontlines Need Urgent International Support”, Just Security, January 25, 2023. See also “Afghanistan: Male judges and prosecutors left behind in ‘forgotten crisis'”, International Bar Association, January 17, 2023.
Afghan Female Students – More Restrictions. The Taliban-run Ministry of Higher Education has ordered private universities in Afghanistan not to allow female students to sit for university entrance exams next month. (Reuters, Jan 28, 2023) See also this article. (Fox News, Jan 29, 2023).
AUAF – A University in Exile. Established in 2004, the American University of Afghanistan was located on a campus in Kabul. When the Taliban took over in August 2021 the university staff boarded evacuation planes for varioius countries in the Middle East and in Europe. Currently, the physical campus is located in Doha, Qatar. The AUAF currently has 900 students, of which 600 are in Afghanistan studying online. “American University of Afghanistan is a University in Exile”, The Media Line, January 29, 2023.
Afghan Women, Online Studies, and Starlink. Elon Musk’s satellite system is providing vital communications to the Ukraine Armed Forces as they try to defend against the Russian attack on Ukraine territory. His system is also finding its way into Iran where the resistance movement uses the system to circumvent the strick internet restrictions the Iranian regime has imposed upon its people. The same system could be used to aid Afghan women in their quest to continue their education . . . online using the internet. One of the limitations to studying online in Afghanistan is the unavailability of internet access. The Starlink system is well-suited to address that lack of access. What seems to be working in Iran may, perhaps, work in Afghanistan. “It’s time for Elon Musk’s Starlink to save the women of Afghanistan”, The Hill, January 29, 2023.
Humanitarian Assistance and Economy
Afghanistan, one of the poorest countries in the world, is in the midst of a humanitarian and economic crisis. Since 2021, Afghanistan has experienced the cut-off of international development assistance, a U.S. hold on Afghan central bank assets, and U.S. sanctions on the Taliban. Diplomatic pressure on the Taliban to ease the repression and restrictions on the Afghan population in exchange for international assistance has been unfruitful.
Humanitarian Dilemma. For decades Afghanistan has been highly dependent upon foreign aid for its economy, health system, and feeding the population. However, now the aid gets syphoned off by the Taliban for its ‘supporters’. What should donors do when the Taliban benefit from international assistance while harming the Afghan people? “Wrestling with a Humanitarian Dilemma in Afghanistan”, by William Byrd, Ph.D., United States Institute of Peace (USIP), January 25, 2023.
Afghan Women and NGOs. Women who worked for international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are no longer able to work. Read about one woman as she struggles with a new reality – life without a job and income. “The Daily Hustle: How Afghan women working for NGOs are coping with the Taleban ban”, by Roxanna Shapour, Afghanistan Analysts Network, January 26, 2023.
A Harsh Winter. Afghanistan is currently experiencing one of its most severe winters in 15 years. This comes at a time when electricity is intermittant, unemployment is high, food is scarce, and oil for heat is not readily available. Even firewood and coal is expensive. At times the temperature has plunged to minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit or minus 34 degress Celsius. “Winter has come for Afghanistan”, The Washington Post, January 30, 2023. (subscription)
Commentary, Analysis, and Opinion
Dividing Afghanistan. Tom Ordeman presents the reasons for and against the partition of Afghanistan along ethnic and tribal lines. “The Case for Partitioning Afghanistan”, Small Wars Journal, January 25, 2023.
Paper – Population-Centric COIN. The coalition nations assisting the government of Afghanistan from 2001 to 2021 spent huge amounts of money and thousands of lives in the quest to establish a democratic and stable nation. The Western ‘counterinsurgents’ adapted numerous approaches to the counterinsurgency problem set. A recent paper explores aspects of the COIN campaign in Helmand and Kandahar during the 2008-11 timeframe. “Hidden Hands: The failure of population-centric counterinsurgency in Afghanistan 2008-11”, by Christian Tripodi, Journal of Strategic Studies, January 30, 2023.
Podcast – The War That Shall Not be Named: Lessons From Afghanistan for the Army. This episode examines the lessons that the US Army should take from the twenty-year war in Afghanistan. Guests on the panel include Lt Gen (Ret.) Doug Lute, Dr. Jason Lyall, and Major Sam Wilkins. The Social Science of War podcast is produced by the Department of Social Sciences at West Point, Modern War Institute at West Point, January 23, 2023, one hour.
Podcast – Jeff Phaneuf with No One Left Behind. Learn about the struggles of Afghans living under Taliban rule and the efforts of individuals who have have stepped up to provide relocation, resettlement assistance, and government advocacy. Jeff is the Director of Advocacy for No One Left Behind. He provides great context of the Kabul NEO in August 2021 – such as “Having the phone number of the guy at the gate is better than having the phone number of the commanding general.” Afghanistan Project Podcast, January 23, 2023, 52 minutes.
Podcast – Amy Sims with Fill the Needs. An absolute dynamo in the Afghan Evac community is interviewed about her work assisting Afghans in their evacuation from Afghanistan beginning in August 2021 and continuing to the present day. She continues to provide support to Afghan families stuck in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and throughout Europe. Afghanistan Project Podcast, January 30, 2023, 48 minutes.
Book Review – The Pashtuns: A Contested History. Tilak Devasher has penned a book about the Pashtuns of Afghanistan and Afghanistan that covers the formation of Pakistan, the Durand Line, the Pashtun mindset, religious radicalization, fissures within the Pushtuns (Durranis and Ghhilzias), the TTP, and the Pastuns in Pakistan. “Untangling Pashtun History”, The Cipher Brief, January 24, 2023.
Books about Afghanistan
Photo: The last family of Afghan guests depart Fort McCoy, Wis., Feb. 15, 2022, to end the Operation Allies Welcome mission at the fort. Photo by Army Sgt. Robert P. Wormley III.