Afghanistan Update – April 2022

English Class Liberty Village

Topics: News about Afghanistan, immigration, resettlement, humanitarian crisis, commentary, books, podcasts, events, and more. The news out of Afghanistan for the past month has been a steady diet of the same news experienced over the past several months. The Taliban continue their repressive and brutal tactics in controlling the country. The economy has contracted, food is scarce, jobs are few, and many people are unemployed. The plight of women and girls has become significantly worse. Former senior members of the Afghan government and military are still hunted, detained, and sometimes killed by the Taliban. Former members of Afghan SOF have had it particularly hard and many are in hiding.

Photo: U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Mikaley Kline, Task Force-Liberty Public Affairs craftsman, teaches English words and phrases to Afghan children during community-based learning in Liberty Village on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, Jan. 25, 2022. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Mikaley Kline)

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Leaving Afghanistan

Air Travel. Commercial air traffic between Kabul and other regional hubs has resumed. Kam Air and Afghan Ariana Airlines have scheduled flights to foreign cities. Destinations include Abu Dhabi, Doha, and several other locations. One new route that has opened up is a weekly Kabul – Moscow flight by Afghan Ariana Airlines. “Afghanistan airline launches Kabul to Moscow route”, Ariana News, April 27, 2022. Talks continue between the Taliban and Qatar about a future contract for the operation of the Kabul airport. One sticking point seems to be who will provide security within the airport. The talks have been ongoing since last fall. “After 4 Days, No Information on Airport Contract Talks”, Tolo News, April 26, 2022. See also “Progress Being Made on Airport Contract”, Tolo News, April 30, 2022.

Land Borders. The border control points with all neighboring countries remain open for those with the proper travel documents, although disputes with neighbors will sometimes cause a closure of certain border crossings for days at a time. This is especially true of the some of the border crossings with Pakistan. Some Afghans wanting to leave Pakistan to celebrate Eid with their families in Afghanistan have been denied passage across the border. The Iranian border has also seen some closures due to tensions between the two countries. Pakistan air strikes on insurgents of the Tehrik- Taliban Pakistan (TTP) based on Afghanistan territory have increased tensions with the Taliban causing interruptions at border crossings.

Departures. Most of the American citizens that lived in Afghanistan have departed; there are a few that won’t leave because they don’t want to leave close family members behind. There are still some Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs with green cards) that are trying to leave; some of these green card holders also are struggling with family members who lack the required travel documents (passports and visas). The thousands of Afghans who have ‘foil’ or ‘issued’ visas for the United States are slowly finding their way out; many still vexed with family members lacking the correct travel documents as well. Afghans with pending SIV applications have a long wait ahead of them – between months and years for the many thousands who remain in Afghanistan.

Repatriation of Afghans. Some Afghans who have illegally immigrated to other countries are finding themselves on a plane back to Afghanistan. Turkey has repatriated over 200 Afghan refugees recently. In March, Belgian authorities ordered 680 Afghans to leave the country.

Emirates Humanitarian City. The thousands of Afghans who have been living in the EHC in the United Arab Emirates are finally seeing a glimmer of hope. The population there is reported to have peaked at 12,000. The UAE have been gracious hosts but they want to empty the complex by this fall. Many of these Afghans were evacuated during the last days of August by U.S. military transport aircraft flying out of Kabul during the non-combatant evacuation operation (NEO). Some were put on private civilian charter aircraft by U.S. military personnel who were conducting the NEO at Hamid Karzai International Airport. These private civilian charter aircraft were financed and coordinated by several different Afghan Evac volunteer organizations.

Some Afghan evacuees arrived after August 31st, usually from private civilian charter flights departing Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan. Flights from EHC to the U.S. were conducted by the U.S. Department of State in the fall of 2021; but for unknown reasons the DoS suspended the flights in November. DoS basically ignored the situation in EHC for several months. Now it appears that flights have resumed from EHC by DoS; although from the perspective of the temporary residents of EHC they appear to be far and few between.

A Long Journey – With Time at EHC. Read the story on an Afghan American who finally managed to be reunited with his wife and children. He was a former translator for the U.S. military between 2007 and 2014. He then applied for and was accepted in 2014 for the Special Immigrant Visa program. After arriving in the United States in 2014 and up until the fall of the Afghan government he attempted to get his family to the United States but was facing obstacle after obstacle. Attempts by his wife and children to leave Kabul in August through HKIA were unsuccessful; but a group of U.S. Special Forces veterans managed to evacuate the family in late September. They finally reached safety, arriving at the Emirate Humanitarian City. Once at EHC it would take months before they would reach the United States, finally overcoming the bureaucratic ineptness and neglect of the U.S. Department of State. Read the story in “U.S. Special Forces Veterans Rescue Afghan Family Biden Abandoned, Reunite Them With America Father”, The Federalist, April 29, 2022.

Afghan Resettlement

Afghanistan Adjustment Act. The AAA has still not passed Congress. Some reports indicate that the verbiage within the act has been narrowed in scope to ensure greater support. This is especially important to gain the backing of Republicans in Congress. The AAA faces some staunch opposition by Congressional Republicans who see the AAA as just one more attempt by progressives to weaken the immigration laws even further. It is no secret that Republicans enjoy the support of millions of Americans who are fed up with the free-flow of thousands of people each day across the southern border; and the elected officials are reluctant to leave themselves open to criticism from their supporters.

The White House has added the Afghanistan Adjustment Act to its latest version of the Ukraine supplemental bill that it sent to Congress. The White House version has been Tweeted by reporters; but it does not match the version that the Congress is currently looking at. This is causing some confusion amongst AAA advocates who are meeting their Senators and Representatives to voice their support for AAA. One of the questions asked of AAA advocates by the staff of congressional representatives is ‘Have you read the AAA language and do you understand it?” A tough question to answer if you haven’t seen the language and even tougher to try to convince a staffer that the AAA is a worthy piece of legislation.

Resettlement Agencies Overwhelmed. The reduction in people coming across the southern border during the Trump administration and that administrations more restrictive immigration policies reduced the capacity of resettlement agencies to conduct their activities. Many of these organizations lost their funding, closed down, or reduced their staffs. The sudden influx of over 80,000 Afghans into the United States in late 2021 stressed these organizations; which reduced their effectiveness in providing assistance to Afghans resettling in communities across America.

Housing Shortage. From the very beginning of the arrival of Afghans in the fall of 2021 it was recognized that living accommodations for Afghan families would be problematic. There has been a housing shortage for the past few years – both for homes and rentals – across the country. This has made it difficult for resettlement agencies to provide lodging for the new Afghan arrivals.

Benefits Cease. There is a clock on how long Afghan evacuees receive benefits. Some benefits last several months while other benefits continue for longer periods. Afghan families now living in the United States are finding their benefits are running out and they are now struggling to pay for lodging and for food.

News About Afghanistan

Resistance Groups. The Taliban are facing a slowly growing insurgency . . . and with spring arriving the attacks against the Taliban are becoming more frequent. The insurgents – there are several different groups – represent former members of the Afghan military, ethnic minorities (Tajiks), religious sects (ISKP), and others. The insurgency groups do face several obstacles to growing in strength. Afghanistan has no land border with a state that will provide sanctuary and support (as Pakistan did for the Taliban for two decades), the insurgent groups are not supported by any other government (as the U.S. did for the Mujahedeen during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan), and the groups are disorganized with no central ‘government in exile’ representing the various organizations. One of the larger groups is the National Resistance Front (NRF) which hopes to grow into a national movement to topple the Taliban. Read more in “Taliban Faces Rising Armed Resistance From Former Government Factions”, Gandhara Blog, April 27, 2022.

U.S. Military Equipment Left Behind. Much of the approximately $7 billion of military equipment that the US transferred to the Afghan government was captured by the Taliban when they took over Afghanistan in August 2021. The equipment included aircraft, munitions, military vehicles, weapons, communications equipment, and other materials according to a recent Department of Defense report dated March 2022. Some equipment that was bought and destined for Afghanistan never arrived in country. A lot of this equipment and material was instead transferred to Ukraine. Five Mi-17 helicopters that were in Ukraine for maintenance were subsequently transferred to the Ukraine military forces. (CNN, Apr 28, 2022).

AAF Aircraft in Uzbekistan Property of U.S. Dozens of Afghan pilots flew almost 50 aircraft north to Uzbekistan when the Taliban took Kabul. The Taliban regime wants the aircraft returned to Afghanistan. As of August 21, 2021, there were 46 aircraft in Uzbekistan and 18 in Tajikistan. The aircraft included Mi-17 and UH-60 helicopters and PC-12, C-208, AC-208, and A-29 fixed-wing aircraft. About 500 – 600 Afghans flew to Uzbekistan and 140 to Tajikistan on board the AAF aircraft. The pilots were transferred to the United Arab Emirates last fall and have since been resettled in the United States. “Uzbeks Say Aircraft Flown From Afghanistan Are US Property”, Voice of America, April 29, 2022.

Afghan Air Force Rebuilding. The Taliban are slowly repairing and returning to service the aircraft formerly operated by the Afghan Air Force (AAF). Some of the AAF’s aircraft were flown to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Some aircraft were disabled by U.S. forces prior to departure or by members of the Afghan Air Force in August 2021. “MoD Repairs Indian Cheetal Helicopters”, Tolo News, April 24, 2022.

Life Under the Taliban

Persian Language Abolished? According to one news report the Taliban regime has issued a decree to remove the use of the Persian and Uzbek languages from various government institutions. “Taliban abolishes Persian language from Supreme Court bill”, ANI news, April 23, 2022.

Banning Social Media. The Taliban cabinet has instructed the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) to shut down some internet privilege’s for Afghans. “IEB bans TikTok and PUBG game in Afghanistan”, ATN News, April 21, 2022.

ISKP Targeting Minorities. The Islamic State Khorasan Province has been conducting regular terrorist bombing attacks throughout the country. A favored target of ISKP is the Shiite minority Hazara ethnic group. Read more in “Explosions in northern Afghanistan kill at least 9, wound 13”, The Washington Post, April 28, 2022 and “Mosque Explosion Kills 33 as Deadly Week in Afghanistan Continues”, The New York Times, April 28, 2022.

COVID – Another Wave. In early 2022 doctors and medical staff were in the midst of another rise in COVID cases. The medical institutions are operating at a reduced capacity due to the rise of the Taliban regime and the cutting off of international aid. “The Fourth Wave of Covid-19 Hits Afghanistan”, Afghanistan Analysts Network, April 20, 2022.

Humanitarian Assistance and Economy

EU HA for Afghanistan. The European Union continues to provide humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan. Flights carrying aid land at Kabul International Airport and are then distributed to needy people around the country (with careful observation, redirection, and meddling by the Taliban of course). Afghanistan is still the worst humanitarian crisis in the world at this time; with over 24 million needing life-saving assistance and about 95 percent of the population (38 million) living under the poverty line. The Khamma Press, Apr 28, 2022. For more on the shortage of food read a report by Save the Children, April 26, 2022.

Measles in Afghanistan. A report by the World Health Organization (WHO) states that there are an increasing number of unimmunized vulnerable children who are suffering from measles. The security situation, rise to power of the Taliban, and COVID pandemic have all contributed to a decrease in immunizations and rise in measles cases. “Afghanistan Ranks 3rd Worldwide for Measles Cases: Report”, Tolo News, April 28, 2022.

Humanitarian Assessment. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Services (OCHA) has issued its latest report on the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan (April 24, 2022).

Opium Ban. A key component of the Afghan economy is the growing of poppies to supply the drug trade with opium. Poppies, when compared to other crops, require little water and care, and bring in much more money than traditional crops. The Taliban are attempting to reduce the cultivation of opium. “Afghan Farmers Fear for Livelihoods as Taliban Bans Opium”, Gandhara Blog, April 14, 2022.

Commentary, Analysis, and Opinion

U.S. Welcomes Ukrainians, Neglects Afghans. Many advocates for Afghan refugees are dismayed with the lack of support by the Biden administration for former Afghan allies who fought alongside U.S. military forces in Afghanistan for the past twenty years. They are also frustrated by the quick response to assist Ukrainian refugees and they perceive Afghan refugees are not receiving equal attention. “Biden welcomes Ukrainian refugees, neglects Afghans, critics say”, by Abigail Hauslohner, The Washington Post, April 28, 2022.

Afghans and Ukrainians – An Obvious Disparity. Thousands of Afghans have been rejected for humanitarian parole . . . but for Ukrainians and illegal border crossers on the southern border it is much different. Afghans applying for humanitarian parole have to provide vaccination status, pay $575 to apply, and undergo an in-person consular interview with a U.S. representative. Ukrainians . . . not so much. Out of 45,000 applications from Afghans for humanitarian parole, 2,200 have been denied and only 270 have been conditionally approved. “Afghans subject to stricter rules than Ukrainian refugees, advocates say”, NBC News, April 29, 2022.

“There are clearly two refugee systems – one for Ukrainians and one for Afghans. Afghans are our longest wartime ally ever – you’d think we’d want to do right by them.”

Matt Zeller, advisor to Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

“The administration may want to think it’s sufficient to do the bare minimum to save our Afghan allies, while doing what’s necessary for Ukrainian refugees, but the disparity couldn’t be more jarring. While many (Afghans) were brought here out of desperation, many thousands more have been left behind and are still under threat from the Taliban. Over the last eight months, we have been begging the administration for the exact same program that they’re now giving Ukrainians.”

Chris Purdy, director of Veterans for American Ideals and Outreach at Human Rights First.

Harvard Vets Assist Afghans. Loren Voss, Phil Caruso, and others are highlighted in this article about U.S. veterans banding together to assist Afghan allies in departing Afghanistan. They believe that the U.S. government should be doing more to simplify and speed up the processing of Special Immigrant Visas for Afghans. Read more in “Harvard Graduates Leave No One Behind”, Harvard Magazine, May-June 2022.

Podcast – No One Left Behind. For almost a decade the NOLB has been helping evacuate former interpreters and U.S. government employees who are eligible for Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs). Two members of NOLB share their experiences in this podcast. Legacy Collective, April 12, 2022.