The “majority” of Afghans who worked for the United States and applied for visas were likely left behind, State Department official says
The official said they did not have a specific tally of Afghan special immigrant applicants (SIVs) and their family members who were unable to participate in the evacuation flights, “but I would say that ‘ is the majority of them, purely on the basis of anecdotal information about the populations we were able to support. “
More generally, the official described an evacuation effort facing many challenges – one that left US officials who worked on the ground “haunted by the choices we had to make and the people we didn’t.” could not help leaving in this first phase of the operation. “
“It wasn’t pretty. It was very difficult,” the senior official said, “and it involved compromises and really painful choices for everyone involved.”
There were at least 20,000 SIV candidates in the pipeline prior to the US withdrawal, and the State Department has not provided an accurate count of the number of the 123,000 evacuees from Afghanistan who fall into this category.
The State Department official told reporters that in the early stages of the evacuation, the United States tried to prioritize access for late-stage SIV applicants and other categories, but said the effort was unsuccessful because “every piece of credential we tried to provide electronically was immediately released to the widest possible pool.”
“We just didn’t have the people or the time to try to sift through this crowd of people demanding access,” the official said.
âEvery day was a constant improvisation effort to figure out what was going to work that day,â they said. âAs we got deeper into the process, unfortunately we had to start prioritizing the people we had a legal obligation to in the first place, and that was our fellow Americans. space, the ability to manage other populations, we tried very hard to do that. “
The official spoke about the difficult physical access points to the airport, the flow of ISIS-K threats, the viral communications that led to huge gangs of Afghans having identification intended for a priority group and poor characterization by outside groups of the people they were trying. to enter the airport.
They also said that the Taliban had “” variable “criteria for going through their checkpoints at the airport, criteria which were sometimes” incompatible with … the assurances they had given us that they had given us. would let some people pass. “
âDespite our best efforts to come up with a day-to-day, sometimes hour-by-hour approach that would allow groups to move through, it was unpredictable whether they would actually be able to move on,â he added. official told reporters on Wednesday.
Although General Frank McKenzie, head of the US Central Command, described the Taliban as “very pragmatic and very pragmatic,” the senior State Department official said the pragmatism “was aimed at ensuring that we would be able to leave according to the schedule our President had set and we would not delay or provide reasons why we should stay longer than August 31. “
They said the idea that the United States handed the Taliban “a holistic list” of SIV candidates and other vulnerable Afghans seeking to leave the country “is incorrect”, but has “repeatedly “provided bus manifests to try to facilitate the passage of these vehicles at Taliban checkpoints.
âIt was to try to give some assurance that the Afghans who were in these buses were, in fact, Afghans who were local employees of our diplomatic mission or other allied diplomatic missions, that they were holders of foreign passports, so in some cases double nationals, in other cases citizens born in those particular countries, and in other cases they were people for whom we had a special interest and wanted to facilitate the start, âthey explained.
“When it worked well, and it worked for a few days, for periods of time, it got us through these checkpoints, thousands of people that we and NATO allies and partners were looking to remove.” , they said.
However, the manager admitted that there were also days when it didn’t work well.
“We had a few cases where the buses were a mix of foreign nationals and local Afghan staff from other missions, and the (Taliban) only allowed foreign nationals to pass, and they turned back or held them there. Afghan citizens who were on this particular movement, âthey said.â In some of these cases we were able to persuade them to do so and then, in the following days, allow this group to go on. before.”
The State Department official spoke of the angst many of those working on the ground felt in trying to try and save as many people as possible in the rushed last days of the U.S. presence on the ground.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told Pentagon reporters on Wednesday he felt “pain and anger” at what happened in Afghanistan “over the course of the years. Last 20 years and in the last 20 days “.
In addition to the thousands of vulnerable Afghans who managed to take part in the evacuation flights, there is also a group of U.S. citizens who were not evacuated during Monday’s withdrawal.
McKenzie told reporters on Monday: “We didn’t get everyone out that we wanted to get out.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday that the United States was determined to get these Americans, along with vulnerable Afghans, out of the country.
âWe have worked intensely to evacuate and relocate the Afghans who worked alongside us, and are particularly vulnerable to reprisals. We released a lot of it, but a lot is still there. We will continue to work to help them. Our commitment to them has no deadline, âhe said.