“Majority” of Afghan visa applicants left behind, State Department official says

“The majority” of Afghans who worked for the United States during their two-decade military campaign were likely left behind in the chaotic and hasty evacuation from Afghanistan, a senior department official said on Wednesday. State.

The official said they did not have a specific tally of Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants and their family members who were unable to participate in the evacuation flights, “but I would say that it is the majority of them, on the basis of anecdotal information on the populations that we were able to support.

This official described an evacuation effort facing many challenges, including Taliban checkpoints with “variable” and “unpredictable” criteria for people to pass through.

“Despite 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,” he added. official told reporters on Wednesday.

They said the Taliban’s changing criteria for checkpoints was one of many challenges facing the massive evacuation efforts from the United States and abroad – a challenge that has left U.S. officials who have worked in the field “haunted by the choices we had to make and the people we had to make. could not help initially in this first phase of the operation.

“It wasn’t pretty. It was very difficult, “said the senior official,” and it involved compromises and really painful choices for everyone involved. “

The official spoke about the difficult physical access points to the airport, the flood of threats from ISIS-K, 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.

The official told reporters that at the start of the evacuation, the United States tried to prioritize access for late-stage SIV candidates and other categories, but said the effort had failed because “every piece of proof of identity that we tried to provide electronically was immediately disseminated to as many people as possible. . ”

“Each day was a constant improvisation effort to figure out what was going to work that day,” they said. “As we got deeper into the process, unfortunately we had to start prioritizing those people to whom we had a legal obligation in the first place, and that was our fellow Americans.”

The official said that “one of the most striking experiences for many of my colleagues, who have all received direct contact from a wide range of defenders on behalf of individual Afghans, on behalf of groups of Afghans, was was the level of criticism they were subjected to by these individual advocacy groups, which, you know, were basically trying to get us to prioritize Afghan nationals over American citizens. And we have a fundamental obligation under the law, and I would also say a moral obligation, to try to take care of our fellow citizens. “

The senior State Department official said the “level of pragmatism” displayed by the Taliban and described by other US officials “was intended to ensure that we would be able to leave on the schedule our president had set and that we would not stay or linger providing the reasons why we had to stay longer than August 31st.

They said the idea that the United States handed the Taliban “a holistic list” of special immigrant visa applicants and other vulnerable Afghans seeking to leave the country “is incorrect”, but that they “repeatedly” provided bus manifests to try to facilitate the passage of these vehicles at Taliban checkpoints.

“It was to try to give some degree of confidence 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, ”they explained.

“When it worked well, and that for a few days, for periods, it allowed us to pass through these checkpoints, thousands of people that we and the NATO allies and partners were seeking to remove,” he said. they stated.

However, the official told reporters that there were also days when it didn’t work well.

“We had a few instances 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 hijacked or detained Afghan citizens there. who were on this particular movement, ”they said. “In some of those cases we were able to persuade them to do it and then, in the following days, to allow this group to move forward. “

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