How many people in Afghanistan need to be rescued? The number remains elusive.

WASHINGTON – More than 70,700 people were evacuated from Afghanistan from Tuesday evening. Nearly 6,000 American soldiers protect the ...


WASHINGTON – More than 70,700 people were evacuated from Afghanistan from Tuesday evening. Nearly 6,000 American soldiers protect the international airport in Kabul, the capital. And additional US flights depart every 45 minutes.

The Biden administration has provided a stream of updates on its airlift of Americans, Afghans and others since August 14, when the Taliban moved closer to Kabul. Yet U.S. officials are reluctant to give an estimate of which number matters most: how many people ultimately need to be rescued.

The tally has never been more critical, with the US government preparing to end evacuations as the US military begins its final withdrawal from Afghanistan. Tuesday, President Biden reaffirmed his plan to withdraw all US troops by August 31, although he left room “to adjust the schedule if necessary”.

But US officials believe thousands of Americans remain in Afghanistan, some well beyond Kabul, without a safe or quick way to get to the airport. Tens of thousands of Afghans who have worked for the US government for the past 20 years and who are eligible for special visas are desperate to leave.

And refugee and resettlement experts estimate that at least 300,000 Afghans are in imminent danger of being targeted by the Taliban for joining in with US and US efforts to stabilize Afghanistan.

Recounting his conversations with other world leaders, Biden told the White House on Tuesday evening that they had agreed to “continue our close cooperation to get people out as efficiently and safely as possible.”

“We are currently on a pace to finish August 31,” Mr. Biden said. “The sooner we can finish, the better. “

But other senior US officials doubt the evacuations will be completed by then.

“The Americans want us to stay until we are out of our people, just like our allies,” said Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska on Tuesday. Mr. Biden, he added, should “tell the Taliban that we are taking our people out for as long as it takes.”

Administration officials say the numbers are changing hour to hour, or even minute to minute, especially as other countries have their own evacuation operations.

But the American effort is undoubtedly the most important. Considering the resources and the risk the United States is putting into the evacuation, how can the government not know how many people it plans to fly?

” Very good question ! We ask ourselves the same question, ”said James Miervaldis, president of No One Left Behind, a nonprofit that advocates for the relocation of Afghan interpreters to the United States.

Here is what we know.

Kind of.

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul is reaching out to Americans believed to be in Afghanistan – officials say there could be thousands – and offering them safe passage to Kabul airport to fly away. But the alerts are only directed at Americans who provided the government with their location before the fall of Kabul or in the week following.

The situation has led US officials to scour databases that may be largely outdated or underestimate the number of US citizens in the country. A Biden administration official said most Americans in Afghanistan are dual nationals and may never have been registered with the embassy or informed the US government of their plight.

“It is our responsibility to find them, which we are now doing hour by hour,” Jake Sullivan, national security adviser to Mr. Biden, said Monday. “In the days that remain, we believe we have the means to get American citizens out who want to leave Kabul.”

More than 4,000 US citizens, along with their family members, have been evacuated so far, a senior State Department official said on Tuesday. Thousands more remain: a day earlier, a congressional official estimated the total number of US citizens still in Afghanistan at 10,000. It was not clear how many of the 4,000 who were evacuated were included in this tally.

First, a bit of history on the so-called SIV program.

In 2009, Congress approved a special refuge for Afghans who had worked for the US military and the US Embassy as interpreters, translators, advisers and other jobs during the war, and who may be targets of the Taliban. or other extremists for helping the United States.

The International Rescue Committee estimates that there are tens of thousands of Afghans who are eligible for special visas. But only about 16,000 Afghans have received special visas since 2014, and the State Department faced a backlog of more than 17,000 applications when Mr. Biden took office in January.

Between mid-July and August 14, the State Department evacuated approximately 2,000 Afghans who qualified for visas. After a multi-day hiatus last week as the Biden administration focused on evacuating US citizens and embassy staff, flights resumed for former Afghan employees; the first plane loaded with special immigration visa holders since the fall of Kabul left Ramstein airbase in Germany early Monday and headed for the United States.

A congressional aide said the Biden administration had identified around 50,000 special visa applicants and their families to be evacuated. But the aide said many more were eligible.

Sunil Varghese, director of policy for the International Refugee Assistance Project, said it was not clear how many Afghans qualified for the program – largely because the Pentagon and the State Department had made a poor job of coordinating and communicating between them on who had worked for each agency.

And without a centralized U.S. government database to track former employees in Afghanistan, it was up to the Afghans to prove they had worked for the United States, Varghese said.

Far from there. The administration recognizes that there are hundreds of thousands of Afghans who are considered to be at high risk of being targeted by the Taliban – former Afghan security forces, government officials, journalists, judges and civil servants. prosecutors, and women’s rights advocates among them.

The State Department said it had accelerated its returns of high-risk Afghans to the Refugee Admission Program in the United States. This program, however, would typically require Afghans to apply through the UN refugee agency and wait for approval – a process that can take years.

On Friday, the State Department planned to accept up to 50,000 Afghans to the United States on humanitarian parole – meaning they would be temporarily settled at military bases until their visas are processed, according to a memo provided by a resettlement worker.

“This workload would be separate and added to the cases of Afghan refugees or SIV who will also continue to be admitted,” according to the note, which was confirmed by a familiar person who said even 50,000 was a vast under- estimate of those in need. The State Department declined to comment.

An administration official said the number of people who needed to be evacuated could be over 100,000. The International Rescue Committee has a much higher estimate: 300,000 Afghan civilians alone.

Not likely. The evacuation mission is expected to slow down to a fine point once the US military is out. Without the protection of the 6,000 US troops in Kabul, the military airlift will end and State Department charter flights will slow down or may even cease altogether. Additionally, some other foreign governments have said they will have no choice but to leave.

The Biden administration warns the Taliban, who wants international aid to Afghanistan to continue, from allowing Afghans to leave the country – a pledge which, according to Ned Price, the chief spokesperson for the department of Afghanistan. ‘State, does not have an “expiration date”.

“So it certainly goes without saying – and we’ll hold the Taliban at that; the rest of the world will too – that those looking to leave after the US military leaves will have the opportunity to do so, ”Price said on Monday.

But on Tuesday, the Taliban said they would prevent Afghans trying to leave the country from getting to Kabul airport.

“I beg the United States to help my family – the family who teach English, work in military posts and are now in imminent danger for helping America,” said Fatima Jaghoori, a naturalized American citizen born in Afghanistan. and served in Iraq with the US military. Her husband, who also served in the US military, was killed in Afghanistan.

“Please let my service and sacrifice act as a token to keep my family safe,” she wrote in a letter to US officials. “My family has no chance of living if left to Taliban rule. “

David Zucchino and Alexandra E. Petri contributed reports.

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Newsrust - US Top News: How many people in Afghanistan need to be rescued? The number remains elusive.
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