Evacuations in Afghanistan are facing new challenges after the US has withdrawn

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The last US soldiers to leave Afghanistan left Kabul shortly after midnight local time on Tuesday, as the longest war in the United States was crowned by the chaotic evacuation of more than 120,000 Americans, allies and vulnerable Afghans in recent weeks, of whom It is believed to be one of the largest airlift evacuations in history.

The complete withdrawal of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan after 20 years and more than $ 2 trillion in attempts to stabilize and secure the country leaves myriad practical, political, and moral questions about the future of U.S. engagement with the Taliban -guided Afghanistan. But it has also left up to 250,000 Afghans to help the United States with no clear answers on how or if they can escape the violent reprisals of the Taliban that many fear.

The last US soldiers to leave Afghanistan left Kabul shortly after midnight local time on Tuesday, as the longest war in the United States was crowned by the chaotic evacuation of more than 120,000 Americans, allies and vulnerable Afghans in recent weeks, of whom It is believed to be one of the largest airlift evacuations in history.

The complete withdrawal of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan after 20 years and more than $ 2 trillion in attempts to stabilize and secure the country leaves myriad practical, political, and moral questions about the future of U.S. engagement with the Taliban -guided Afghanistan. But it has also left up to 250,000 Afghans to help the United States with no clear answers on how or if they can escape the violent reprisals of the Taliban that many fear.

The abrupt end of the US military mission has led the Biden administration and the diverse networks of Afghanistan war veterans and former officials to figure out how to get hundreds of Americans and hundreds of thousands more Afghans out of the country. The first problem is that the planes just fly on time or at all. After the collapse of the Afghan government two weeks ago, the US sent more than 5,000 soldiers to Kabul to secure the airport and took over air traffic control so that rescue flights can fly in and out.

But with Taliban fighters flooding the runways after the last US C-17 transport plane left Afghan airspace shortly before midnight, Hamid Karzai International Airport was virtually useless with no air traffic control planes coming from outside of the country landed, on land brought hope for charter flights at the only functioning airport in the war-torn country. The Taliban are reportedly in talks with Turkey and Qatar for the necessary assistance to keep the airport running, but after the airport gate attack last week by the local Islamic State that killed nearly 200 Afghans and 13 US -Americans killed, security service personnel remain serious.

An estimated 100 to 200 US citizens trying to evacuate remain stranded in the country, while the number of Afghans remaining who have at one point worked with the United States and may be eligible for a visa is estimated be around 250,000 people. In a speech on Monday, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said the government would continue its “relentless” efforts to support Americans and Afghans who want to leave the country.

But after the US withdrawal, all further evacuation efforts will depend on the whims of the Taliban. US President Joe Biden’s national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, said Sunday the government is having “significant” leverage over the Taliban to ensure they keep their promise to leave Afghans. The organizers have little confidence that the militant group will make things easy.

“We need more scalable infrastructure to keep track of where people are going, to make sure they have third countries to land in, and all of their paperwork because this will be a problem as long as the Taliban is around.” “, Said Evanna Hu, who organized the so-called Afghan evacuation coordination team made up of former US officials, helpers and volunteers.

Afghans who want to leave the country are initially faced with a limited range of bad options. Some shelters are in place – the Taliban have been knocking on the doors of people known to have worked for the United States – while waiting for the airport to reopen. Others make the dangerous overland journey to Pakistan, Uzbekistan or Tajikistan. But that’s not an option for all Afghans at risk.

“It is not possible for a woman in her 60s to travel to a third country and stay there for six months to a year to have her case processed,” said Shekib Rashidi, who worked for the US Agency for International Development in Afghanistan and since tried to evacuate his mother to the USA, where he now lives. “I’m afraid my mother might pay me to be an employee of the US government years ago.” His mother was unable to reach Kabul airport after several attempts, despite receiving an email from the US State Department asking her to go there.

A State Department spokesman, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the situation on the ground, admitted the difficulties faced by those who are still trying to leave the country.

We recognize that it is extremely difficult for Afghans to obtain a visa for a third country or find a way to enter a third country at the moment and, like many asylum seekers, they will face major challenges in escaping, “said the spokesman. “Immigrant visa applicants located in third countries outside of Afghanistan can request that their cases be forwarded to the nearest issuing embassy or consulate by contacting the National Visa Center.”

However, the State Department still has limited information about many Americans in the country. Most of the information is provided through voluntary online forms. “My first question I ask everyone is, did you register your presence with the State Department?” Said Alex Plitsas, an army veteran who has spent the past few weeks liberating vulnerable Afghans and Americans from the country. “So I worry that the number is actually much higher. We just don’t know. We just don’t know yet because the State Department is exposed to the information given to it by people who are actually there. ”

On Monday, Blinken announced that the United States would establish a US satellite embassy for Afghanistan in Doha, Qatar.

Even in the chaos of the past few weeks, volunteer networks working remotely to rescue Americans and Afghans have been able to rely on encrypted messaging apps to arrange hangouts where US forces could throw ladders over the fence to meet people in to get to the airport even if they had difficulty avoiding checkpoints, although some Afghans who were eligible to fly were prevented from entering the airport by marines.

But the departure of American soldiers and planes after the deadly suicide explosion last week has caused anyone wanting to leave the country en route to countries like Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Pakistan, which are still home to Afghans, to pass through Taliban checkpoints from refugees the wars of the 1990s. Organizers woke up with email inboxes clogged with messages from Afghans unable to get out of the country as Americans stopped passengers at the gates on the Monday evening before the last flights departed.

The United Nations has pushed the creation of a humanitarian corridor into the country to stave off a potential crisis as nearly half the population needs help to survive – something that could ease the process of leaving the country for thousands of people. In a UN Security Council resolution passed yesterday and backed by the United States and three other Western nations, the world organization pushed the Taliban to provide safe passage for those who want to flee the country. China and Russia, who want to recognize the Taliban government, abstained.

But the bigger question for Western governments, who are wary of extending an olive branch, is whether the Taliban will reinstate the same brutal Islamic regime they introduced between 1996 and 2001 when they ruled Afghanistan. More than 100 countries issued a joint statement on Sunday calling on the Taliban to keep their promises as Afghans and the international community eagerly await whether the group governs with less brutality.

“I think the question we should be asking is not whether to moderate, but whether to use coercion to rule,” said Jennifer Brick Murtazashvili, an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh who studies Central Asia. About 70 to 80 percent of the Afghan budget comes from international donors, and any further aid will likely depend on how the Taliban governs. “The more coercion you use, the more isolated you are by definition,” said Murtazashvili.

And even if the international community urges the Taliban to abide by the rules without the eyes and ears of the US on the ground, evacuation organizers fear the group will have the upper hand, especially amid concerns over the brain drain of talented Afghans. necessary for the running of the country.

Reliable sources of information could dry up due to power outages that hinder Internet access and cellular connections. Connections to certain parts of Afghanistan have been cut since the weekend. The Taliban have seized biometric databases collected by the US government that could help them hunt down former interpreters and other former US employees. And with the militant group already cracking down on journalism, there is little confidence that much reliable information will be available outside of Kabul, making transit even more treacherous for people wanting to leave.

“There are a lot of scared people trying to figure out what the hell to do now,” said Plitsas. “I think they’d rather run into the mountains than deal with the Taliban. And I just don’t know how this will end. ”


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