State Department Role in Private Charter Rescue from Afghanistan

U.S. government is not processing SIV applicants

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There is much mystery about the chartered planes that rescue people from Afghanistan. Since the U.S. government is not organizing them, the reports after the fact create panic and confusion.

Reporters at the State Department asked multiple times for more clarity this week. Ned Price, the State Department Spokesman, was asked on Thursday about what role the State Department played in the announcement from Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) that he coordinated two charter flights from Mazar-i-Sharif to Doha for 800 Americans and Afghan allies.

Price won’t speak about specific flights, but he essentially said that Blumenthal and private groups determined who got rescued. State checked the manifests to be sure the people on the planes had the paperwork to come to the U.S. or a third country. State does this for all the charter planes, not just one sponsored by a senator.

When it comes to the issue of charters, we are not in a position to confirm private charters that depart Kabul or Mazar-e-Sharif, as the case might be, because of operational security considerations, because of our desire not to, in any way, impede such operations.

When it comes to private efforts to facilitate the departure of Americans, of lawful permanent residents, and others from Afghanistan, there are a really two elements to relocating these groups of people: One, there is arranging the departure and safe passage out of Afghanistan, but there is also the issue of where these individuals can go temporarily as well as eventually to resettle permanently.

And when it comes to the Department of State, we have been working very closely with the Department of Defense and other interagency partners, as well as with many of these outside groups and entities, to evaluate requests for assistance on a case-by-case basis to support these privately organized flights.

This support takes any number of forms, but it does involve evaluating the passenger manifests provided to us by the private groups or – by the private group or groups, as the case might be, organizing these flights to see which proposed passengers, if any, may be potentially eligible for permanent resettlement in the United States through some affiliation with the U.S. Government.

This is all very unfair. A U.S. senator on taxpayer funds should not be doing private rescues. If he wants to help, he should provide a way for people in Afghanistan to sign up for rescue and then turn it over to private groups. He can’t use his public office to play favorites.

On Monday, Price was asked about another private flight that had Special Immigration Visa (SIV) on it. He wouldn’t respond about the specific flight and gave a vague update on the SIV processing:

We are continuing to process SIV applications at every stage of the SIV process, including by transferring cases to other U.S. embassies and consulates around the world where applicants are able to appear.

We know, of course, that it is currently extremely difficult for Afghans to obtain a visa to a third country or to find a way to enter a third country, but we are developing processing alternatives so that we can continue to deliver these important consular services for the people of Afghanistan. This is something that is of the utmost importance to us.

And consistent with that, we are also continuing to press the Taliban to live up to their commitment of free passage for those who wish to leave the country. We are doing this ourselves in our direct and pragmatic engagement with the Taliban on something like this that is of the utmost national security concern and national priority to us, but we’re also doing it in tandem with our allies and partners around the world.

I included all of Price’s answer above for the thousands of people who have qualify and have applied for a SIV but can’t get processed. You can see that not much has changed in the five weeks since the U.S. withdrew.

The State Department has not figured out a way to interview visa candidates in Afghanistan. Secretary of State Blinken told Congress last month that he was working on improving this system, but it doesn’t seem changed.

Since the government will not give specifics, we don’t know if the SIVs who were on those planes were fully documented or were also applicants and now being processed in a third country.

I love that our veterans and civilians have stood in the gap where the government left people abandoned in Afghanistan. But it has created an unfair process for people being rescued who might not be the ones in most danger from the Taliban.

Of course, every life saved is worthy but we need a balance between safety for the people at risk and transparency for the ones who don’t have access to the groups with planes.

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