U.S. pays for evacuation flights out of Afghanistan
Americans and at-risk Afghans promised free charter from Kabul Airport
After the U.S withdrawal from Afghanistan, the only way for the Americans and Afghan allies left behind to escape was with the help of private rescue groups who stood in the gap left by the government.
These veterans and faith-based organizations were funded by donors who paid for charter flights out of Afghanistan. Since those private charters stopped in October, the U.S. government started doing its job and picking up the tab.
The State Department is hopeful that it will be able to restart a semi-regular schedule of evacuation flights now. This means the Taliban is letting the flights happen. The Taliban had been blocking the U.S.-funded charters for almost two months, which created a huge backlog of people to evacuate.
About two weeks ago, a U.S. charter flight on Qatar Airways flew from Kabul to Doha with American citizens, Legal Permanent Residents (LPR) and at-risk Afghans. This will be the regular flight route for government evacuations.
But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to escape the Taliban.
I’m in regular contact with all the people I’ve profiled here in my newsletter since August to make sure they are not forgotten. They are all still in Afghanistan.
I’ve asked the State Department for comment on each person I’ve profiled. Scroll down for the updates I’ve gotten so far.
Many of the people left behind believe that they have to pay for rescue or get a donor in the United States. This is not the case.
The only evacuation flights are being operated by the United States government, which does not charge for the charters.
State Department evacuation flights
I asked a State Department official what is the policy objective for these flights. He replied:
The State Department charters flights in collaboration with our ally, Qatar, via Qatar Airways, and our nonprofit partners on the ground in Afghanistan. The flights demonstrate part of our enduring commitment to American citizens, LPRs, and our Afghan allies and their families. Our relocation and resettlement efforts did not end on August 30. They continue with great import in near round-the-clock fashion as conditions allow. As the Secretary has said, this effort has no deadline.
I asked him for details on who has been evacuated so far. He said it’s a “mix” of American citizens, LPRs, Afghans who worked for our government and have Special Immigration Visas (SIV). Specifically, he said the SIVs evacuated have:
visas in their passports already or electronic/foil-less) as well as those SIV applicants who have reached the important Chief of Mission (COM) approval stage of the process, and these populations' immediate families (spouses, unmarried children under age 21
How are the evacuees being determined?
“Those are the populations/guidelines that have been prioritized for evacuation in law and in policy,” he said.
This official told me that from September to Dec. 13 the U.S. “directly facilitated the departure” of more than 3,000 people, including American citizens, LPRs, SIV holders or applicants, and their immediate families. He won’t say how many were evacuated on the recent flight.
I can’t square the timeline of U.S.-funded flights starting in September, with my reporting in October of the charters paid for by private groups that the State Department was approving for manifests. Read my story below for a refresher:
American Snuck into Afghanistan to Save His Sisters
I told you about the brave man from Connecticut who snuck into Afghanistan after the U.S. withdrawal to try to save his sisters, and he’s still there.
If you haven't already read his story, it’s an amazing tale of bravery and family loyalty,”. Click below to read it:
I was disappointed when I asked “Ali” whether he had been offered a seat on the evacuation flight in Jan., and he responded that no one even contacted him.
But now I am happy to report that the State Department told me that Ali is on the list to be manifested on an upcoming flight. Since there is such a backlog, we don’t know when he will be put on an evac flight.
“I have packed and unpacked my bag nearly 100 times. Hoping to get on that flight,” he told me a week ago. “I’m having problems supporting myself or my family. All my savings back home are finished.”
“Ali” has been disappointed by our government so many times. His wife and parents are in the U.S.
Single, American Woman ‘Trapped’ by Taliban in Kabul
I asked State officials about the American woman who was in the country for a wedding when her brother and sister-in-law were killed.
You’ll remember — or read her story again below— that she was in contact with me long before she had any contact with the State Department. I feel responsible for her safety.
The State Department said it would now help her. But, unfortunately, she is refusing a flight home.
She is under the impression that, by staying, it will increase the chances of getting her young adult nephews and their wives into the U.S. She feels that she is their guardian since their parents “disappeared” by the Taliban.
I have tried for months to change her mind and even asked State to explain the visa laws to her for non-immediate family. I know she’s reading this so if you can help me convince her in the comments, please do. Her life is seriously at risk. She’s not doing well emotionally or physically.
Asas’s List: The Afghan Protecting 150 U.S. Air Base SIV from Taliban
“Asas” was the procurement officer for the U.S. military base built around Jalalabad Airport. I met him in September and wrote this story about his 17 years working on an American base.
He is now procuring safety and evacuation for 150 of his Afghan colleagues from the base who were left behind by the American government.
I asked State officials about Asas’s status and the others from his base. I gave them his cell phone and email to help get his SIV completed. I told them that he will give them the visa status of all the men who he has organized from the base because some are completed.
State has not given me an update yet on his case or the others.
Abandoned in Afghanistan: U.S. Embassy in Kabul Employee
I also asked State for a status update on the former Embassy employee who worked in our visa consular office in Kabul. They haven’t responded yet. I gave them his direct contact.
But while he has been waiting, he transferred his case to the Pakistan consulate. But he is still in Afghanistan, terrified of the Taliban.
He told me about the U.S. evac flights restarting before the government did. Here’s what he texted on Jan. 29:
Hi Emily, evacuation flights started again. The US is evacuating US citizens and vulnerable Afghans via Qatari chartered planes. There is a US team based in Doha who is coordinating the flights.
Most of the passengers were US citizens stranded in Afghanistan
The Qatar embassy is temporary located inside a luxury hotel in Kabul which is called Serena. The evacuees were picked up from the hotel and transported to the airport in buses.
If you’ve been following the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, you know that Pres. Biden said publicly that there were 100 Americans left behind.
Then, Secretary of State Anothony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin testified before Congress that there were still 100 American citizens left behind in the evacuation.
I reported at the time that all this was not true and there were at least 1,000 Americans.
Well, we’re into February, and they are not all back home yet. And our allies who served us loyally are trapped by the Taliban, hungry, scared and exhausted.
However, at this point, we should stop looking backward and blaming Biden.
Our focus needs to be on helping those left behind who have a little more hope for rescue, though not anytime soon. They need our moral support and prayers. Please share that with them in the comments below.
U.S. State Department information for those in Afghanistan here:
My report on resources and instructions is below: