The numbers behind the evacuation from Afghanistan come into focus

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“We brought out thousands of citizens and diplomats from these countries who went to Afghanistan with us to arrest bin Laden. We took out local US Embassy personnel and their families, about 2,500 people. We also brought in thousands of Afghan translators and interpreters and others who supported the United States.

— President Biden, remarks on the end of the war in AfghanistanAugust 31

Nine months after the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan, one question lingers: which Afghans managed to get on the planes after the fall of Kabul?

The numbers are often obscured in reports written in dense government prose, and US officials are reluctant to discuss the numbers in official interviews.

But a review of those reports and in-depth interviews with U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the process — several of whom spoke on condition of anonymity to divulge information that has not yet been made public — show that evacuees may be classified into three categories. , the smallest containing qualified Afghans who already held special visas to come to the United States because they worked for the US government.

The Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) program, reserved for people who in most cases have worked for at least one year for the US government, allows permanent admission to the United States, without requiring applicants to demonstrate economic self-sufficiency. Spouses and children may accompany the applicant.

In total, according to US officials interviewed for this report, about 76,000 Afghans were evacuated during the airlift in an attempt to reach the United States before US forces left Afghanistan on August 30. Another 9,000 have left the country. since then, according to officials.

The numbers fall into three main categories. Let’s look at each category in order.

Category 1: No direct US government service

The most opaque category includes more than 36,000 Afghan evacuees, or about 40% of those rescued, who were unable to qualify for any direct US government service but still managed to board the planes, according to US officials who helped to interpret the figures of a department of the homeland. Security report submitted to Congress in December.

All of those people — along with the vast majority of other evacuees — were granted “humanitarian parole,” according to the DHS report. This status is granted to those who have a “compelling urgency” and show an “urgent humanitarian reason or significant public interest” to obtain temporary entry into the United States, according to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. This means that they can live and work in the United States for two years, but do not yet have a direct path to permanent legal residency.

Some may have been related to US citizens or permanent residents or were extended family members of SIV applicants, according to the DHS report. Others do not belong to any category but have boarded the planes anyway.

Some Afghan citizens in this category who arrived in the United States might have qualified as refugees, but under the law they cannot be treated as refugees because they are already in the United States, officials say. Americans. These officials said evacuees are being treated as if they were refugees, receiving all the same benefits, and many have been asked to seek asylum.

The pace of treatment of evacuees has been slow. Since May 8, according to US officials, 5,046 Afghan evacuees submitted I-485 (permanent residency) applications; of these, 477 have been approved. Meanwhile, 661 Afghans have filed I-589 primary asylum applications; of these, 60 have been approved. An additional 512 Afghans sought to adjust their immigration status through a family member already legally in the United States.

Category 2: On the visa fast track

The second category includes nearly 37,000 people who worked for the United States but did not apply for visas before fleeing Afghanistan, according to the report by DHS and US officials. Nevertheless, they are expedited for SIVs and relocation to the United States.

More than 30,000 of those people, and their families, are associated with the CIA, according to US government officials who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue. Officials said this group of evacuees was made up of members of a controversial paramilitary group known as the Khost Protection Force (KPF) as well as people who worked directly with US forces while employed by the National Directorate of Security (NDS), former Afghan national. intelligence and security service.

Senior administration officials declined to formally discuss the fact that many of the evacuees had CIA connections. But officials pointed to bureaucratic-sounding language buried in a Department of Homeland Security report that cites a figure of 36,821 to describe this category: “Afghan evacuees who applied for the SIV program on the basis of having been employed by or on behalf of the U.S. government or International Security Assistance Force, or successor mission in certain capacities in Afghanistan, as well as Afghan evacuees who are known to be eligible to apply for the SIV program, had not yet applied at the time of writing, and they are expected to do so.

Matt Zeller, an associate member of the America Security Project which is associated with the Association of Wartime Allies (AWA), a non-governmental group, said he had frequently encountered former KPF members, in their distinctive tiger-striped uniforms, when he visited US bases housing Afghan refugees. He said soldiers told him they had helped set up a security perimeter between Taliban checkpoints and the airport entrance. (The Washington Post previously reported that CIA-trained Afghan special forces helped evacuate more than 2,000 American citizens and permanent residents.)

US officials say many Afghans in this category would have been eligible to apply for SIVs but never thought about getting the documents because they planned to stay in the country indefinitely. But their identities had been kept in government databases and they had been constantly checked while working for the US government. Therefore, compared to other Afghan refugees, their resettlement documents are considered to be in fairly good condition.

Category 3: Visa beneficiaries

The third category includes people who already held an SIV – the document that is supposed to be the main route into the United States for Afghans who worked for the US government.

The number in the category represented barely 5% of the evacuees: 3,290.

One problem with SIVs is that they expire six months after they are issued. But experts say many Afghans eligible under this category were unable to board the airlift planes.

A February report by the AWA estimated that of 81,000 people in Afghanistan with pending visa applications as of August 15, 2021, the day Kabul fell, 78,000 have been left behind.

US officials say they are unable to replicate these estimates and that many people may have had incomplete applications, especially without the mission chief’s approval. Such approval can be difficult to obtain. It requires proof of employment with the United States or the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, a letter of recommendation from a direct U.S. supervisor, and a statement of threats received as a result of work performed for the United States.

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