The United States called for more people to help escape Taliban-led Afghanistan

WASHINGTON (AP) – A coalition of organizations working to evacuate people who could be targeted by Taliban rulers in Afghanistan on Monday called for more assistance from the US government and other nations as conditions in the country worsen.

Members of the AfghanEvac coalition met in a video call with Foreign Minister Antony Blinken to press for additional resources to help tens of thousands of people get out of Afghanistan, which is now facing a deeper economic and humanitarian crisis beyond insecure security. the situation after the US withdrawal.

Participants said afterwards that they were grateful for what the State Department has done so far, including having helped arrange a series of evacuation flights for U.S. citizens and residents since the withdrawal, but more will be needed in the coming months.

“The State Department doing enough is not enough; we need whole government solutions; we need the international community to go up and we need it fast, ”said Peter Lucier, a former Marine who served in Afghanistan and works with coalition member Team America. “Winter is on its way. There is already famine.

Private groups, especially with ties to the veterans community, have played an important role in the evacuation and resettlement of tens of thousands of Afghans since the United States ended its longest war and the government fell to the Taliban. Members of the coalition, which includes about 100 organizations, have worked to help people get on the scarce planes out of the country and help them settle into communities when they reach the United States.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said the call included a discussion of what he called “our collective efforts” to help visa holders and applicants and to “facilitate the departure of these people, who are at a time when it is appropriate to do so. . “

About 82,000 people have so far come to the United States under what the Biden administration calls Operation Allies Welcome. The Department of Homeland Security said 10% were U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

The rest were a combination of persons who had obtained special immigrant visas, for those who had worked for the U.S. government as interpreters or in other functions; persons who applied for a visa but had not yet received it; or other Afghans who may be vulnerable under the Taliban, such as journalists or officials, and qualified to come as refugees. Almost half were children.

As of Monday, DHS said about 46,000 are still being housed at domestic U.S. military bases until they can be resettled by private refugee organizations around the country. Another 2,600 remain in overseas transit points, called “lily protectors”, as they undergo security screening and health screening before arriving in the United States

The State Department said separately Monday that some people coming to the United States from countries other than Afghanistan under the broader refugee program will be temporarily delayed so refugee organizations can focus on resettling Afghans. The break would run until January 11 and will not apply to certain categories, including emergencies, family reunions and those who have already made travel arrangements.

The AfghanEvac coalition has called on the US government to establish more “lilly pads” and work with other nations to create more roads so that people can reach safety. It is unclear how many people will be evacuated, but organizations have estimated the number conservatively in the tens of thousands. Aid organizations said about 300,000 have fled Afghanistan to Iran, including many members of Shiite communities seeking refuge from both the Taliban and attacks from the Islamic State branch in the country.

Lucier and Shawn VanDiver, a coalition founder, said without giving details that they raised “specific stumbling blocks” and “choke points” that prevent people from reaching security in the United States or elsewhere. Both said it would require more time and input from other parts of the government to address these issues.

“The answers are complex,” Lucier said. “There are no simple technical fixes to much of this.”

The meeting comes amid intense criticism from some Republicans in Congress who are attacking a hectic evacuation that was set in motion by President Donald Trump’s decision to sign a peace deal with the Taliban and set a withdrawal date, and for what they have claimed is insufficient control of refugees. They have also accused the administration of underestimating the number of U.S. citizens left behind.

Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee wrote to Blinken on Monday to seek interviews with more than 30 State Department officials to address what they called the “many unanswered planning questions – or lack thereof – that preceded the deployment and evacuation.” These include the number of U.S. citizens and residents still in Afghanistan and mechanisms for continued evacuations.

As of Monday, the U.S. has been assisting the departure of 435 U.S. citizens and 325 permanent residents since Aug. 31, including some recent flights, Price said.

Blinken said Friday that the United States has offered the option of leaving Afghanistan to all U.S. citizens and residents who it has identified as remaining in the country and who wish to travel and have appropriate travel documents. Hundreds of Americans are still reported to be in Afghanistan, although not all have expressed a desire to travel, Biden administration officials have said.

The Gulf nation of Qatar has agreed to represent the United States in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan following the closure of the US Embassy in Kabul and will provide consular services to US citizens in Afghanistan and will deal with routine official communications between Washington and the Taliban government.

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Associated Press writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.

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