Images of desperation from inside Afghanistan are creating complex new dividing lines in this debate as US lawmakers attempt to define the extent of US responsibility to get vulnerable Afghans out of the country and find them a place where to go. There is a nascent division within the Republican Party – fueled in part by anti-immigrant rhetoric on Fox News and from Trump loyalists – that is sure to intensify as more and more Afghans are charged. on planes looking for permanent housing in the United States and other countries. .
But some loyal Trump followers – and the former president himself – have spent the past week engaging in a revisionist story about their own role in the Afghan crisis, including their relentless plea for drastic cuts in the total number. refugees accepted by the United States – – a major factor in the current backlog in visa processing.
Trump first appeared sympathetic to Afghans at risk on Monday, asking why the US military was leaving before civilians “and others who have been good to our country and should be allowed to seek refuge.” But on Wednesday, he released a statement criticizing an image of Afghans leaving the country on a US military plane: “This plane should have been full of Americans. America first!
On Saturday night, Trump suggested that some desperate Afghans deserve US help, but he has not articulated a clear position on how many Afghans should be relocated to the United States. The former president went on to boast of how his administration “has dramatically reduced refugee admissions and kept radical Islamic terrorists out of our country.”
Many details remain unclear
Amid questions about whether the United States will expand its special immigrant visa program, Biden – who will again be commenting on the evacuation underway on Sunday afternoon – mostly focused on the immediate crisis to get American citizens and Afghans who helped the American war effort out of Kabul.
Asked about widely varying estimates of how many Afghans will need to be evacuated at a briefing on Friday, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the US government was still trying to determine the number of people who wish to be resettled and to make contact with these people.
“We’re going to do whatever we can for as long as we can for as many people as we can,” he said. But Price was reluctant to estimate how many Afghans the U.S. government could help before Biden’s self-imposed deadline for the August 31 withdrawal.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin authorized the use of Fort Bliss, Texas and Fort McCoy, Wisconsin to provide temporary housing and support for up to 22,000 special immigrant visa applicants, their families and ” other people at risk, ”Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby. noted. The army at Fort Lee in Virginia had already begun to receive Afghan citizens as part of “Operation Allies Refuge”.
At least 26,500 people, including Afghans and foreign nationals, have been evacuated from Afghanistan since the Taliban began their advance on Kabul, according to data analyzed by CNN on Saturday. That total includes 2,500 U.S. citizens who were among the 17,000 people the U.S. has evacuated since Aug. 14, according to Gen. Hank Taylor, deputy director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for regional operations, who briefed the U.S. Pentagon reporters on Saturday.
But the tide of people desperate to leave the country continues, a point underscored by the deaths of seven Afghan civilians in the crash of people near Kabul airport, according to a spokesperson for the UK Defense Ministry.
Afghans at risk were airlifted to Doha, Qatar, which greeted them as they are processed and prepare for the journey to final destinations, and the first flights with evacuees from Afghanistan have arrived at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany – which is building capacity to temporarily accommodate up to 7,500 people by Sunday night. Details on where they will be permanently housed have been much more difficult to come by.
In a statement Friday evening, Secretary of State Antony Blinken thanked twelve countries – Bahrain, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Qatar, Tajikistan, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and Uzbekistan – for their partnership with United States. to help Americans and others transit “through their territories safely.”
Blinken also said that 13 countries had “made generous offers regarding efforts to relocate Afghans at risk,” including Albania, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Mexico, Poland, Qatar, Rwanda, Ukraine and Uganda. .
But there is still very little clarity on how coordination will work among these many countries and whether public opinion in the United States could influence Biden and his willingness to accept more Afghans than originally anticipated.