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Airlift begins for Afghans who worked for US during its longest war

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Reuters
(Last Updated On: July 30, 2021)

Some 200 Afghans were set to begin new lives in the United States on Friday as an airlift got underway for translators and others who risk Taliban retaliation because they worked for the United States during its 20-year war in Afghanistan, U.S. officials said.

The operation to evacuate U.S.-affiliated Afghans and family members comes as the U.S. troop pullout nears completion and government forces struggle to repulse Taliban advances.

The first planeload of 200 evacuees arrived at Fort Lee, a military base in Virginia, for final paperwork processing and medical examinations.

The Afghans are being granted Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) entitling them to bring their families. As many as 50,000 or more people ultimately could be evacuated in “Operation Allies Refuge”.

“These arrivals are just the first of many as we work quickly to relocate SIV-eligible Afghans out of harm’s way — to the United States, to U.S. facilities abroad, or to third countries — so that they can wait in safety while they finish their visa applications,” President Joe Biden said in a statement.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a separate statement that the U.S. would continue to use “the full force of our diplomatic, economic, and development toolkit” to support the Afghan people after the United States’ longest war.

The first group of arrivals is among some 2,500 SIV applicants and family members who have almost completed the process, clearing them for evacuation, said Russ Travers, Biden’s deputy homeland security adviser.

The Afghans were expected to remain at Fort Lee for up to seven days before joining relatives or host families across the country.

The evacuees underwent “rigorous background checks” and COVID-19 tests, Travers added. Some were already vaccinated, and the rest will be offered shots at Fort Lee.

Approximately 300 U.S. service members from several installations will provide logistics, temporary lodging, and medical support at Fort Lee, said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

Around 75,000 other Afghans have been resettled in the United States in the last decade, he said in a statement, adding there is a “moral obligation” for the country “to help those who have helped us.”

The surging violence in Afghanistan has created serious problems for many SIV applicants whose paperwork is in the pipeline amid reports – denied by the Taliban – that some have been killed by vengeful insurgents.

Some applicants are unable to get to the capital Kabul to complete the required steps at the U.S. embassy or reach their flights.

The SIV program has also been plagued by long processing times and bureaucratic knots that led to a backlog of some 20,000 applications. The State Department has added staff to handle them.

The majority of those would likely miss out on the airlift operation, including the roughly 50% who were in the early stages of the process as the clock counts down towards the U.S. withdrawal by September.

Applicants in that group have held multiple protests in Kabul in recent months and they and advocates say they face the risk of violence while they wait that will be heightened once troops withdraw.

Ross Wilson, Charge D’Affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, told reporters that after the initial round of flights taking out those who received security clearances, around 4,000 applicants and their families who were in the later stages but still needed interviews would be taken somewhere outside the United States for processing.

That left roughly 15,000 applicants in earlier stages waiting in Afghanistan.

“We’ve felt it appropriate that we focus our energies on those parts of the SIV applicant pool who have demonstrated that they meet the criteria under the law and then work to relocate them,” he said, adding efforts were taking place in Washington to help early-stage applicants access documents.

Adam Bates, policy counsel for the International Refugee Assistance Project, which provides legal aid for refugees, said the United States had had 20 years to anticipate what the withdrawal would look like.

“It’s unconscionable that we are so late,” he said.

Kim Staffieri, co-founder of the Association of Wartime Allies, which helps SIV applicants, said surveys conducted over Facebook show that about half of the applicants cannot reach Kabul, including many approved for evacuation.

Wilson said that they believed the “overwhelming majority” of people the airlift was offered to were able to get to Kabul.

“We’re focusing our efforts on those that we can get out,” he said. “We cannot through this program solve every problem in this country.”

Congress created SIV programs in 2006 for Iraqi and Afghan interpreters who risked retaliation for working for the U.S. government.

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India’s Modi tells UNGA Afghanistan cannot be used to spread terrorism

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(Last Updated On: September 26, 2021)

At the United Nations General Assembly annual meeting Saturday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said it was crucial that Afghanistan not be used to spread terrorism globally, and he called on world leaders to help minorities in the country, including women and children.

“It is important to ensure that the land of Afghanistan is not used to spread terrorism and perpetuate terrorist attacks,” Modi said.

“We also have to be alert that no nation should be able to misuse the delicate situation in Afghanistan for their own selfish motives like a tool,” Modi added in an apparent reference to Pakistan, locked between Afghanistan and India.

His comments came after Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan urged the international community to help the people of Afghanistan in a pre-recorded message to the United Nations General Assembly on Friday.

“There’s a huge humanitarian crisis looming ahead and this will have serious repercussions not just for the neighbors of Afghanistan, but it will have repercussions everywhere if a destabilized, chaotic Afghanistan again becomes a safe haven for international terrorists,” he said.

“We must strengthen this current government, stabilize it for the sake of the people of Afghanistan,” he said.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said last week that Afghanistan is on “the verge of a dramatic humanitarian disaster” and has decided to engage the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) in order to help the country’s people.

Khan said Guterres had “taken bold steps. I urge you to mobilize the international community and move in this direction.”

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UN agency warns of ‘imminent’ famine in Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: September 26, 2021)

Afghanistan is at risk of “imminent hunger” with winter approaching and services disrupted by the return to power of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA), a UN official warned in an interview with AFP.

Natalia Kanem, director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said via video that the situation in the country was dire.

“It would not be an exaggeration to say” that at least a third of Afghanistan’s population of around 33 million is affected by “imminent hunger,” Kanem warned.

Harsh winters, disrupting the ability to transport supplies to isolated areas of the mountainous country, plus the coronavirus pandemic will aggravate an already complicated situation, she added.

“There is a lot of anxiety over how we’re going to deliver health care, where the next meal is going to come from,” Kanem said.

She also warned that women and girls would bear the worst of it.

“It is urgent, for women and girls in particular who were already suffering. This is one of the countries with the highest death during childbirth and pregnancy rates.

“We cannot underscore enough that even during a transitional period, women and girls have human rights and these are to be respected,” she said.

Kanem repeated calls made by the international community to the IEA and said: “The women of Afghanistan have made clear over years that they want their education, they want their health care, and that they’re also ready, willing and able to design programs and to be able to lead in their communities,” she said.

IEA leaders have assured the international community that they are more moderate than when they ruled previously.

They have promised to change, saying they will respect women’s rights within the framework of Sharia law.

Kanem pointed out that in a country ravaged by decades of conflict, many women, particularly in areas most affected by violence, are the sole breadwinners.

“We’re all anxiously hoping that there will be regularity and ability of delivery of goods” to people in small communities where many of the UNPFA’s staff are women, she said.

“We have said that we want to be able to maintain a functioning health system.

“(It’s) pretty challenging right now with the airport having been closed, with certain professionals who have left the country,” Kanem added.

She warned that if the health system breaks down, that’s going to spell “complete disaster,” but added that for the most part the agency’s family health centers have remained open.

The UN on Wednesday released $45 million in emergency aid to support Afghanistan’s health system.

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IEA calls for foreign airlines to resume flights into Kabul

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(Last Updated On: September 26, 2021)

The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) said on Sunday all technical issues at the Kabul Airport have been resolved and foreign airlines can now resume commercial flights into the city.

In a statement issued by the spokesman for the ministry of foreign affairs, Abdul Qahar Balkhi, the IEA stated: “The recent political changes in Afghanistan caused a series of technical issues within the aviation sector due to which international flights to Afghanistan were suspended and many Afghan citizens were stuck outside and unable to return to their homeland.”

“As the problems at Kabul International Airport have been resolved and the airport is fully operational for domestic and international flights, the IEA assures all airlines of its full cooperation and expects all airlines and countries that had previously flown to Kabul to resume their flights as before,” the statement read.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs once again assures full cooperation on its part.”

This comes after all international commercial flights into Kabul were canceled following the take over of Kabul by the IEA.

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