Kabul: The US has completed about half of its withdrawal from Afghanistan, US Central Command (CENTCOM) head General Kenneth McKenzie said on Monday. “We’ve completed about half of the entire retrograde process and we will meet the September deadline to complete the full withdrawal from Afghanistan,” he said.
He also urged the Afghan government and the Taliban to resume talks, noting the coming months would be critical for Afghanistan’s future.
In fact, even Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that the withdrawal is “proceeding well”. Speaking at the Pentagon while hosting NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, Austin said that the US remains committed to assisting NATO partners in the country as they also pull out.
“I’m confident that as resolute support begins to stand down, we will transition to a new relationship with Afghanistan and with the Afghan forces, one that continues to help them meet their responsibilities to their citizens,” the US defense chief said.
Stoltenberg, the NATO chief, maintained that the alliance will continue to support the Afghan government after member states finish their exit through “our continued civilian presence in Afghanistan” as well as military aid and potentially additional training for Afghan forces. “So, we need the stay coordinated. We need to work together with the partners, as we now end our military presence in Afghanistan,” he said.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday that the Biden administration is looking “at every possible contingency” to help thousands of Afghans who may be at risk of retaliation from the Taliban after US forces withdraw but his answers left lawmakers and advocates frustrated.
The top US diplomat told the Foreign Affairs Committee that steps the administration is looking at include asking Congress to increase the number of visas for these Afghans and the possibility of humanitarian parole — a status that allows those under immediate threat to seek refuge in the US. “We’re considering every option,” he said.
Congressman Mike McCaul of Texas, the lead Republican on the committee, called on the Biden administration to evacuate any person in Afghanistan who has reached a “significant stage” in the vetting process for a Special Immigrant Visa to a third country while they await approval, and he pressed Blinken for details on how the administration is handling this challenge as the US troop withdrawal deadline of September 11 is just months away.
McCaul also tweeted that he “was frustrated” by Blinken’s lack of a direct response on evacuating Afghans “who risked their lives to assist us.”
“Processing 1,000 SIVs a month does not bring the administration even close to getting everyone out by September. At that pace it would still be a year and a half before processing the full backlog,” said James Miervaldis, the chairman of the group No One Left Behind, which describes itself as an all-volunteer organization working to support Special Immigrant Visa recipients.
The Taliban put out a statement Monday saying that the Afghans who worked alongside US and international forces should “show remorse” and “not engage” in these actions in the future and then the Taliban will not go after them. But Afghans who are in line for Special Immigrant Visas do not believe there is any reason to believe the Taliban, who have been violently attacking these Afghans in recent months.
Blinken told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the State Department had added 50 people to deal with the backlog in processing applicants for Special Immigrant Visas — a suggestion in a report from the State Department Office of the Inspector General last year. He also noted that the administration had an allotment of 26,000 of the visas and has used 15,000, leaving it with 11,000 visas to accommodate the 18,000 applicants still in the pipeline.
“Even as we’re withdrawing our forces, we are not withdrawing from Afghanistan,” Blinken told a House Appropriations subcommittee on Monday afternoon. “We are determined to sustain a strong embassy presence, programs to support Afghanistan, its people, and its government, economic development, humanitarian, the security forces. All of that will remain. We’re working with other partners to make sure that they remain as well, and that we stay deeply engaged in supporting the government, supporting the people.”