US Retrograde Mission 95% Complete: Centcom

Kabul: US Central Command announced that it has completed more than 95 percent of the entire withdrawal process.

The DoD has retrograded the equivalent of approximately 984 C-17 loads of material out of Afghanistan and have turned nearly 17,074 pieces of equipment to the Defense Logistics Agency for disposition. The 17,074 pieces of equipment comprise almost entirely federal excess personal property. Most of this equipment is not defensive articles or considered to be major equipment. Also, the US has officially handed over seven facilities to the Afghan Ministry of Defense.

Meanwhile, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby on Tuesday said that the US is mindful that terrorist groups still operate in Afghanistan. “The Taliban had agreed in the Doha Agreement to not permit a safe haven for terrorist groups in — and to not espouse or support terrorist groups. Our expectation is that they need to live up to those agreements. But one of the reasons why the President ordered us to make sure that we have over-the-horizon counterterrorism capabilities in Afghanistan is precisely because we know these groups are still there,” said Kirby.

Kirby added that the US has plans to deliver two additional Blackhawk helicopters of the 37 that they are preparing for delivery to the Afghans. Two of them will get delivered this month. “Right now, the threat to our homeland emanating from Afghanistan is greatly diminished. We’re not taking that for granted. The security at the airport still needs to be fleshed out along with making sure that we have everything that we need to have in place for the security of our diplomats going forward. Then, we may focus by early August to start moving SIVs out,” added Kirby.

On evacuation of Afghan interpreters, “US is committed to meeting their obligation to the men and women and their families who have helped the foreign troops, and the locus of that effort right now is on identifying locations overseas that would serve as appropriate, temporary residences for these individuals. Some of those installations will be U.S. installations, some of them will be installations that we are using in other host nations,” Kirby said.

Meanwhile, US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called the Biden administration’s plans to withdraw troops from Afghanistan after two decades a “reckless rush for the exits” and “a global embarrassment.” McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said the hasty withdrawal has allowed the Taliban to reclaim vital parts of the county and close in on Kabul.

“President Biden and his team are desperate to duck hard questions about Afghanistan,” McConnell said. “But the American people deserve answers. They deserve to understand the risks of this trajectory and how the commander in chief plans to keep us safe against a terrorist enemy that his own senior advisers admit will be allowed to regroup thanks to his actions.”

Even, Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy said on Tuesday that Afghan interpreters could see a violent end if the U.S. doesn’t move to get them evacuated amid the pull-out. Leahy told MSNBC why he included funding to help Afghan refugees in a larger $3.7 billion emergency spending bill. “If they’re not given refugee status, we’re going to see pictures of them lined up against the wall and machine-gunned,” the Vermont Democrat said, saying he feared violence at the hands of the Taliban.

The $3.7 billion measure, which Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., introduced on Monday, would increase the number of authorized Afghan special immigrant visas from 26,500 to 46,500. The visas are intended to provide a safe haven for Afghan military allies facing retribution in their home country. Advocates estimate that about 18,000 people are currently on the visa waitlist.

“They must be included in this package, because the crisis is unfolding now,” Leahy said in a statement. “There is no dispute about the urgency and importance of standing with our Afghan allies, but regrettably the Republican proposal fails to address this matter.” The legislation would reduce the employment requirement for eligibility from two years to one year, postpone the required medical exam until the applicant reaches the United States, overhaul the appeal process for denials and provide SIV status for family members of murdered applicants, among other changes.

In Canada too, Alexander Cohen, a spokesperson for the Canadian Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino, said that they were working to aid people who helped Canada during the conflict. “The Government of Canada recognizes the significant contributions of the brave Afghans who worked for us during Canada’s combat mission in Afghanistan,” he said in an email. The previous Conservative government had two special programs for Afghan interpreters who worked with Canadian forces as well as their families and about 800 people have previously come to Canada under those programs.

Cohen said they were reaching out to people who didn’t come during any of the previous programs to help them come to Canada now. “We are currently working to assist individuals previously or currently employed by the Government of Canada, who wish to come here and did not avail themselves of either of the previous temporary policies.”

However, looking at the slow pace of evacuation and surging violence, Patricia Gossman, Associate Asia Director, Human Rights Watch, said, “One way forward would be for the US to prioritize these Afghans at risk by making them eligible for the US refugee admissions program under the P-2 (priority 2) category of refugees of special concern. They could be defined as Afghans who do not qualify under the SIV program but who worked or were associated with US citizens in Afghanistan. Such people would include employees of the American University of Afghanistan, women rights activists and other human rights defenders, journalists and other media workers who worked with US-supported media, and Afghan employees of US-based nongovernmental organizations, even if these were not operating under US-funded contracts. The US should help their former staff and partners now as they face threats and persecution because of their association with the US engagement in Afghanistan.”

Also, responding to news that the Afghanistan Ministry for Refugees and Repatriations is calling on European countries to temporarily halt forced returns to the country due to the “the escalation of violence by the terrorist group of Taliban in the country and the spread of the third wave if the COVID-19”, as well as the deteriorating security situation and increasing internal displacement, Adriana Tidona, Europe Migration Researcher at Amnesty International, said, “The security situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating and Europe should not turn a blind eye to the dangers faced by Afghan returnees. European governments must heed Afghanistan’s concerns, immediately halt all returns, and ensure that people seeking safety in Europe are protected. Afghan nationals who cannot be returned must be provided with the necessary documents to regularize their stay and fully enjoy their rights while they are in Europe.”

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