President Joe Biden left “thousands” of lawful permanent residents of the United States stranded in Afghanistan after the chaotic evacuation from Kabul that resulted in the deaths of 13 U.S. troops, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday.
During a hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Blinken said the Biden administration’s “best estimates are that there’s several thousand green card holders in Afghanistan.”
According to Blinken, the administration is working to secure the departure of American citizens, green card holders and Afghan allies who were left behind enemy lines, but the number of Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants is still unclear.
“Those are numbers that we’re working on right now as people come out of Afghanistan — some of them in the United States already, others at these transit points — we’re collecting all of that information,” Blinken testified.
Blinken also said at least 60,000 Afghans who were evacuated to the United States have not been through the SIV process, but “all of them will have gone through rigorous security checks.” Most of the vetting is taking place in “more than a dozen” designated transit countries that agreed to house the Afghans temporarily.
“We do security screenings there,” Blinken said. “Then they come to the United States, but before they’re resettled anywhere, they’re also at one of our military bases, and any vetting continues there.”
In his opening remarks, Blinken blamed the chaotic withdrawal on former President Donald Trump, despite his being out of office for nearly nine months at the time of the evacuation. Blinken said Trump’s agreement with the Taliban “to remove all remaining forces from Afghanistan by May 1st” forced the Biden administration to withdraw U.S. troops.
“As a result, upon taking office, President Biden immediately faced the choice between ending the war or escalating it. Had he not followed through on his predecessor’s commitment, attacks on our forces and those of our allies would have resumed and the Taliban’s nationwide assault on Afghanistan’s major cities would have commenced,” Blinken said. “That would have required sending substantially more U.S. forces into Afghanistan to defend ourselves and prevent a Taliban takeover, taking casualties – and with at best the prospect of restoring a stalemate and remaining stuck in Afghanistan, under fire, indefinitely.”
Blinken’s remarks continued to focus on Trump’s deal with the Taliban rather than how President Biden executed the withdrawal, leaving thousands of Americans behind.
An estimated 50,000 Afghan refugees are to be housed on eight U.S. military bases, according to U.S. Northern Command head Air Force Gen. Glen VanHerck.
During a Pentagon press conference, VanHerck said U.S. Northern Command is “working around the clock” to increase capacity for Afghan personnel. Last week, the total capacity at eight different installations was around 36,000.