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While President Joe Biden did not know the exact number of collaborators and Americans to be evacuated from Afghanistan, Republican representatives such as Mike García, Darrell Issa and Mike Waltz managed to rescue hundreds of nationals and allies whose efforts to leave the country were frustrated.
When the Democratic administration announced that it would withdraw U.S. troops, it also said it would stay in Afghanistan until it was sure that all Americans and aid workers would be back in the United States. However, that did not happen, making the rescue of thousands of nationals and collaborators an uphill struggle.
Republican legislators told El American exclusively about the process of getting hundreds of Americans safely back to the United States, while battling the bureaucracy imposed by the State Department and at the same time the violence and hostility of the Taliban.
Representatives such as Mike García (R-CA) who also served in Iraq and Darrell Issa (R-CA) assure that they will not stop working until all Americans are home, since between them alone they managed to evacuate almost 140 Americans. However, Garcia denounces that the disorganization of the Democratic administration is the reason why there are still so many Americans waiting to be rescued.
“The Congressman and his team have helped free 31 members of our community from Afghanistan. We have been in regular contact with many levels of government and worked well with them – at times, there have been bureaucratic burdens. We are in constant contact with the families and individuals we are trying to help escape. We won’t stop working until they are home.,” Rep. Darrell Issa’s office told El American.
“The State Department was a massive bureaucratic nightmare to deal with“
“So far, we’ve been able to get 101 people out. Primarily citizens and legal residents, and also some P-1, P-2, P-3, and SIV holders,” Mike García told El American in an interview denouncing that the State Department established during the process a series of limitations that prevented the rapid evacuation of the nationals.
“The department of state was a massive bureaucratic nightmare to deal with,” Mike García told El American. While he was trying to help evacuate hundreds of Americans, the State Department constantly changed the requirements. In fact, he denounced that in addition to there being no internal communication between officials there was also no response that would alleviate the uncertainty of those waiting to be rescued.
“They were issuing guidance and that guidance was changing day to day. Whether you had a P-1, P-2, SIV visa or were a legal permanent resident, everything was constantly changing. We were being asked to fill out these Excel spreadsheets that asked for a lot of data, which is fine (…) but the State Department was changing the format of these spreadsheets on a daily basis. It was like they weren’t talking to each other, there were a dozen people working on this problem independently and communicating with different offices and giving us different guidance. There were literally 12 different e-mail addresses that we could send things to, and when we sent them there was no close response,” he complained.
“It was actually easier to cancel your cable TV than it was to get a hold of the Department of State during one of the worst humanitarian evacuation crisis our nation has seen. And this wasn’t for something trivial, this was literally to save American lives and get folks out. That’s why we still have so many folks still there,” García said.
Although the Biden administration officially spoke of about 200 Americans stranded in Afghanistan, the number could be higher as Garcia’s office alone is tracking 10 American citizens and another 95 permanent residents and more than 1,000 special visa holders still in that country.
“We have about 1,200 people that we are still tracking, 95 are legal residents, 10 of them are American citizens and the rest are Afghan citizens with SIV, P-1, P-1, P-2, P-3 visas that we have tried to bring in. We have lost communication with some of them, which is not a good sign, but we are tracking a lot of them and trying to keep them alive basically at this point,” the representative explained.
“These are people who should be in the United States right now and are not because of bureaucracy,” he added.
García denounced how the process of evacuating the Americans should have started months before the withdrawal of the troops to safeguard their lives; he criticized that a process that should have started more than nine months ago, was actually carried out in only 9 days.
“This should have been done over a period of nine months instead of nine days (…) The State Department did not expedite, it kept treating this as a diplomatic mission when we should have treated it like a military operation,” he added.
For the California representative, the Democratic administration committed various mistakes, from announcing the exact date of troop withdrawal to turning the evacuation into a diplomatic process without the military having the necessary resources to extract all the Americans remaining in that country.
“The Defense Department had some presence, but it wasn’t involved at the levels it needed to be and it wasn’t protecting the people on the ground at the level it should have been. Our military that was there was not given the right equipment and the right assets. They were given rifles and helmets instead of Humvees, APCs, and close air support while trying to get people out,” he said.
“If we had retired in an orderly fashion, you’d spend a few months making sure you had an accurate and manifest roster of everyone who’s still in the country. And that clearly didn’t happen. When the chaos ensued a few weeks ago, people started to panic and we figured out very quickly that the U.S. government actually did not have communications or any sort of direct liaisons with the people who were still in the country and in Kabul, specifically, but especially throughout the entire country,” Rep. García said.
“This administration pulled out the military and then tried to find out how many American citizens were left behind. Literally the most backward process you could think of, putting everyone in the riskiest position.”
Garcia said his office’s efforts were not isolated and that he was able to team up with Florida Republican Representative Mike Waltz who was also involved in the evacuation process.
Details of the evacuation
Mike García offered details of the evacuation strategy and revealed that although much of the efforts were done digitally, contact with special forces has also been indispensable. He noted that more and more extractions are becoming more complicated as Biden proceeded with the exit.
“Basically, we’re moving people to get them to opportunity checkpoints, to mobilize them to the airfield. Once they’re met with resistance, we’re trying to move them to other locations; plus we’re trying to get some of these known, good, trusted agents who are on the ground to take them with them. That is effectively what we have been doing,” he said.
García confirmed that the Biden administration is preventing the departure of private flights, complicating the evacuation.
“The fact is that this administration is not allowing charter flights to leave the country or go to third countries right now is making this even more difficult,” he recounted.
“Not all Americans can return”
Among the important revelations given by Mike García, it stands out that not all Americans who want to return to the United States can do so because Joe Biden’s administration prevents with bureaucracy that their families can also travel to the U.S.
“One of the restrictions they put on us was that you have to be an American citizen to be allowed to get on a plane, leave Afghanistan and come to the United States. The problem is that many of these citizens, after twenty years of being in Afghanistan, have families in Afghanistan. They have wives, they have children, even grandchildren. So the fact that they have not been able to open the doors a little bit more to allow the immediate family of these Americans to come and go through a normal immigration process before they take them out of the country is what has caused there to still be so many Americans there.”
“They want to go home, they just don’t want their family executed in doing so. This is the reality that Biden doesn’t talk about and it is one of our biggest frustrations right now.”
“As long as we’re able to keep people hunkered down and sheltered in the right places while we’re working for other avenues to get them out. There are now land migration options, there are some other charter flights that everybody is looking at as well, so there’s hope, it’s just getting a lot harder right now, if I’m honest. And God knows how much damage the Taliban have done already.”