Biden’s vow to airlift Afghan allies meets ticking clock, risky rescue

Biden's vow to airlift Afghan allies meets ticking clock

President Joe Biden’s pledge to evacuate thousands more at-risk Afghans who worked for the U.S. government will run into the cold reality of a fast-closing window of time, insecurity all over Afghanistan and major logistical hurdles.

As one U.S. official told Reuters “too many things have to go 100 percent correctly” to execute the plan to move out those going through the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) process. The Pentagon is aiming to evacuate up to 22,000 SIV applicants, their families and other at-risk people.

But officials and refugee resettlement groups said that number, while admirable, will be much more difficult to reach now that the Taliban have seized the capital Kabul and most of the country.

Groups that work with refugees vigorously disputed Biden’s assertion in a speech on Monday that many applicants had not wanted to leave Afghanistan earlier.

Biden announced his intent to start evacuating at-risk Afghans in July, despite calls by lawmakers and refugee groups to do so months earlier. Since July, only 2,000 Afghans have been flown to the United States.

“It’s a nice goal to have, but realistically it’s going to be a challenge,” the U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said of the 22,000-person benchmark.

The hope is to fly out between 5,000 and 9,000 per day when the Pentagon reaches full capacity with 6,000 troops on the ground in Kabul. Only 4,000 troops have reached Kabul so far.

Evacuating that many Afghans would require them to first be able to get to Kabul and then to the airport through a series of Taliban checkpoints, officials said. The U.S. military would need to maintain some semblance of calm at the airport to allow flights to take off and land, and also need the weather to cooperate.

Order has been restored at Kabul airport after five people were killed on Monday as thousands of desperate Afghans thronged the area. The U.S. military temporarily suspended flights to clear the airfield. The evacuation mission is set to end on Aug. 31.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Monday that the White House had received reports of people being beaten outside the airport even though the Taliban had agreed to allow civilians safe passage.