CIA-backed Afghan fighters still waiting to reach the US

WASHINGTON – During the frenzied evacuation of Afghanistan in August, US troops defending Kabul airport from suicide bombers and other dangers were not alone. At the direction of the CIA, Afghan counterterrorism teams trained by the agency helped patrol the perimeter, guarding the gates and sending American citizens through.

Those Afghan commandos stayed until the end, and were among the last allies to be evacuated. But even as an estimated 80,000 other Afghan refugees quickly reach the United States, hundreds of CIA-backed fighters and their families are among the thousands still trapped in a vast desert encampment. Emirati.

As weeks and months passed, several members of the CIA-backed detachment – at one point in the past two decades accused of killing civilians and other wartime abuses – said they felt betrayed. abandoned, victim of a chaotic retreat at a rapid pace. Afghans departing for the United States are often not identified by what aircraft they depart from.

Biden administration officials said they were on their way to the United States.

But the commandos’ plight underscores the problems that continue to affect large-scale evacuation, inspection and resettlement efforts five months after the Taliban’s abrupt takeover of Afghanistan in August.

On the most basic level, all the Afghans who helped NATO forces during the 20-year Afghanistan war and are now in Abu Dhabi are lucky: They are out with their families and safe. Since August, there has been a series of extrajudicial killings carried out against former members of the government’s security forces remaining in Afghanistan.

But interviews with half a dozen officials involved in the effort and people familiar with accounts provided by some of the commandos help illustrate the vast differences in how Afghans who have gone out are treated. based on the plane they took to the Kabul airport.

Afghans who get on board US military planes are luckier: They’re sent to bases whose host country agreements allow them to stay for just a few weeks. After they were screened at such temporary transit sites, the Department of Homeland Security invoked a rarely used “humanitarian parole” power to quickly move them to the United States.

As a result, nearly all of the approximately 80,000 Afghans are now able to come to the United States. Most of them have been resettled and are starting new lives – although their applications for permanent resident status with the Special Immigrant Visa, or SIV, are still being processed.

In contrast, Afghans who had boarded non-American evacuation flights, such as those operated by the United Arab Emirates, were airlifted to facilities in host countries, where they can stay indefinitely, including in the UAE-run complex known as the Emirates Humane City. According to people familiar with the matter, a significant portion of the roughly 9,000 refugee residents are CIA-trained fighters and their families.

The vast majority of thousands of CIA-trained fighters and their families have been moved to the United States, US officials say. But that has made the wait for hundreds in the United Arab Emirates all the more painful, according to former Afghan commandos.

Because Afghans in places like Humane City are safe, the United States is processing them through regular bureaucracy, officials said. As a result, they are asked to wait there until their SIV applications are completed – which can take months. Requirements for vaccinations and medical testing could slow this process down even further.

Biden administration officials are reluctant to talk about or specifically acknowledge CIA-backed teams. But they insist that all evacuees in the Humanitarian city and other countries will be treated fairly.

“We are working to develop a standardized process to ensure we deliver on our commitments to our Afghan allies,” said Emily Horne, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council. “We cannot underestimate the anxiety they and their families must feel. Those of us doing this want to ease that anxiety as best we can and make good on our country’s commitment to them. “

An official says that about 500 people who apply for SIV each week reach a stage in the State Department’s process of placing them in a queue to eventually move to the United States and about a quarter of the refugee population in Humane City. currently there the stage.

But that official also said even for that group, it might be a few months at best before those applicants complete the other steps in the visa application process. Another official said it is likely to take another five months for CIA fighters and their families to arrive in the United States.

The fighters are unlike most other refugees in a number of respects, especially in that they play an important role in collaborating with the CIA in counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations, among which they are often sent to kill or capture high-profile targets such as those in the Taliban and Al Qaeda’s violent Haqqani network.

Their American trainers consider them effective and trustworthy in fighting the Taliban. But many Afghan civilians have accused them of their own acts of terror: violent raids on rural villages, indiscriminate killing of civilians and abuse of prisoners.

In 2019, a report by Human Rights Watch accused CIA-trained counterterrorism forces of killing civilians in night raids aimed at attacking terrorist cells. The report details 14 cases where CIA-trained units committed “serious abuses” between 2017 and 2019.

Tammy K. Thorp, the CIA’s lead spokesman, said the United States takes allegations of human rights abuses seriously, but the allegations against the agency’s partners in Afghanistan are simply not true. “There is a false narrative about these forces that has persisted for many years due to a systematic propaganda campaign by the Taliban,” she said.

Many senior US officials say that combatants are not being evaluated more carefully because of the type of role they play in the war and that they are well on their way to receiving SIV status. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the nature of the work done by the Afghans in conjunction with the CIA

And after The New York Times began questioning the group, US officials tried to reassure them that they would receive visas to enter the United States within the next three to six months, according to people who spoke to Reuters. brief in conversations.

The two-tier system, in which some Afghans must complete a visa application process before entering the country, reflects the scale of the challenge: America’s refugee resettlement programs, another official said. was overburdened, had been cut during the Trump years and then faced a massive influx of Afghans. Officials say there are still about 12,000 Afghans at military bases in the country waiting to work with resettlement agencies to move them to a city and help them get started.

There are also smaller groups of Afghan refugees still hoping to reach the United States scattered elsewhere, including about 250 in a transit hub in Qatar. And there were about 200 people at a NATO base in Kosovo, including several dozen men remove weeds during initial inspection among those who are eligible for humanitarian amnesty and are therefore undergoing additional screening, along with relatives who remain with them.

But even as American officials advise patience, those who find themselves still waiting in the desert outside Abu Dhabi are growing increasingly frustrated. Those feelings are especially evident among counterterrorism units, who say they serve the United States at considerable personal risk to the end — even as other units surrender to the Taliban or fall apart into the countryside. village.

“These people will be credited for doing what they did for 20 years – against their common enemy,” said Mick Mulroy, a retired CIA paramilitary officer and Afghanistan veteran. us, Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Mr. Mulroy said he did not criticize Emirates, and praised the UAE for accepting Afghan refugees. However, he said the United States, in the proceedings, should speed up their travel to the United States.

In conversations with Americans, the fighters described conditions in Humane City as tense and increasingly uncomfortable, adding to their sense of being forgotten.

The facility is essentially a collection of makeshift hotels designed for short-term stays. It was established in 2003, originally as a center to help aid workers arriving in disaster areas. Last August, Emirates agreed to host 5,000 evacuees in the Humane City, although there are more now.

While food is plentiful, people familiar with the daily life of the residents say this is the source of frequent complaints from the refugees.

In particular, one of those who described the food was cooked and seasoned in Indian style, saying that the Afghan evacuees found it unpalatable. It also spoils sometimes: This person provided The Times with pictures and videos showing moldy eggs, spoiled meat, rice with shredded paper mixed in, and rotting potatoes. This person said a number of children have suffered from food poisoning this month, forcing the meal service to be suspended.

People familiar with the residents’ complaints said the hours to see a doctor to get the vaccines needed for U.S. admission or other medical care lasted hours, and the medication often out of stock when they try to buy prescription drugs. Most medical staff are Indian or Ugandan, require interpreters.

In a statement, the Emirati Embassy in Washington said it had assisted in evacuating more than 40,000 people from Afghanistan. Emirates has provided food and medical services along with learning and leisure activities in Humane City’s air-conditioned facilities, the embassy said. The facilities in Humane City are only designed to house people temporarily, the embassy said, and the United States is leading the effort to move evacuees.

A senior administration official said conditions in the Humanitarian City were as good or better than those of the refugees still at US military bases, which have also become strained because they are not being treated. designed to accommodate large numbers of refugees for a long period of time.

But Afghans in the Emirate say they would rather stay in the US while they are applying for their visas so they can start looking for a new job and life right away. And the longer they wait, the more the Afghans worry that they might not make it to the United States.

Former CIA officers who worked with them said their efforts on behalf of the United States should be recognised.

“These guys have literally been fighting nightly for 20 years,” Mr. Mulroy said. “They are really skilled. They have proven themselves.” CIA-backed Afghan fighters still waiting to reach the US

Fry Electronics Team

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