The United States will maintain a diplomatic presence at Kabul international airport while speeding up the evacuation of thousands of Afghans eligible for U.S. Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) and expanding refugee access to Afghans who work for U.S. news agencies and nongovernmental organizations.
On Monday, the State Department also asked Americans to shelter in place and to not travel to the Kabul airport. The deteriorating security situation across Afghanistan has prompted civilians to flock to the airport.
“We are going to maintain a diplomatic presence in Kabul for as long as it is safe and responsible for us to do so,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Monday in a briefing.
Since Sunday night, all U.S. Embassy personnel have been relocated to the Hamid Karzai International Airport, whose perimeter is secured by the U.S. military, he said.
Price added that the Pentagon is “working urgently around the clock to reestablish positive control over the airport, so that both U.S. military aircraft and commercial aircraft can land and take off.”
About 6,000 U.S. troops are deployed to Afghanistan to help evacuate U.S. and allied civilian personnel, along with vulnerable Afghans. About half of those troops had arrived by Monday.
In recent weeks, 2,000 SIVs applicants and their families have been brought to the U.S., according to the State Department.
The U.S. is involved in discussions with the Taliban in Kabul and in Doha where peace negotiations are being held.
The U.S. focus has shifted from supporting the peace talks to joining with the international community to help prevent violence in Kabul, the State Department spokesperson said, as it became clear that the government of Afghanistan was on the verge of collapse and the Taliban were encroaching on Kabul.
President Joe Biden’s administration has been under fire as the Taliban insurgents captured key cities in a matter of days, leading to bipartisan criticism of the U.S. approach of the military drawdown.
Rights organizations are urging the Biden administration to act with urgency to evacuate and resettle at-risk Afghanistan civilians.
"The Biden administration is failing at the fundamentally important task of humanitarian protection," said Omar Jadwat, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project.
“In Afghanistan in particular, the incredibly urgent work of protecting people from reprisals and persecution must include evacuation and resettlement of civilians who need it, including human rights defenders, women’s rights activists, members of the media, Special Immigrant Visa candidates and other vulnerable people,” Jadwat added.
Other refugee resettlement agencies blasted the lengthy bureaucratic hurdles.
”No matter your feelings on the war, the undeniable truth is that we had both the means and the time to save those in danger, and yet, we neglected to act in any meaningful way,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, the CEO of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.
The Afghan SIV program was created by the U.S. Congress in 2009 to provide safety for Afghan interpreters, contractors, security personnel and others affiliated with U.S. troops and missions.