Biden Administration Ramps Up Civilian Feds Responding to Afghanistan Withdrawal Efforts
Federal employees are calling U.S. citizens in Afghanistan and vetting Afghans as Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline nears.
As the Biden administration has ramped up its efforts to evacuate Americans and vulnerable local citizens from Afghanistan, it is deploying more civilian employees to handle an array of logistical tasks.
The State Department has doubled its consular capacity to keep pace with the number of individuals the U.S. government is bringing out of Afghanistan, while increasing by four-fold the number of domestic employees on the initiative. The United States has evacuated 42,000 people from the Kabul airport since the end of July, including 16,000 in the 24-hour period starting early Sunday morning.
The escalation coincides with the Defense Department opening a fourth installation—Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey—to temporarily house Afghans arriving in the United States, joining Fort McCoy in Wisconsin, Fort Lee in Virginia and Fort Bliss in Texas. It has also set up reception and humanitarian services at 14 installations in Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Italy, Spain and Germany. The Pentagon hopes to soon have capacity to house 25,000 individuals at its installations, but officials said Monday it has not yet reached that level.
With President Biden’s initial Aug. 31 deadline for full withdrawal only one week away, pressure is mounting to further hasten evacuation efforts. A State spokesperson said the department is “urgently assisting” in the mission and that more staff could soon be deployed.
State will “continue to surge resources toward these efforts to the fullest extent possible,” the spokesperson said.
Ned Price, another State spokesman, said on Monday there are now hundreds of consular officers and locally employed staff working on the evacuation effort. They are engaging in on-the-ground work from Kabul, Kuwait, Qatar and UAE, while others are offering assistance remotely from Washington and at missions in Mexico, Canada, Brazil and India. Over the weekend, Price said, State employees made several thousand calls to Americans in Afghanistan to offer “tailored advice” on getting to the airport and evacuating.
“Our employees are working around the clock,” Price said. “We’re extremely proud of the volunteerism we’re seeing.”
State has partnered with the U.S. Agency for International Development in soliciting volunteers to deploy on 60-90 day details to domestic and international locations to assist in processing evacuated Afghans. State, Defense, the Homeland Security Department and the Intelligence Community all play a role in vetting those individuals before they can continue on to the United States. Defense spokesman John Kirby said on Monday personnel from those entities are engaged in screening efforts at the overseas installations receiving Afghans and U.S. citizens.
DHS is also seeking volunteers through its U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to support “rapid response, temporary, on-site immigration processing and adjudications.” Afghans seeking Special Immigrant Visas begin their application process by filing a petition with USCIS.
The Biden administration has proactively reached out to employees at the relevant agencies to solicit the volunteers, providing special instructions to apply and noting they must receive supervisor approval. Other civilian agencies are also lending support to the effort, with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki saying on Monday that the Veterans Affairs Department is working with veteran service organizations to determine how it can help identify and process vulnerable Afghans.