Several congressional offices that have been working to get people out of Afghanistan have revealed the horror stories they have heard from those they have been trying to assist.
According to the Washington Examiner, many of the congressional members and their staff have fielded distressing calls from those stuck in Afghanistan in the days leading up to and after the U.S. military’s withdrawal from the country.
President Joe Biden stuck to his Aug. 31 deadline and removed all troops from Afghanistan with American citizens and other allies still wanting to get out. But now they are trapped and under Taliban control.
A screenshot of a message that was shared with the Examiner described a situation where some U.S. citizens had procured transportation to the airport in Kabul. The Taliban let some of them through, before proceeding to beat the remaining citizens and then firing their weapons above their heads, forcing them to flee, the outlet reported.
There are many stories such as this one. It is often the case that congressional offices assist their constituents in navigating bureaucratic red tape. However, planning evacuations from a hostile war zone is another challenge altogether and some staff members worked 20-hour days as they tried to help those in need, the Examiner noted.
A staff member of Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Texas said that they had to build a process since there was not any guidance for how to do this.
Crenshaw’s office has worked with a large group of people consisting of lawful permanent U.S. residents, U.S. citizens, those who worked for the U.S. embassy and their families and special immigrant visa holders — all of whom had procured an escape via a charter flight.
However, after the bombing by the Islamic State group’s Afghanistan affiliate at the Hamid Karzai International Airport last week, the U.S. State Department pulled its clearance for the flight, the Examiner reported. The outlet noted the group was having difficulty ensuring the ability to land in Jordan as well as getting overflight rights from Saudi Arabia.
.@SecBlinken and @StateDeptSpox: I am in contact right now with US citizens in Afghanistan who tried to leave but couldn’t. Now they have what they need to leave except clearance from State. DM me please.
— Rep. Dan Crenshaw (@RepDanCrenshaw) August 31, 2021
For those lawmakers — and their staff — who are veterans themselves, they frequently depended on their own personal connections to assist with what was needed in Kabul.
Different offices utilized various approaches with some focusing on partnering evacuees directly with military teams, while others focused on authenticating what messages were official information, as still others used an array of contacts to determine which gates at the airport were allowing more people in on particular days.
Felix Ungerman, a retired Air Force colonel who is now the deputy chief of staff for Republican Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska, told the Examiner that ever since the Taliban overtook Kabul, he has been working on cases.
He described a phone call with a U.S. citizen stuck in Kabul earlier in the week as he yet again attempted to reach an access point. That is when the Taliban began shooting and Ungerman told the citizen to flee to safety, according to the outlet.
“His phone cut off while I could hear gunshots going off, and I couldn’t get in touch with him again. I tried calling his cellphone every couple of hours to see if I could get him, tried an email, sent him a text message. And it wasn’t until [Tuesday] morning that he actually texted me back and said, ‘Yeah, I’m OK, but now what do I do?’ I’m like, ‘You get to somewhere safe, and you stay there until we can — our government can offer some solutions to help you,’” Ungerman told the Examiner.
Additionally, Ungerman said a different citizen he worked with had listened to the advice of the U.S. Embassy when, earlier this year, it suggested making plans to leave the country through commercial flights. The woman secured a flight out in September, not anticipating the swift Taliban takeover and now, as a single woman, she does not know if she can get to Kabul safely.
One Afghan-American citizen who worked with Bacon’s office said the Taliban was causing as much difficulty and trouble as it could for those trying to escape.
He was told to head to the Interior Ministry by the State Department and encountered a member of the Taliban on the way. After explaining his story to the Taliban, he said, the man told him to, “Go and tell the State Department to f*** themselves.”
While the man later was able to enter the airport in Kabul, he had to risk his life to get to the gate during a shootout — just one day after the Islamic State group’s Afghanistan affiliate bombing — when Taliban guards worked to disperse a crowd by shooting near people’s feet, the outlet reported. The man told the Examiner that he knew “it was stupid,” but he ran toward the soldiers with his passport in hand shouting about being a U.S. citizen. As a result, he, along with his wife and four children, have been able to make it to the U.S.
A staff member for Bacon told the Examiner that one citizen repeatedly signed up to get updates from the State Department on when to head to the airport, but did not receive alerts for days.
Congressional offices found that getting in touch with the State Department was about “as helpful as receiving an out-of-office message,” according to the Examiner. However, upon the military withdrawal from Afghanistan, the response times from the State Department have shortened for some congressional offices.
Another major point of frustration for those trying to escape was when Taliban guards running checkpoints, who were supposed to let Americans through, did not want to let Afghan-Americans through.
The office of California Republican Rep. Mike Garcia, a former Navy pilot, had worked with an Afghan-American mother and her children — who are citizens — after they were blocked at a checkpoint. She had sent a video to Garcia’s office of her holding their passports and asking what could be done.
“This is why you don’t rely on the Taliban to be the ones monitoring the checkpoints,” Garcia said.
My office received a video from an American family we were assisting that showed just the opposite. At a Taliban checkpoint the family was denied entry through the gate at the HKIA airport in Kabul. This video is heartbreaking.
— Rep. Mike Garcia (@RepMikeGarcia) September 2, 2021
With all the efforts that were made, Garcia told the Examiner they were successful whenever they didn’t have to wait on the U.S. State Department.
“In fact, all of our successes — we ended up getting roughly 97 folks out successfully — these were all folks that we were able to do so through our own channels and folks on the ground there that were supporting mostly American citizens and SIV’s who otherwise would have been stopped by the bureaucracy, frankly, by the State Department,” Garcia told the outlet.
Garcia tweeted on Thursday his office has been helping even more people get out of the country.
My office has been working tirelessly to get Americans & Afghan allies evacuated from Afghanistan. Through these efforts, we have successfully evacuated over 100 people. https://t.co/42bkcJwWkQ
— Rep. Mike Garcia (@RepMikeGarcia) September 2, 2021
These people are stuck in Afghanistan because Biden was able to be threatened by the Taliban instead of making the terrorist group fear for our country’s military capabilities. No “peace through strength” here — just “chaos through ineptitude” from the Biden administration.
Hopefully, Biden will do something to help get these people out, but it is unlikely. While the administration says it will continue to work to rescue Americans, that is much harder to do without our military in the region.
Now, those stranded in Afghanistan are forced to live under the horrors of Taliban rule and face more dangerous journeys to attempt an escape to freedom. Sadly, if recent reports of Taliban actions are credible, it is possible that some will not make it there long based on the encounters they had when the U.S. military was still in the country.
All that can be said is that for those stuck in Afghanistan, there is some hope for their escape as these members of Congress and their staff work to evacuate more of those who are seeking to flee the Taliban.
These congressmen and women, and those who work for them, deserve to be commended for their actions in reaching out to help those in need, both American and Afghan civilians. If there is any hope to be had for rescuing those stranded by the Biden administration, it would seem that it lies within the means and efforts of congressional offices, rather than the executive branch.
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