US expands Afghan refugee program amid rising Taliban violence


The Biden administration is ramping up its efforts to evacuate Afghans at risk of reprisals from the Taliban amid an increase in violence, the State Department announced — as the war-torn nation’s leader blames the “sudden” US withdrawal for the escalation of fighting.

The first group of about 2,500 Afghans and their families who worked as translators or other personnel with the military during the 20-year war began to be moved out of Afghanistan last week.

But the State Department said Monday that it had broadened its refugee status to include Afghans who work or worked with US-based aid and developmental groups and other relief agencies getting US aid, and former employees of US-based media organizations.

“The US objective remains a peaceful, secure Afghanistan. However, in light of increased levels of Taliban violence, the U.S. government is working to provide certain Afghans, including those who worked with the United States, the opportunity for refugee resettlement to the United States,” the statement said, adding that “many thousands” of Afghans and their immediate families will be eligible to be settled in the US.

Afghan municipality workers clean debris in front of the damaged buildings a day after an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan.Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani blamed the US’ “sudden” removal of its troops for the spike in violence from the Taliban.AP/Rahmat Gul

The​ “Priority 2″​ designation created through the US Refugee Admissions Program is aimed at Afghans “who may be at risk due to their US affiliation but who are not eligible for a Special Immigrant Visa” because they did not work for the US government or didn’t hold the jobs long enough.

To qualify, Afghans must be referred to the program by a US government agency, or by the most senior civilian US citizen of a US-based media outlet or nongovernmental organization.

Amid the backdrop of the evacuations, the Taliban continues to press their military operations, and on Monday their fighters moved deeper into the southern Afghan provincial capital of Lashkargah.

This July 2, 2009, photo shows Josh Habib, far left, a 53-year-old translator for the U.S. Marines, speaking with Afghan villagers and two Marines in the Nawa district of Afghanistan's Helmand provinceThe State Department has expanded its refugee status for Afghans to include anyone who works or worked with US-based aid, and former employees of US-based media organizations.AP/David Guttenfelder

Heavy fighting was reported near the National Directorate of Security, the prison and police headquarters.

An Afghan military commander said government forces managed to repel the Taliban.

“In the afternoon the level of intensity of the fighting decreased as the Taliban suffered heavy casualties following the air and ground operations,” Sayed Sami Sadat, the commander of the Maiwand army corps, told Reuters.

Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani blamed the US’ “sudden” decision to remove its troops for the spike in violence.

“We have had an unexpected situation in the last three months,” he told the Afghan parliament.

Around 750 Afghans have applied and completed the Special Immigrant Visa process required to be brought to the US, along with their immediate families, roughly amounting to 2,500 people.

Abdul Wahid Forozan, a former translator for the American military in Afghanistan, speaks near the White House in Lafayette Square Park.Abdul Wahid Forozan, a former translator for the American military in Afghanistan, speaks near the White House in Lafayette Square Park.AP/Carolyn Kaster

The group will stay in Virginia until they complete the application processing before being relocated throughout the US.

A second group of applicants, approximately 4,000 people and their family members, will be transferred overseas, potentially to US military bases.

Roughly 20,000 Afghans have applied for the visas, according to the State Department, though it is unclear how many will be evacuated.

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