U.S. Struggles With Afghan Evacuees Weeded Out, and Now in Limbo

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No last decisions person been made, but dozens red-flagged for evident transgression pasts oregon links to militants person been sent to a basal successful Kosovo, wherever their destiny is uncertain.

Evacuees from Afghanistan arriving past  summertime  successful  Kosovo, which agreed to fto  Afghans beryllium  housed astatine  a NATO basal  determination   for up   to a twelvemonth  nether  definite  conditions.
Credit...Visar Kryeziu/Associated Press

Charlie Savage

Oct. 23, 2021, 11:30 a.m. ET

WASHINGTON — Two months aft the evacuation of 80,000 Afghans fleeing the Taliban takeover, astir person cleared consequent vetting for admittance into the United States. Some initially raised imaginable information issues — similar evacuees who shared a sanction with coercion suspects — but were absolved connected person scrutiny.

But respective twelve person been red-flagged, contempt having helped the United States during its 20-year warfare successful Afghanistan, due to the fact that screenings uncovered evident records of convulsive transgression oregon links to Islamist militants that follow-up evaluations person not cleared, officials said. The derogatory accusation has raised the question of what to bash with them, leaving them successful limbo.

The subject transferred astir of the still-flagged evacuees — immoderate with relatives — to Camp Bondsteel, a NATO basal successful Kosovo, which agreed to fto Afghans beryllium housed determination for up to a twelvemonth if they stayed connected the base. They are designated arsenic requiring further investigation, and nary last determination has been astir whether they volition person support to participate the United States, officials said.

But successful an acknowledgment that galore are apt to beryllium barred from the United States, the Biden administration’s nationalist information squad has been gathering to grapple with however to grip them.

Officials declined to supply a precise fig for the radical deemed problematic, saying it fluctuates arsenic the appraisal enactment continues. A fewer of the evacuees sent to Camp Bondsteel were aboriginal cleared to question to the United States aft further evaluation, they said.

But respective officials said that of the radical of evacuees drafting longer-term scrutiny, those who look to person committed convulsive crimes fig successful the azygous digits, and respective twelve person been flagged for evident links to Islamist militants — mostly the Taliban.

The interior deliberations astir the evacuees deemed problematic person centered connected 2 caller questions, the officials said.

One is short-term: whether American troops tin detain Afghans if they turn fed up with waiting and determine to locomotion retired the gates of Camp Bondsteel, contrary to the statement the United States struck with Kosovo. It is not wide what ineligible authorization the subject has to clasp non-Americans who are not wartime detainees — the evacuees are not — indefinitely abroad.

That script whitethorn ne'er happen: To date, nary has tried to locomotion disconnected the base, they said. But interviews with respective existent and erstwhile officials suggested that determination mightiness not beryllium wide statement astir what guards could oregon should bash successful specified a situation.

For example, 1 authoritative said that U.S. troops could lone archer section constabulary that an Afghan had near the basal truthful that those authorities could apprehension the idiosyncratic for violating Kosovo instrumentality — the conditions of the evacuees’ impermanent admittance to the country. But different authoritative insisted the basal commandant had authorization to temporarily detain immoderate specified Afghan, pending transportation to section authorities.

The different question is longer-term: what to bash with evacuees yet deemed ineligible to travel to the United States if diplomatic efforts neglect to transportation different countries to instrumentality them in.

In airy of that prospect, officials said, an aboriginal presumption that nary evacuee would beryllium repatriated to Afghanistan has travel nether further scrutiny. Under planetary instrumentality — the Convention Against Torture — it is amerciable to repatriate radical who fled their state if it is much apt than not they would beryllium abused if returned.

Officials are said to beryllium discussing whether that regularisation would barroom returning evacuees who helped the United States successful Afghanistan but person been deemed problematic due to the fact that of ties to the Taliban. Those evacuees whitethorn look little hazard from the caller Taliban authorities than evacuees flagged for transgression issues oregon for links to different militant groups — particularly if immoderate crook retired to person ties to the Islamic State, which is warring the Taliban.


Credit...Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

Further complicating matters, different Afghans fled by “rogue” charter flights alternatively than the subject airlift; some person since been surviving successful hotels successful Albania alternatively than connected a subject base. It is imaginable the Biden medication could permission work for resolving the destiny of immoderate of those evacuees deemed problematic to the governments that are hosting them.

About 76,000 Afghan evacuees person present arrived successful the United States aft clearing the screening process abroad, officials said. About 4,000 stay overseas, but astir them are said by officials to person been cleared, and they are simply waiting for caller vaccinations to instrumentality effect.

The vetting procedures and the deliberations implicit the destiny of the evacuees were described by astir a twelve officials connected information of anonymity. The discussions are playing retired arsenic immoderate Republicans person pivoted from attacking the Biden medication for abandoning allies successful the messy exit from Afghanistan to stoking fears that it is recklessly importing unsafe people.

Former President Donald J. Trump claimed to Fox News past period that determination were “absolutely” terrorists and “very atrocious people” among the evacuees. “The radical they are resettling — it’s the worst,” helium said. “There was nary vetting.”

Sixteen Republican senators aboriginal signed a letter declaring the screening procedures “insufficient to sphere the information of the American homeland.” Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, said connected Fox News that “there’s truly nary vetting” of the evacuees. This week, immoderate House Republicans mounted caller claims that the Biden medication is bringing tens of thousands of Afghan evacuees to the United States without screening them.

Against that backdrop, immoderate Biden officials privately accidental they spot a governmental metallic lining: Their Kosovo occupation demonstrates that contrary to specified criticism, Afghans hoping to statesman caller lives successful the United States indispensable archetypal walk a superior information vetting process.

“Any claims that we are taking successful unvetted Afghans are false,” Emily Horne, a National Security Council spokeswoman, said successful a statement, adding, “The information that immoderate radical person been flagged by our counterterrorism, quality oregon instrumentality enforcement professionals for further screening shows our strategy is working.”

The governmental sensitivity of the substance has been underscored by allegations of immoderate crimes — including kid molestation, spousal abuse, intersexual battle and theft — committed connected American subject bases by respective Afghan evacuees who had cleared vetting. Gen. Glen D. VanHerck, who leads the U.S. Northern Command, has told reporters that the transgression complaint among the evacuees has been little than the American average.

Understand the Taliban Takeover successful Afghanistan

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Who are the Taliban? The Taliban arose successful 1994 amid the turmoil that came aft the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan successful 1989. They utilized brutal nationalist punishments, including floggings, amputations and wide executions, to enforce their rules. Here’s much connected their root communicative and their grounds arsenic rulers.

No 1 disputes that determination was nary clip successful Kabul to vet the hopeless radical thronging the airdrome successful August. Many faced peculiar information due to the fact that they had worked for the United States during the struggle and were trying to get retired with their families. In the emergency, the government’s absorption was getting radical retired of harm’s way.

But the United States took them to subject bases successful Persian Gulf countries and Europe for scrutiny. At these transit zones, known arsenic “lily pads,” teams drawn from Customs and Border Protection, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Counterterrorism Center and quality agencies interviewed the Afghans and took their biometric and biographical information.

Hundreds of analysts and agents were dispatched to enactment astatine the transit sites, officials said. Others contributed from the United States, moving done the weekends and sharing accusation successful unafraid videoconference calls.

Some of the evacuees had already applied for peculiar migrant visas, portion others were recently enrolled for processing erstwhile they landed astatine the overseas bases. The screeners took their fingerprints, photographs, names, dates of birth, erstwhile addresses, and immoderate telephone oregon passport numbers, and ran them done instrumentality enforcement, subject and quality databases.

Some cases that initially raised reddish flags were cleared wrong hours, officials said. They included evacuees whose names were successful a database of known oregon suspected terrorists but who turned retired to beryllium antithetic people.

Harder cases are said to person included instances successful which database queries showed that idiosyncratic utilizing a telephone fig associated with an evacuee had called suspicious people, oregon that the evacuee had erstwhile been denied entree to an American installation. Such database hits whitethorn not ever supply context, requiring further digging and discussion.

Officially, it is the Homeland Security Department that decides whether to let peculiar evacuees into the United States due to the fact that the ineligible authority to assistance idiosyncratic “humanitarian parole” resides with its secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas. But arsenic a substance of informal practice, the officials said, recommendations person required interagency consensus.

The enforcement subdivision and its sprawling information bureaucracy wield sweeping powerfulness to determine whether to admit a foreigner into the country. Under American law, noncitizens overseas person small recourse if officials cull them.

Senior medication officials said the White House had fixed nary instructions astir what standards the vocation analysts carrying retired the vetting should use, truthful they are pursuing the aforesaid principles that person agelong been successful spot for deciding which visa applicants and different foreigners to fto into the country.

In particular, they said, that meant admitting nary 1 flagged for coercion oregon convulsive crime.

“The information that our rigorous, multilayered screening and vetting process has prevented individuals from entering the United States demonstrates that the strategy is moving arsenic it should to support the information and information of the American people,” Mr. Mayorkas said successful a statement.

The officials declined to item immoderate modular for however overmuch certainty would beryllium needed to determine that an ambiguous information roseate to the level of disqualifying derogatory information. They besides declined to explicate however officials measurement nonviolent instrumentality enforcement concerns, similar fraud oregon theft convictions.

Those evacuees approved for introduction into the United States spell done an further furniture of Customs and Border Protection screening astatine home airports. Some are past steered into secondary screening, which connected uncommon occasions has raised a caller issue, officials said.

As a result, a “very small” fig of those person voluntarily near the United States oregon been enactment into removal proceedings for deportation, officials said — including immoderate joining the radical successful limbo successful Kosovo.

Lara Jakes and Eileen Sullivan contributed reporting.

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