Havana Syndrome continues to baffle U.S. officials

Havana Syndrome continues to baffle U.S. officials

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House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., talks to reporters as lawmakers work to extend government surveillance powers that are expiring soon, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 3, 2020. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) more >

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By Joseph Clark

The Washington Times

Friday, October 1, 2021

U.S. officials remain determined to get to the bottom of mysterious, neurological “anomalous health incidents” which have befallen a growing number of diplomats, military personnel and intelligence officials.

Senior leaders in the Biden administration have ramped up efforts to treat those with the mysterious symptoms, which a December National Academy of Sciences report said “are consistent with the effects of directed, pulsed radiofrequency (RF) energy.”

The suspected attacks — causing what’s known as Havana Syndrome, after a rash of reports from U.S. Embassy staff in Cuba — cause often debilitating symptoms, including vertigo and headaches, that can last years. Many suspect the attacks are from a microwave or directed-energy weapon.

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Congress, too, has stepped up its efforts, passing legislation this month to provide financial assistance to victims.

But as for definitively pinning down the source and who may be responsible, the U.S. remains baffled. 

“I feel, still, a strong degree of humility about being able to give you a best guess, because it could be completely wrong,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, California Democrat, told reporters last week.

Mr. Schiff said the U.S. government has not ruled anything out in terms of who or what may be causing the incidents. He said not all of the reported incidents may be “attributable to the same cause.”

“At the same time, the seriousness of the injuries and the proliferating nature of these anomalies demands are full, for the deployment of resources across the government to find out,” he said.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and CIA Director William J. Burns have both made firm commitments to determining the cause, and ensuring victims are cared for.

“This was one of the few issues that Secretary Blinken asked to have added to his roster of briefings, even before he was sworn in,” a State Department spokesperson said Friday. “He wanted to make sure that we get a full understanding of where we were in terms of understanding anomalous health incidents, and what more we needed to do.”

Mr. Blinken remains personally engaged in the matter and has appointed a senior official to oversee the State Department’s work alongside the National Security Council, the Department of Defense and the intelligence community to continue to press for answers.

Mr. Burns told NPR in July that the attacks on CIA personnel were among his top priorities.

“I’m certainly persuaded that what our officers and some family members, as well as other U.S. government employees, have experienced is real, and it’s serious,” Mr. Burns told NPR. “I am absolutely determined … to get to the bottom of the question of what and who caused this.”

In August, Mr. Burns recalled the chief of station in Vienna after agency officials determined he did not adequately address multiple anomalous health incidents in Austria.

Earlier this month, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin urged service members to come forward if they experience any symptoms.

“As part of a government-wide effort, the Department is committed to finding the cause and the source of these AHI and ensuring that affected individuals receive appropriate medical care as possible when needed,” Mr. Austin said in a memo. 

Some estimate that more than 200 officials have been targeted in the attacks, which have affected officials from the State Department, the Defense Department and the Central Intelligence Agency.

Since the initial diagnoses in 2016, the number of U.S. officials around the globe reporting symptoms, including on U.S. soil, has continued to swell.

In May, reports revealed information about two U.S. officials struck by Havana syndrome near the White House.

In August, a “possible anomalous health incident” — which some believed to be a Havana syndrome case — was reported by the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi and briefly delayed Vice President Kamala D. Harris’ trip to Vietnam.

Earlier this month, a CIA officer reported symptoms while traveling in India, at the same time Mr. Burns was in the country.

When the incidents first began being reported, several officials said their cases were dismissed by leadership within the State Department and CIA, and that the government denied them access to medical treatment for the symptoms. In some cases, the victims were forced to end their service due to the injuries they sustained, which they said were ignored.

In an early investigation into the rash of reports from the U.S. embassy in Cuba, the State Department in 2018 commissioned a study by the JASON advisory group, which investigated sounds recorded by victims who suffered from anomalous health incidents in Havana.

The report, a declassified version of which was published Thursday by Buzzfeed, paints a picture of the uphill battle early victims faced.

In its report, JASON concluded that the recorded sounds were “mechanical or biological in origin, rather than electronic” and not consistent with a microwave energy attack. The report also concluded that “a possible explanation for the reported symptoms is a psychogenic illness,” though it stopped short of declaring a targeted attack by a bad actor.

The State Department has since dismissed the 2018 study, according to a spokesperson who said the report exhibits several shortcomings, including reliance on scant data and a lack of “broad access to information and effective personnel necessary to fully understand such a complex issue.” The researchers behind the JASON report interviewed only one person who had reported symptoms commonly associated with anomalous health incidents.

“And it was because of the flaws and shortcomings in prior studies including this one, that we have focused on sharing information across departments and agencies and making all of that data available to the [intelligence community’s] expert panel,” he said.

The State Department spokesperson said the JASON report is not “aligned with this administration’s understanding” of the anomalous health incidents and has not “informed” the government’s more recent inquiry into the matter.

“I think we’ve made a lot of improvements in terms of how the government, the whole government, is treating those who are suffering from these anomalies,” Mr. Schiff said.

But Mr. Schiff says there are still questions to be answered. He said he still thinks there could be a variety of causes behind the symptoms.

“These attacks, there’s certainly many of them that seem quite deliberate and what the causes and what the motivation is, what the intent is — I think these are still very much open questions,” he said. “But I do think that we are getting closer to some of the answers, and bringing new tools to bear to help us get those answers.”

Mr. Schiff said he is still open to the possibility that Havana Syndrome is not a result of targeted attacks.

But, he said, “if a nation-state actor is behind it or more than one nation-state actor, and these are deliberate attacks where their efforts are undertaken with the knowledge that they’re causing people physical injury, I’m also confident there’ll be very serious repercussions.”

One month after Afghan airlift, answers hard to come by about what really happened

One month after Afghan airlift, answers hard to come by about what really happened

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In this image provided by the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Air Force loadmasters and pilots assigned to the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, load people being evacuated from Afghanistan onto a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III at Hamid Karzai International … more >

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By Stephen Dinan

The Washington Times

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

The Biden administration says the Afghanistan airlift was the largest rescue operation in history — yet a month after it ended, officials still can’t or won’t say exactly who was left behind, who made it out of the country or why they were the ones rescued.

About 124,000 people escaped Afghanistan, most on U.S.-run flights. More than 60,000 had reached the U.S. as of last week. Some were American citizens, and others were green card holders with permanent immigrant rights. Fewer than 2,000 were special visa holders by dint of their assistance to the U.S. war effort.

But more than 50,000 of them didn’t fall into any of those categories, leading to questions about who they are, why they are in the U.S. and what dangers they may pose. Reports of sex crimes and assaults have already emerged at military bases where they are staying.

SEE ALSO: Military brass dodge blowback, consequences from Afghanistan withdrawal debacle

Then there are 60,000 or so others who were evacuated to other countries. Many of those evacuees are sitting at U.S. military bases overseas while the government tries to verify their identities and stories, checks them against security databases and figures out where they should go.

The chaos of the aftermath matches the chaos of the withdrawal itself. The administration delayed a full evacuation until the Afghan government toppled and the Taliban took control, shutting down pathways to the airport — the last ground controlled by the U.S.

“It has now been a month since the U.S. withdrawal, and State and DoD are still unable to provide us with basic numbers and information,” said Rep. John Katko of New York, the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee. “This is unacceptable and violates the very checks and balances of our government.”

SEE ALSO: Top generals dispute Biden’s claims on Afghan withdrawal

It’s not even clear how many American citizens were left behind. Experts say the number should be readily available.

The State Department said the total is about 100, but members of Congress say that math doesn’t add up, given the 10,000 to 15,000 the department estimated were in Afghanistan and the 6,000 who were evacuated.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat, said trying to get answers has been “a Kafkaesque experience in bureaucracy.” He started with the Defense Department, which told him to talk to the National Security Council, which told him to talk to the State Department, which pointed him right back to the Defense Department.

“Nobody is in charge right now,” the senator told Pentagon leaders in a hearing this week.

Demands for information have streamed from Capitol Hill to the Pentagon, the State Department’s headquarters at Foggy Bottom, the Homeland Security Department’s St. Elizabeths campus and President Biden himself.

The response, lawmakers say, has been crickets.

Even when briefings are arranged, they provide no new details, senators told Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas last week.

Administration officials say the feat of getting 124,000 people out of Afghanistan is stunning and represents the largest such evacuation in history.

“Nothing like this has ever been done before, and no other military in the world could have pulled it off,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said.

Administration officials say most Americans who remained in Afghanistan didn’t want to leave. Congressional aides say that explanation is not helpful. They want to know whom the State Department has contacted and whether it considers a lack of response as a message of wanting to stay.

As for those who made it out, the administration says it is checking security databases and screening out those who shouldn’t be in the U.S. Mr. Mayorkas told Congress last week that the number failing the checks was “de minimis.”

The Washington Times has reported on two Afghans with serious felony records and previous deportations who made onto flights that reached the U.S., fueling calls by lawmakers on Capitol Hill for more transparency on what checks are being conducted, including whether previous deportees should be excluded.

Homeland Security has declined to answer those questions.

Over the past week, two Afghan evacuees at Fort McCoy in Wisconsin have been charged with sex crimes. Authorities are also investigating an assault on a female soldier by Afghan refugees at a military complex in New Mexico.

“Afghan men on U.S. bases have now assaulted women and children, yet the American people are being denied transparency,” said Rep. Yvette Herrell, New Mexico Republican. “It is more important than ever to demand answers in the wake of our chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.”  

Rep. Thomas P. Tiffany, a Wisconsin Republican who has been tracking developments at Fort McCoy, where some 13,000 evacuees are being held, said the situation has turned out nothing like what Mr. Biden promised.

Hardly any of the Afghans are special visa holders. The fort’s capacity was supposed to be 10,000, but it got an order from Washington to go to 13,000. Of those, 600 were in quarantine for disease.

“We know disease is being imported into our country. We know there are people committing criminal acts that are being imported into our country,” the congressman said. “They brought some of the problems of Afghanistan into the United States.”

Mr. Tiffany said Afghans are free to walk out of the bases at any time. They are required to obtain vaccinations by a specific date or risk losing their status, though former Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials say it’s unlikely anyone would go looking for them.

Some Democrats on Capitol Hill have added their voices to the chorus calling for answers, but the party’s leaders have taken steps to shield the administration by limiting the number of hearings on the issue.

Mr. Mayorkas has testified about worldwide threats and faced questions over the Afghanistan evacuation, but he has yet to sit for a hearing exclusively on the issue.

Republicans say a parliamentary vote last week strips Congress of another tool it might have used to demand answers.

Lawmakers normally can pursue a resolution of inquiry, a formal demand for information. The ROIs, as they are known, are usually granted speedy debate privileges, but Democrats have derailed the process.

The limit on ROIs has been in place since at least May 2020, when the House was in pandemic mode.

Republican lawmakers said it’s time to lift the blockade, given the abundance of bungles from the Biden team.

“Democratic Leadership has suspended a centuries-old House rule that allows for more congressional oversight — all to protect President Biden from scrutiny for the multiple disasters his failed leadership has caused,” said Rep. Michael T. McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

A Democratic aide on the Rules Committee said committees like Mr. McCaul’s can conduct oversight in other ways, and lawmakers got a chance to offer proposals as part of the recent debate on the defense policy bill.

Democrats also fear that lifting the curb on ROIs would give Republicans a new means to derail committee agendas.

“Republicans have consistently tried to disrupt the House floor, demanding votes even on noncontroversial bills that they support. Now they are demanding even more tools to derail the work of congressional committees,” the Democratic aide said. “We are staying focused on allowing committees to do their work and passing legislation to provide for the American people.”

White House says envoy who quit Haiti post had ‘harmful’ ideas

White House says envoy who quit Haiti post had ‘harmful’ ideas

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White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a briefing at the White House, Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) more >

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By Jeff Mordock

The Washington Times

Thursday, September 23, 2021

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the special U.S. envoy who resigned in protest Thursday over the administration’s decision to deport Haitian migrants had “harmful” ideas about promoting democracy in the country. 

Ms. Psaki said administration officials didn’t ignore the advice of special U.S. envoy Daniel Foote, but believed his ideas weren’t any good.

His positions … and his views were put forward,” Ms. Psaki told reporters. “They were valued. They were heard. Different policy decisions were made in some circumstances.”

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Declining to explain further, she said, “Some of the proposals were harmful to the commitment to the promotion of democracy in Haiti.” 

Earlier in the day, Mr. Foote, the top U.S. diplomat to Haiti, resigned and called the administration’s effort to deport hundreds of Haitian immigrants back to their own country “inhumane” and “deeply flawed.”

Mr. Foote insisted that his suggestions were brushed aside by officials in Washington.

“Our policy approach to Haiti remains deeply flawed and my recommendations have been ignored and dismissed when not edited to project a narrative different from my own,” he wrote in his resignation.

Ms. Psaki said Mr. Foote’s ideas were considered in a “rigorous policy” debate, but State Department officials decided they were unworkable.

“There are disagreements in these policy processes and the president welcomes that,” she said. “The Secretary of State welcomes that. That’s certainly part of having discussions and having robust discussions about the best path forward for difficult circumstances.”

In a statement, State Department spokesman Ned Price pushed back sharply on Mr. Foote‘s assertion that his recommendations were dismissed out of hand, saying the envoy “failed to take advantage of ample opportunity to raise concerns about migration during his tenure and chose to resign instead.”

Mr. Price backed up Ms. Psaki’s account, saying the envoy’s ideas weren’t any good.

“For him to say his proposals were ignored is simply false,” Mr. Price said. “I’m not going to parse the contents of his resignation letter, but I do want to emphasize that we have active policy debates in this administration on a number of issues. The role of the president’s cabinet and his advisers is to provide the president with the best advice possible. No ideas are ignored, but not all ideas are good ideas.”

U.S. touts diversity at COVID-delayed World’s Fair in Dubai

U.S. touts diversity at COVID-delayed World’s Fair in Dubai

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Journalists visit Terra, The Sustainability Pavilion, during a media tour at the Dubai World Expo site in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021. With the inauguration of Expo 2020 Dubai, the next world’s fair, nine months away amid … more >

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By Sean Salai

The Washington Times

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

The U.S. will promote cultural diversity at the World’s Fair in Dubai, the first international exposition in the Middle East that starts Oct. 1.

The State Department has selected commercial real estate developer Robert Clark to serve as its commissioner general at the event. He will lead 75 young cultural “ambassadors” who will represent the country at the USA Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai.

“I’m personally looking forward to showcasing the diversity, culture and values of America through this group of youth ambassadors,” Mr. Clark, a 2010 Obama appointee to the White House Preservation Committee, told The Washington Times. “They embody the best qualities of our national melting pot, while presenting the great potential of our collective future.”

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Last week, the State Department hosted an in-person orientation at Washington’s Mayflower Hotel for Mr. Clark and the youth ambassadors.

“Their excitement and enthusiasm for Expo were energizing, and I am very much looking forward to getting out to Dubai to work with the entire USA Pavilion team. We are planning a wonderful exhibition at Expo 2020, and I hope people come out to see it,” Mr. Clark told The Times.

He will serve as the U.S. government’s senior representative at Dubai throughout the fair, which will conclude on March 31.

Officials said America’s participation in the pandemic-delayed World’s Fair will seek to project a hopeful image of a diverse nation that’s moving beyond COVID-19.

The fair arrives amid international pessimism over the Biden administration’s handling of crises like the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, France’s recall of its U.S. ambassador over the Australian nuclear sub deal and the U.S. southern border crisis.

According to a State Department press release, the USA Pavilion’s theme of “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of the Future” intends to highlight “the American vision of innovation, diversity, and our future.”

“Youth Ambassadors embody President Biden’s call to ‘lead by the strength of our example,’” the statement declared.

On the USA Pavilion website, a theme statement adds: “Our exhibits, events, and programs will showcase the United States as a strong and trusted partner for peace, progress, and security throughout Expo 2020 Dubai.”

Construction of the U.S. Pavilion in Dubai began in March 2020.

The next World’s Fair will be Expo 2025 Osaka in Japan.

According to the State Department, the U.S. has had national pavilions at all but two overseas Expos since 1851, and has hosted a dozen World’s Fairs. New Orleans hosted the last U.S.-based fair in 1984.

Congress urged to revive State probe of COVID-19 origin, Chinese bio-weapons push

Congress urged to revive State probe of COVID-19 origin, Chinese bio-weapons push

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In this Feb. 3, 2021, file photo, a security person moves journalists away from the Wuhan Institute of Virology after a World Health Organization team arrived for a field visit in Wuhan in China’s Hubei province. A member of the … more >

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By Bill Gertz

The Washington Times

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Congress should require a new investigation by the State Department’s arms compliance office into the possible role of China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology in the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, a report by two former State Department officials says.

The Biden administration earlier this year canceled a probe begun under President Trump into the virus’s origins by State’s Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, known as AVC, that also investigated Chinese violations of a treaty banning biological arms, said former State Department arms control leaders Thomas DiNanno and Paula A. DeSutter.

“The Biden administration’s ‘don’t ask, don’t act’ policy serves only to empower our enemies, and the State Department bureaucracy has raised the bar so high above the criminal ‘reasonable doubt’ standard that holding our adversaries accountable is now nearly impossible,” Mr. DiNanno and Ms. DeSutter wrote in a new report published by the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank.

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“In the case of the WIV, the preponderance of circumstantial evidence is compelling and cannot be ignored,” the report stated.

China engaged in “blatant violations” of the World Health Organization’s International Health Regulations and acted in suspicious and opaque ways regarding the terms of the Biological Weapons Convention’s (BWC) peaceful-purposes clause,” the report said. As a result China gave up a leadership position on the world stage and within organizations such as the WHO and the BWC and “needs to be held to account.”

China has rejected charges that the COVID virus originated in the Wuhan lab and leaked into the general public in late 2019, setting off a global pandemic that has killed millions. Researchers are divided over the origins of COVID-19, with many contending it occurred naturally and passed from an animal host to humans. 

Mr. DiNanno is currently a professional staff member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and took part in the canceled probe as acting assistant secretary of state for the AVC bureau during the Trump administration. Ms. DeSutter held the same position at the State Department under President George W. Bush, and also served as a professional staff member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The report was published prior to a joint U.S. intelligence community assessment into the virus origin that revealed spy agencies divided over how the pandemic began and were unable to say conclusively whether the pandemic started from a virus that escaped from a Chinese laboratory or emerged naturally from infected animals.

The Defense Intelligence Agency, according to U.S. officials, believes the virus most likely began from an accident or other type of mishap in a Chinese lab. Other spy other agencies believe the virus emerged from an animal host to infect humans, an unclassified summary of the intelligence assessment concluded.

The virus has killed an estimated 4.5 million people worldwide, including over 660,000 Americans.

Critics say China’s government has sought to conceal its mishandling of the disease’s outbreak that began in November 2019. Beijing officials have denied the virus came from one of its laboratories, despite published research indicating extensive work on making bat coronaviruses, like the viruses behind COVID, more infectious to humans.

The canceled AVC investigation was launched by the State Department under then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in 2019 and sought to answer the question of what role the Chinese government virus research program played in Beijing’s biological weapons program.

The investigation also sought to determine if China’s virus research program and the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, represented violations of China’s commitment to the Biological Weapons Convention, which bans research and development of germ weapons.

Mr. DiNanno and Ms. DeSutter said Congress should request that AVC resume its investigation into the origin of the virus that was interrupted by Mr. Biden’s order in May that intelligence agencies should conduct a three-month review.

“In contrast to the U.S. [intelligence community], the [AVC’s] sole function is to assess other nations’ compliance with their international arms control obligations and, moreover, has the legal mandate to do so,” they stated.

Additionally, AVC should make public all information and intelligence on the COVID-19 origin to better assess Chinese compliance with its arms control commitments.

The American intelligence community, according to the report, largely adhered to the theory that the virus originated from animals.

“This may partly be the result of briefings to [intelligence agency] elements conducted by experts promulgating and advocating that the origin of SARS-CoV-2 was the result of a zoonotic origin,” the report said.

Chinese civilian and military biological research is a “complex web” reflecting Beijing’s civil-military “fusion” approach, one that calls for sharing all civilian research with the People’s Liberation Army.

“In fact, it would be difficult to say if such a thing as a civilian program as we understand it exists in today’s China,” the report said.

In the fall of 2020, the AVC bureau investigated whether China’s dual-use activities potentially violated the biological weapons agreement.

As a result, the annual State Department arms compliance report stated that “available information shows China engaged in activities that raise concerns with regard to its obligations under Article I of the BWC, which requires States Party ‘never in any circumstances to develop, produce, stockpile, or otherwise acquire or retain …[m]icrobial or other biological agents, or toxins whatever their origin or method of production, of types and in quantities that have no justification for prophylactic, protective, or other peaceful purposes.’”

The report also notes that the most recent compliance report produced by the Biden administration mentions concerns about China’s toxin work but omitted earlier report language on concerns about virus research.

“This omission serves as a signal to China and other adversaries and to our allies that the United States is not concerned about the potentially dangerous dual-use research that was being conducted at the WIV and its affiliated facilities,” the report said.

The AVC bureau “must determine the extent of potential Chinese weaponization of viruses,” the report notes.

The report notes that career officials at the State Department dismissed the 2019 AVC investigation as potentially “opening a can of worms” by pursuing question about Chinese arms compliance “when troubling facts began to emerge in [U.S. intelligence] reporting that SARS-CoV-2 may have in fact emanated from the WIV,” the report says.

By shutting down the inquiry earlier this year, the question of Chinese violations of the Biological Weapons Convention is still unanswered, the report says.

A State Department fact sheet on WIV made public in January disclosed the existence of secret military programs inside the WIV.

Additionally, statements by Chinese officials in the past have referred to the pursuit of offensive biological capabilities.

“For example, in 2015, then-president of the Academy of Military Medical Sciences He Fuchu argued that biotechnology would become the new ‘strategic commanding heights’ of national defense, ranging from biomaterials to ‘brain control’ weapons,” the report says.

Former Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe also has said that U.S. intelligence information has revealed China “conducted human testing on members of the People’s Liberation Army in hope of developing soldiers with biologically enhanced capabilities.”

Fearful US residents in Afghanistan hiding out from Taliban

Fearful US residents in Afghanistan hiding out from Taliban

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Taliban fighters ride in the back of a pickup truck as patrol the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana) more >

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By Bernard Condon and Julie Watson

Associated Press

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Every night in yet another house in Afghanistan’s capital, a U.S. green card-holding couple from California take turns sleeping, with one always awake to watch over their three young children so they can flee if they hear the footsteps of the Taliban.

They’ve moved seven times in two weeks, relying on relatives to take them in and feed them. Their days are an uncomfortable mix of fear and boredom, restricted to a couple of rooms where they read, watch TV and play “The Telephone Game” in which they whisper secrets and pass them on, a diversion for the children that has the added benefit of keeping them quiet.

All of it goes on during the agonizing wait for a call from anybody who can help them get out. A U.S. State Department official contacted them several days ago to tell them they were being assigned a case worker, but they haven’t heard a word since. They tried and failed to get on a flight and now are talking to an international rescue organization.

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“We are scared and keep hiding ourselves more and more,” the mother said in a text message to The Associated Press. “Whenever we feel breathless, I pray.”

Through messages, emails and phone conversations with loved ones and rescue groups, AP has pieced together what day-to-day life has been like for some of those left behind after the U.S. military’s chaotic withdrawal — that includes U.S. citizens, permanent U.S. resident green-card holders and visa applicants who aided U.S. troops during the 20-year war.

Those contacted by AP — who are not being identified for their own safety — described a fearful, furtive existence of hiding in houses for weeks, keeping the lights off at night, moving from place to place, and donning baggy clothing and burqas to avoid detection if they absolutely must venture out.

All say they are scared the ruling Taliban will find them, throw them in jail, perhaps even kill them because they are Americans or had worked for the U.S. government. And they are concerned that the Biden administration’s promised efforts to get them out have stalled.

When the phone rang in an apartment in Kabul a few weeks ago, the U.S. green card holder who answered — a truck driver from Texas visiting family — was hopeful it was the U.S. State Department finally responding to his pleas to get him and his parents on a flight out.

Instead, it was the Taliban.

“We won’t hurt you. Let’s meet. Nothing will happen,” the caller said, according to the truck driver’s brother, who lives with him in Texas and spoke to him afterwards. The call included a few ominous words: “We know where you are.”

That was enough to send the man fleeing from the Kabul apartment where he had been staying with his mother, his two teenage brothers and his father, who was in particular danger because he had worked for years for a U.S. contractor overseeing security guards.

“They are hopeless,” said the brother in Texas. “They think, ’We’re stuck in the apartment and no one is here to help us.’ They’ve been left behind.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Congress this past week that the government does not track U.S. permanent residents with green cards in Afghanistan but he estimates several thousand remain in the country, along with about 100 U.S. citizens. He promised the U.S. government was working to get them out.

As of Friday, at least 64 American citizens and 31 green card holders have been evacuated since the U.S. military left last month, according to the State Department. More were possibly aboard a flight from Mazar-e-Sharif on Friday, but the administration did not release figures.

Neither the U.S. nor the Taliban have offered a clear explanation why so few have been evacuated.

That is hardly encouraging to another green card holder from Texas, a grandmother who recently watched from a rooftop as militants pulled up in a half-dozen police cars and Humvees to take over the house across the street.

“The Taliban. The Taliban,” she whispered into the phone to her American son in a Dallas suburb, a conversation the woman recounted to the AP. “The women and kids are screaming. They’re dragging the men to the cars.”

She and her husband, who came to Kabul several months ago to visit relatives, are now terrified that the Taliban will not only uncover their American ties but those of their son back in Texas, who had worked for a U.S. military contractor for years.

Her son, who is also not being named, says he called U.S. embassy officials in Kabul several times before it shut down, filled out all the necessary paperwork, and even enlisted the help of a veteran’s group and members of Congress.

He doesn’t know what more he can do.

“What will we do if they knock on the door?” the 57-year-old mother asked on one of her daily calls. “What will we do?”

“Nothing is going to happen,” replied the son.

Asked in a recent interview if he believed that, the son shot back, exasperated, “What else am I supposed to tell her?”

The Taliban government has promised to let Americans and Afghans with proper travel documents leave the country and to not retaliate against those who helped the United States. But U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said there is evidence they are not keeping their word. She warned Monday that the country had entered a “new and perilous phase,” and cited credible reports of reprisal killings of Afghan military members and allegations of the Taliban hunting house-to-house for former government officials and people who cooperated with U.S. military and U.S. companies.

AP reporters in Afghanistan are not aware of any U.S. citizens or green card holders being picked up or arrested by the Taliban. But they have confirmed that several Afghans who worked for the previous government and military were taken in for questioning recently and released.

The California family, which includes a 9-year-old girl and two boys, ages 8 and 6, say they have been on the run for the past two weeks after the Taliban knocked on the door of their relative’s apartment asking about the Americans staying there.

The family moved to Sacramento four years ago after the mother got a special immigrant visa because she worked for U.S.-funded projects in Kabul promoting women’s rights. Now, the mother says both she and her daughter have been wearing burqas each time they move to their next “prison-home.”

The father, who worked as an Uber driver, has been having panic attacks as they wait for help.

“I don’t see the U.S. government stepping in and getting them out anytime soon,” said the children’s elementary school principal, Nate McGill, who has been exchanging daily texts with the family.

Distraction has become the mother’s go-to tool to shield her children from the stress. She quizzes them on what they want to do when they get back to California and what they want to be when they grow up.

Their daughter hopes to become a doctor someday, while their sons say they want to become teachers.

But distraction is not always enough. After a relative told the daughter that the Taliban were taking away small girls, she hid in a room and refused to come out until her dad puffed himself up and said he could beat the Taliban, making her laugh.

The mother smiled, hiding her fear from her daughter, but later texted her principal.

“This life is almost half-death.”

Biden administration removed lists of U.S. military gear in Afghanistan

Biden officials removed lists of U.S. military gear in Afghanistan from government websites

Taliban parade captured U.S. vehicles amid accounting questions

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Taliban special force fighters stand guard outside the Hamid Karzai International Airport after the U.S. military’s withdrawal, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021. The Taliban were in full control of Kabul’s airport on Tuesday, after the last U.S. plane … more >

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By Ben Wolfgang

The Washington Times

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

The Biden administration two weeks ago removed online reports that provided key details on the U.S. military equipment provided to Afghan security forces over the past 20 years, some of which has found its way into Taliban hands after the abrupt American withdrawal from the country last month.

Officials with the Government Accountability Office confirmed Wednesday that they took down roughly 400 studies relating to Afghanistan, including a 2017 document that provided a comprehensive list of American military gear given to Afghan security forces up until that point. GAO officials said the removal came at the direct request of the State Department, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Washington Times.

The reports were removed, officials said, out of fear that they could be used by Afghanistan‘s new leaders to identify Afghans who had supported the U.S. war effort and target them for revenge attacks.

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Biden officials removed lists of U.S. military gear in Afghanistan from government websites

“Given ongoing events in Afghanistan, the State Department requested we temporarily remove and review reports on Afghanistan to protect recipients of U.S. assistance that may be identified through our reports and thus subject to retribution,” the GAO said in a statement to The Times. “We did so out of an abundance of caution” about Aug. 16, a day after the U.S.-backed government in Kabul fell to the Taliban.

GAO officials said that of those 400 reports initially removed, about 300 have been reviewed and are back online. But the 2017 study detailing all of the equipment given to Afghan forces remains under review, as do about 75 other documents related to Afghanistan, according to the GAO.

Over the past 20 years, the U.S. provided more than $82 billion in arms and training to the Afghan forces, which quickly folded in the face of a major Taliban military offensive last month.

Watchdog groups have accused the Biden administration of trying to hide the extent of U.S. weapons, vehicles and equipment now in the hands of the Taliban.

“The war in Afghanistan has always been a black box, but now we’ve reached an entirely new level,” Adam Andrzejewski, CEO of the watchdog group Open the Books, said in a statement Wednesday. “Biden officials recently directed U.S. federal agencies to scrub their websites of official reports detailing the $82.9 billion in military equipment and training provided to the Afghan security forces since 2001.”

The Taliban on Wednesday held a victory parade, showing off much of the U.S. gear it has acquired over the past several weeks. 

House defense bill targets Chinese influence operations

House defense bill targets Chinese influence operations

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In this photo provided by China’s Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President and party leader Xi Jinping delivers a speech at a ceremony marking the centenary of the ruling Communist Party in Beijing, China, Thursday, July 1, 2021. (Li Xueren/Xinhua via … more >

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By Bill Gertz

The Washington Times

Monday, August 30, 2021

Congress is seeking regular U.S. government reports outlining Chinese influence operations targeting the United States and its allies.

A provision of the House version of the fiscal 2022 defense authorization bill calls on the Pentagon, State Department and American intelligence agencies to detail Chinese influence campaigns targeting U.S. military alliances and partnerships.

The reports would assess the Chinese government’s objectives for conducting influence operations and efforts by the Pentagon and the State Department to counter those operations, according to a version of the authorization bill made public Monday.

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The language is included in the bill that seeks $744 billion for defense.

China is engaged in large-scale influence operations that seek to promote Beijing’s propaganda themes and policies. Its global disinformation campaign seeks to blame the U.S. Army for the coronavirus pandemic. The campaign includes daily reports in domestic Chinese state-run media and overseas propaganda outlets.

Scientists have confirmed that the pandemic began in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, and a U.S. intelligence report made public last week said the virus began either from a laboratory mishap in Wuhan or from a natural zoonotic leap from an animal to humans.

Chinese influence activities have gone largely unchallenged by the U.S. government despite the creation several years ago of the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, a unit in charge of countering foreign influence campaigns.

Exposure of nefarious Chinese influence operations in Australia, including the outing of a member of parliament linked to the Chinese military, led to new restrictions on Chinese activities in that nation.

Most of China’s influence activities are conducted under the direction of a Chinese Communist Party organ called the United Front Work Department. The activities are carried out by Chinese state media, diplomats and intelligence personnel.

The Senate version of the authorization bill has not been made public. A summary of the Senate version states that it will modify the Pentagon’s annual report on the Chinese military.

Both versions, however, would re-authorize the Pentagon to produce annual reports on China’s military.

To become effective, the House language on Chinese influence operations must survive a House-Senate conference committee that would reconcile the two versions after passage by both legislative bodies.

The House bill would mandate reports that assess Chinese influence operations and publicize a list of all Chinese state and non-state organizations involved in the operations.

The reports also would identify tactics, techniques and procedures used in previous influence operations.

Additionally, the reports would assess the impact of Chinese influence campaigns, including the views of senior Chinese government officials on the effectiveness of the operations.

The government also would be required under the bill to identify all U.S. military allies and partners that are targeted by the Chinese campaigns, both past and anticipated in the future.

The legislation also calls on the federal government to recommend authorities and activities for the Pentagon and the State Department to develop a strategy to counter the influence operations.

Other China-related elements of the House bill would require the federal government to report on Chinese activities in Latin America and the Caribbean; tighten security of printed circuit boards that could be penetrated electronically by Chinese agents; and state congressional support for the defense of Taiwan.

Both the House and Senate bills would fund the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, a $6.2 billion effort to bolster defenses in Asia.

Feds can’t keep Afghans from escaping U.S. bases: ‘They can leave at any time’

‘They can leave at any time’: Congressman expresses concern over unvetted Afghans at U.S. Army base

Rep. Tiffany says none of 2,000 Afghans at Wisconsin base were approved for special visa

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In this Oct. 24, 2013, file photo, then-state Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, speaks during a public hearing on Senate Bill 349 at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison. Mr. Tiffany, now a U.S. congressman representing Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District, told … more >

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By Stephen Dinan

The Washington Times

Saturday, August 28, 2021

There are 2,000 Afghans at Ft. McCoy in Wisconsin, and not a single one of them is a Special Immigrant Visa holder, according to a congressman who toured the base Friday and said he was dismayed by what he heard.

Rep. Tom Tiffany also said the Afghans are free to walk away from the base at any time — and some already have done so, embedding in American communities. The personnel at the base can try to “discourage” them, but if they want to leave, they have already been paroled into the county and there is no way to block them, the Republican congressman told The Washington Times.

“Those people, all 2,000 of them that are at Ft. McCoy, they can leave any time,” Mr. Tiffany said. So far, “only a couple” have done so, personnel at the base told him.

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American officials have sold the airlift to the public as a chance to rescue people who helped the U.S. in the 20-year war effort in Afghanistan.

The government has even created a program, the Special Immigrant Visa or SIV, specifically for them, asking that they submit to close vetting of their backgrounds and checks to make sure they really did provide significant assistance to Americans.

But none of those at Ft. McCoy were admitted on SIVs, Mr. Tiffany said.

“It’s a bait-and-switch,” he said.

Instead, the Afghans are being admitted under what’s known as parole, a power the Homeland Security secretary has to grant admission to the U.S. in exceptional humanitarian cases. Parole is supposed to be used on a case-by-case basis, and usually lasts one year, but Mr. Tiffany said those at Ft. McCoy have been granted two-year passes.

Parole isn’t supposed to earn access to welfare and other benefits, but it can bring a work permit, which carries some taxpayer benefits.

The Times has reached out to Homeland Security for comment on Mr. Tiffany’s revelations.

It’s not clear what sort of monitoring the government plans for the Afghans once they do leave base. Mr. Tiffany said State Department and Homeland Security employees were at the base, but gave no assurances about the government’s ability to keep tabs on people.

The Times had previously asked Homeland Security and the State Department about whether they had plans, or even the ability, to deport Afghans who end up here but don’t eventually qualify for an SIV or other immigrant status. Neither department has provided those answers.

Mr. Tiffany toured the base along with other Republicans in Wisconsin’s congressional delegation. He said they were told the base is about to get another 1,000 Afghans, and believes it has capacity for 10,000.

“They did not say this, the leadership at the fort, but I would expect they’re probably going to end up with 10,000 here very soon. I wouldn’t be surprised, if we continue to see a lot of Afghans come into the country, they’ll exceed the 10,000,” he said.

Officials at the base assured the lawmakers that the Afghans had been vetted, but the congressman said it wasn’t clear what that meant.

“We want to know what people’s history is, and I get the sense they’re just pushing these people through,” he said. “I think this is very similar to what is happening on the southern border, where they’re just saying ‘Come on in,’ and we’ll deal with the details later.”

The Biden administration had been counting on having months after the departure of U.S. troops to continue processing SIV applicants. But the speedy collapse of the Afghan government has forced the administration to improvise an evacuation strategy.

Plans to send Afghans to Guam, a U.S. territory, where they could be held until their cases were decided, never came to realization. Instead the government is bringing thousands to the continental U.S., and asking some third countries to take people as well.

There’s a real danger of admitting people who didn’t deserve it.

During the first three months of this year the government granted 137 SIVs to principal applicants, but denied 728 applications, marking an 84% rejection rate, most likely because applicants were overselling, or unable to prove, their assistance to the U.S. war effort.

Mr. Tiffany said there’s an even bigger danger lurking in the flood of people.

“I think it is incredibly naive to think ISIS, the Taliban or al Qaeda aren’t trying to embed people in the United States here who will be the next sleeper cell,” he said. “The worst thing that can happen is to have improperly vetted terrorists coming into our country and wreaking havoc here, after Americans gave so much over the last 20 years. There was enough damage done in Afghanistan, we don’t need to be importing terror into this country.”

Lawmakers, veterans step in to help Americans, Afghan allies escape Afghanistan

Lawmakers, veterans step in to help Americans, Afghan allies escape Afghanistan

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Hundreds of people gather near an evacuation control checkpoint during ongoing evacuations at Hamid Karzai International Airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2021. The Taliban wrested back control of Afghanistan nearly 20 years after they were ousted in a … more >

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By Joseph Clark

The Washington Times

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Lawmakers and veterans groups are working feverishly around the clock to help as many U.S. citizens and refugees as possible get out of Afghanistan before President Biden’s withdrawal deadline Tuesday.

Calls pour in from Americans frantically trying to make it through the chaos engulfing the Taliban-controlled country and to the Kabul airport, where twin bomb attacks Thursday killed dozens — including at least 13 U.S. service members — and further hampered people’s escape plans.

Rep. Michael Waltz, Florida Republican and a former Army Green Beret, said he and other lawmakers have devoted their entire staff to “connecting the dots and doing what needs to be done” to assist trapped Americans.

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“We’re having to fight through our own bureaucracy to help fellow Americans and to help those who stood with us,” he said. “Just think about that for a moment: how the private sector has had to mobilize to get this done because our government isn’t getting it done.”

The U.S. military controls only the perimeter of Hamid Karzai International Airport. Taliban checkpoints dot the city. Tens of thousands of people gather outside of the airport gates, grinding passage to a halt.

Every attempt to flee the city poses a substantial risk for U.S. citizens and Afghan refugees alike.

The Taliban have circled the Kabul airport. They were letting American citizens into the airport, but Afghan interpreters and others who worked alongside the U.S. military were being turned away, said Rep. Michael T. McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee.

“Sometimes, more grimly, they are returned to their homes where they behead their family and then behead them,” Mr. McCaul said.

Rep. Andy Kim, New Jersey Democrat and a former State Department diplomat who served as a civilian adviser in Afghanistan, said more than 6,000 people had reached out to his office for help in getting out of Afghanistan.

“I spent several hours this morning just trying to help several American citizens that are still trying to get to the airport, still trying to get help,” Mr. Kim said. 

Others trapped in Afghanistan turn to the Americans they knew during the war to lend a hand. As Afghanistan fell to the Taliban in mid-August, Afghan interpreters began making calls to former U.S. service members, pleading for help to get out.

Brandon Trent, a former Marine, said he received several calls like that.

“It is tough to ask a man to take his family at 2 in the morning through a crowd of 20,000 just to get them to the gate,” Mr. Trent said.

He said many of the interpreters would be met with beatings at Taliban checkpoints. It was common, he said, for the Taliban to confiscate the documents they needed to make it out of the country.

Mr. Trent and other former U.S. service members began coordinating efforts, exchanging tips and real-time guidance on how to navigate the Taliban checkpoints.

The mission became known as Digital Dunkirk and eventually grew into a network of several hundred former service members.

Dunkirk, a French seaport, was the site of a massive evacuation of British and allied troops during World War II, saving more than 200,000 troops from advancing German forces.

“Suddenly, you know, two people became four people became two or three nuclei of six or seven people who started joining up,” said Benjamin Bryant, a former Department of Defense civilian involved in the initiative. “You get a lot of people with a lot of trust with a lot in common, working day and night to get stuff done.”

While they have been able to get many to the airport and out of the country safely, those involved say they are nowhere near completing the job — much like their former colleagues who are still in uniform.

The U.S. evacuation effort at Kabul airport has flown nearly 100,000 people out since full-scale operations began on Aug. 14. At least 1,500 Americans remained in the country, the State Department said Wednesday.

The former military involved in helping Afghan allies said they don’t know how many of them are stuck in Kabul or elsewhere in the country. The number is in the tens of thousands.

“It’s mission first,” Mr. Bryant said. “And right now the mission is to facilitate the evacuation and extraction when necessary of as many people as possible.”

About 1,500 Americans stuck in Afghanistan, State Department says

About 1,500 Americans stuck in Afghanistan, State Department says

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In this image provided by the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Air Force loadmasters and pilots assigned to the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, load people being evacuated from Afghanistan onto a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III at Hamid Karzai International … more >

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By Ben Wolfgang

The Washington Times

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

About 1,500 Americans are likely still in Afghanistan with just days left until the Biden administration’s Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday, finally laying out a clear picture of the challenges that confront the U.S. rescue mission in Kabul.

Mr. Blinken said the State Department believes about 6,000 Americans were in Afghanistan on Aug. 14, when the U.S. evacuation effort began in earnest and a day before the Taliban overtook Kabul.  Since then, about 4,500 Americans have been flown out of the Kabul airport by a massive U.S.-led airlift operation.

But about 1,500 are left, Mr. Blinken said.

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“Over the last 24 hours, we’ve been in direct contact with approximately 500 additional Americans and provided specific instructions on how to get to the airport safely,” he said. “For the remaining roughly 1,000 contacts that we have who may be Americans seeking to leave Afghanistan, we are aggressively reaching out to them multiple times a day through multiple channels of communication — phone, email, text message — to determine whether they still want to leave and to get the most up-to-date information and instructions to them for how to do so.

“These are dynamic calculations that we are working hour by hour to refine for accuracy,” he said.

Team Biden unsure how many Americans need to be evacuated as deadline nears, lawmakers say

Team Biden unsure how many Americans need to be evacuated as deadline nears, lawmakers say

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In this image provided by the U.S. Marine Corps, families board a U.S. Air Force Boeing C-17 Globemaster III during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Aug. 23, 2021. (Sgt. Samuel Ruiz/U.S. Marine Corps via … more >

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By Joseph Clark

The Washington Times

Monday, August 23, 2021

Lawmakers say the Biden administration does not know how many Americans are left to evacuate from Afghanistan as it nears the end-of-month deadline for a full troop withdrawal.

The White House reported late Monday that the U.S. has evacuated approximately 48,000 people since full-scale evacuation efforts began from the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on Aug. 14.

But some lawmakers question whether the administration grasps the total number left to evacuate.  

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“I don’t think this administration knows, that’s part of the problem,” Rep. Mike Garcia, California Republican, told The Washington Times. “I think part of what they are trying to do right now is characterize how many people are on the ground. We’re actively filling out spreadsheets, as members of Congress, to help sort of funnel all this data up into one story for the State Department. But the short answer is they don’t know.”

Mr. Garcia said the administration has held several briefings for members of Congress and sends updates almost daily. He said the briefs have been unclassified, which he said may be part of the problem.

A classified briefing for lawmakers is scheduled for Tuesday, and Mr. Garcia said he hopes the administration will provide more detailed information in the classified setting.

Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama, ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, wrote in an opinion piece Monday for Fox News that the lack of detail coming from the administration is frustrating.

“So far, the Biden administration cannot tell Congress and the American people how many of our countrymen are in Afghanistan which leaves all of us frustrated,” Mr. Rogers wrote. “Worse, there is no plan to get our citizens to the Karzai Airport in Kabul. Instead, the Biden administration told them to travel at their own peril through Taliban-controlled streets.”

But even the numbers of total evacuees reported by the administration can be hard to follow, regardless of how many may remain in the country.

Politico reported Monday afternoon that an internal State Department situation report they obtained, which they said had received signoff from Secretary of State Antony Blinken, stated that a total of 25,091 individuals had been manifested on flights out of Kabul since the evacuation operation began Aug. 14.

Of those evacuated 4,293 were American citizens, 20,156 were Afghan nationals and 642 were from third countries. The report was time-stamped at 7:30 a.m Monday.

The situation report obtained by Politico indicates that the State Department contacted 1,000 U.S citizens believed to be in Afghanistan “to inform them to travel to the airport for processing.”

The report also stated that “a portion of them may be outside of Afghanistan.”

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters at approximately 2:37 p.m. Monday that 37,000 total individuals had been evacuated since Aug. 14, of which 10,400 had been evacuated in the past 24 hours.

The White House later told reporters that as of 3 p.m. the White House had evacuated approximately 48,000 individuals since Aug. 14, of which approximately 10,900 were evacuated between 3 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday.

The White House reporting did not indicate how many of those evacuated were American citizens. Mr. Sullivan said the count is not as straightforward as many expect.

“When Americans have come to Afghanistan over the years, we asked them to register with the embassy,” he said. “Many have left without de-registering; others never register at all. That is their right, of course. And it’s our responsibility to find them, which we are now doing hour by hour.”

A State Department spokesperson told The Washington Times that the administration continues moving thousands of people each day and that the constant flow of evacuees may cause minor disconnects between the numbers reported by agencies.

“There are going to be different numbers for a variety of reasons, including the exact time period for the data; whether we are looking at those manifested or processed into the airport or those who have actually departed; and whether we are including flights that may be operated by our coalition partners or going to destinations other than our designated transit points,” the spokesperson said.

Mr. Garcia said he still worries that the administration is not conveying the full picture.

“The overarching theme here is that we’re not getting the ground truth,” he said. “We’re not getting the real story of what’s going on. And then the Commander in Chief gets up there and starts talking about the fact that things are going smoothly when we know damn well, both within the perimeter of the airfield and, as well as outside of the perimeter of the airfield, it’s not going smoothly.”

The questions about how many Americans remain come as the Biden administration comes under growing pressure to withdraw all U.S. troops on Aug. 31.

Originally a deadline self-imposed by the Biden administration, the Taliban has now begun to threaten violence if the deadline is not met.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have begun to call on the administration to lift the deadline and continue working to evacuate U.S. citizens and Afghan allies until the mission is accomplished.

“An arbitrary deadline is not what guides us,” said Rep. Salud Carbajal, California Democrat and member of the bipartisan Caucus for Country at a press conference Monday.

“What guides what we do here is where we are able to accomplish the mission of getting everybody out of there safely. So today, I tell you, we as the United States need to honor our word, and make sure that we help get those people out, along with Americans,” he said.

Mr. Garcia said the deadline set by the White House further raises his suspicion of how the administration has handled the withdrawal.

“That’s literally painting us into a corner,” he said. “My suspicion and my worst fear is that we have made some sort of drug deal with the Taliban. And when [August] 31 comes and goes, we’re going to be in a more precarious position. And not knowing how many people to get out is a tall order right now, especially with so few days before [August] 31.”

Pentagon seeks to shift $400 million for Afghan refugee evacuations

Pentagon seeks to shift $400 million for Afghan refugee evacuations

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FILE – In this Monday, Aug. 16, 2021 file photo U.S. soldiers stand guard along the perimeter at the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. Hundreds of Western nationals and Afghan workers have been flown to safety since the Taliban reasserted … more >

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By Joseph Clark

The Washington Times

Updated: 4:59 p.m. on
Friday, August 20, 2021

The Pentagon has submitted a formal request to Congress to “reprogram” $400 million for Afghan refugee evacuation efforts.

The request comes amid a U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan thrown into chaos over recent weeks as the Taliban swiftly toppled the U.S.-backed Afghan government.

A spokesman for the House Armed Services Committee said the panel “has received and is in the process of reviewing the reprogramming request from the Department.” 

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The spokesman said Chairman Adam Smith, Washington Democrat, “has been following the developments in Afghanistan very closely and continues to believe that our current focus must be the rapid evacuation of U.S. personnel, Afghan nationals that have supported the military, as well as their families, and other Afghan nationals that may be in danger due to their work on humanitarian or human rights issues.”

“The committee will keep this priority in mind as the reprogramming request is evaluated,” he said.

The funds would be used for transportation and housing of refugees, according to Punchbowl News, which first reported the request Friday.

The Pentagon reported Friday that the military has flown approximately 13,000 evacuees out of Afghanistan since the start of noncombatant evacuation operations began on Aug. 14. The figure includes U.S. citizens, embassy personnel, and Special Immigrant Visa applicants.

The military has evacuated 18,000 people since July, according to the Pentagon.

Amid growing calls from lawmakers, the Biden administration announced Operation Allies Refuge last month, designed to relocate those who have applied for Special Immigrant Visas (SIV), a program for foreign nationals who assist the U.S. military and government, to countries outside of Afghanistan to await final approval to immigrate to the U.S.

The effort is coordinated by the State Department, with representatives from the Departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security also involved.

The State Department initially expected to relocate 2,500 Afghans through Operation Allies Refuge, including 700 principal SIV applicants and their families.

The State Department maintains a backlog of 18,000 SIV applicants, and close to 50,000 immediate family members. The backlog could take until next year to process.

In July, Congress approved more than $1 billion for the Afghan SIV program and refugee resettlement assistance divided between the Pentagon, State Department, and Health and Human Services as part of an emergency security supplemental to reimburse the Capitol Police and National Guard for their deployments during the Jan. 6 riot.

The $400 million request is in addition to the funds allocated in July.

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By Mike Glenn and Jeff Mordock

The Washington Times

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

President Biden said Wednesday that U.S. forces will stay in Afghanistan until all Americans are safely out, even if it means staying beyond the Aug. 31 deadline for a total withdrawal.

His comments in his first media interview since the Taliban took control of the country came just hours after Mr. Biden‘s defense secretary said the U.S. military lacks the capacity on its own to reach stranded U.S. citizens who can’t get to the Afghan capital’s only international airport.

The mixed messages were the latest sign that the Biden administration is in full improvisation mode as the insurgent Taliban cement their control of the country and thousands run a gauntlet of Taliban fighters to reach Kabul’s airport and try to secure a flight out.

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Pressed in an interview with ABC News on how long an emergency contingent of U.S. troops will stay in Afghanistan to manage the withdrawal, Mr. Biden said, “If there’s American citizens left, we’re going to stay till we get them all out.”

That message clashed with acknowledgments by the State Department and Defense Department that the U.S. has little practical way of ensuring safe passage for Americans — and their Afghan allies fleeing possible Taliban retribution — who have not made it to the airport compound and could soon find themselves trapped.

“We don’t have the capability to go out and collect large numbers of people,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told reporters in a briefing shortly before the Biden interview aired. “The forces that we have are focused on the security of the airfield. I don’t want to detract from that.”

Separately, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul sent an alert warning that the U.S. government can’t ensure safe passage for Americans who are not already inside the airport gates.

Amid another day of grim scenes of Afghans and Westerners desperately seeking access to the country’s only international airport, Pentagon officials said they didn’t know how many Americans might still be in Afghanistan and unable to access Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport, the only portal out for U.S. and allied governments scrambling to bring their nationals home.

“We have to make sure that we can not only secure the airfield but defend it as well,” Mr. Austin said. “There are a number of threats still in the environment.”

As he has before, Mr. Biden offered no apologies for his larger strategy of abruptly ending America’s longest war, arguing that the situation would be messy whenever the U.S. and its allies withdrew.

“The idea that somehow there’s a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing, I don’t know how that happens,” the president said. “I don’t know how that happened.”

Pentagon officials said the airport is firmly under the control of about 4,500 U.S. combat troops, who have set up defensive positions there in the past few days, an American island surrounded by a sea of Taliban fighters. But some evacuees have been unable to pass through the tight cordon the Taliban have placed around it.

In one of the most surprising developments of the 20-year war in Afghanistan, the Taliban have become something of a partner in ensuring the speedy evacuation of American citizens from the country. Military commanders and State Department officials at the airport are in regular contact with senior Taliban fighters outside the perimeter.

“The Taliban are in and around Kabul right now, but they are not interfering with our operations” at the airport, said Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “The Taliban are facilitating the safe passage to the airport for American citizens — U.S. passport holders.”

Within hours, 18 Air Force C-17 cargo jets lifted off from the airport with about 2,000 passengers, of which 325 were U.S. citizens. The remaining numbers were Afghan civilians and some NATO personnel, officials said.

About 5,000 people have been safely evacuated from Afghanistan since the complete collapse of the U.S.-trained and -equipped Afghan military. About 20 C-17s are taking off every day, and that number is expected to increase, Pentagon officials said.

Military troops and consular officials are manning the gates leading to the airport and processing 120 to 130 people every hour. “Right now, there’s a steady flow of people. As it goes on, those numbers will continue to grow,” Gen. Milley said.

Navy Rear Adm. Peter G. Vasely, commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan-Forward, is on the ground and in overall command at the airport. Mr. Austin said he is in daily contact with U.S. commanders there to ensure they have everything needed for the mission to succeed.

“All this is very personal for me. This is a war that I’ve fought in and led,” Mr. Austin said. “I know the country, I know the people and I know those who fought alongside me. I feel the urgency deeply.”

Analyzing the disaster

Gen. Milley said there will be ample opportunity for an in-depth analysis of what went wrong in Afghanistan but with U.S. combat troops working to evacuate thousands of terrified Americans and pro-U.S. Afghan civilians from a country firmly under Taliban control, now is not the time.

“This needs to be our focus. Our mission is to secure [the airport], defend that airfield, and evacuate all those who have been faithful to us,” Gen. Milley told reporters.

Asked about the Taliban‘s lightning-quick victory and the failure of the Kabul government to put up resistance without U.S. and allied backing, Gen. Milley said the intelligence reports he was privy to indicated multiple scenarios were possible: a negotiated settlement among all parties; a protracted civil war; and an outright Taliban victory after a collapse of the Afghan government and military. The time frame for a Taliban victory ranged from weeks to months to years after the U.S. withdrawal, Gen. Milley said.

“Nothing I or anyone else saw indicated a collapse of [the Afghan] army and the government in 11 days,” he said. “But right now we have to focus on this mission because we have soldiers at risk.”

Mr. Biden has bluntly faulted the Kabul government and Afghanistan‘s security forces, which the U.S. spent 20 years building, equipping and training, for the rout, saying he and his advisers were caught off guard by the swift Taliban triumph. Gen. Milley said he always said the country’s forces had the capacity, the training and the capability to defend their country.

“This comes down to an issue of leadership,” he said.

That has not spared the White House and the Pentagon from searing bipartisan criticism from Congress on how this month’s events have played out in Afghanistan. Multiple hearings have been scheduled to look into the weak performance of the Afghan troops, the cost to the U.S. military, and why U.S. and allied leaders were blindsided by what unfolded.

Pentagon officials said they opted to close the larger and more secure Bagram Air Base and rely on the civilian airport, smaller and with only a single runway because their mission was to protect the U.S. Embassy. Securing Bagram would have required a larger number of troops.

Mr. Austin and Gen. Milley declined to address the aircraft, vehicles and firepower provided to the Afghan military now in the hands of the Taliban. But Pentagon officials have said there are options on the table, including destroying any that can be located.

On Tuesday, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the Biden administration doesn’t have a “complete picture” of where every article of defense materials, including several Black Hawk helicopters, have gone.

“Those Black Hawks were not given to the Taliban. They were given to the Afghan National Security Forces to be able to defend themselves — at the specific request of [former Afghan President Ashraf] Ghani,” Mr. Sullivan said. “The president had a choice. He could not give it to them with the risk that it would fall into the Taliban’s hands eventually or he could give to them with the hope that they could deploy it in service of defending their country.

“Both of those options had risks. He had to choose, and he made a choice,” Mr. Sullivan said.

As the evacuation continues and the Taliban solidify their hold on power in Afghanistan, Mr. Austin said, there will be difficult days ahead for those who fought in Afghanistan over the past two decades.

“Afghan vets are not some monolith. I’m hearing strong views from all sides on this issue,” Mr. Austin said. “Each of us will work our way through this in our own way. We need to give one another the time and space to help do it.”

Rush to approve Afghan visas poses serious risks

Rush to approve Afghan visas poses serious risks

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U.S soldiers stand guard along a perimeter at the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021. On Monday, the U.S. military and officials focus was on Kabul’s airport, where thousands of Afghans trapped by the sudden Taliban takeover … more >

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By Stephen Dinan

The Washington Times

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

The Biden administration is rushing to build an immigration system that will decide who gets to stay in the U.S. after promising to airlift tens of thousands of Afghan citizens out of their home country.

But there were more questions than answers Tuesday. Officials were unable to say how many Afghans they thought would qualify for evacuation, how many they could airlift out of the country over the two weeks before the full withdrawal of U.S. troops and what would happen to the Afghans upon arrival to America.

Neither the Department of Homeland Security nor the State Department would say whether the Afghans would be held in custody until their cases are decided or released into communities, and neither department would say whether those who lose their cases for special visas will be deported.

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Democrats to hold hearings on Biden's mishandling of Afghan collapse, evacuation

It’s a serious risk.

According to the latest data from the two departments, the government denied 84% of Afghan applications for the Special Immigrant Visa that were decided during the first three months of the year. The visa is designed to help translators, guides and others who assisted the U.S. war and nation-building efforts.

“The SIV program is in chaos, just like the rest of the Biden administration‘s handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal,” said Jessica Vaughan, policy studies director at the Center for Immigration Studies. “Their plan to just bring people into the United States, plop them onto active military bases and sort it all out later is a terrible one. Anyone can see that.”

She said the visa program was already rife with fraud when it was being run normally, with applications filed from Afghanistan and a full embassy staff in the country that was able to check applicants’ stories. Trying to do that from the U.S., with no embassy staff in Afghanistan and without a cooperative government in place, becomes almost impossible, experts said.

Yet the effort is underway.

The Biden administration said it has carved out space at three military bases to house and process about 22,000 people. It is also pleading with other countries to take in fleeing Afghans, at least temporarily.

In addition to the Special Immigrant Visa for those who directly assisted the U.S., the State Department has designated other Afghans as priorities for refugee resettlement.

The State Department wouldn’t talk numbers Tuesday. It rebuffed inquiries about how many people deserve evacuation or how many the U.S. government can process and evacuate. But the department signaled optimism about what it can do.

“We are going to do and we are doing as much as we can for as long as we can,” said department spokesman Ned Price.

Mr. Price said the U.S. is expanding its aperture for people it wants to fly out to include not just Afghans who assisted America’s war and nation-building efforts but also those who helped media outlets or worked with nongovernmental organizations to build their country’s civil society.

He was asked repeatedly whether being a woman or girl was enough to qualify for evacuation, given the Taliban’s record. Mr. Price did not give a direct answer.

The State Department takes the lead on Special Immigrant Visas and refugee processing, though the Department of Homeland Security plays a role from its legal immigration agency, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

USCIS sent out pleas this week for employees to volunteer to deploy to the military bases where Afghans will be arriving so they can help process and judge applications.

Deployments begin Wednesday and can last up to 60 days, according to one email request reviewed by The Washington Times. Tasks include performing background checks, collecting and ruling on applications, checking fingerprints and issuing work permits.

Homeland Security said it also has dedicated some employees from Customs and Border Protection to help process applications.

USCIS is already strained with a massive backlog of cases, and CBP is dealing with the unprecedented surge of illegal immigration at the border. Experts said taking staff away from those missions will hurt the agencies down the road.

Ms. Vaughan also said state and local governments will end up bearing the costs of support services, education and health care.

“Though the numbers seem small relative to illegal immigration and other legal admissions programs, the security risks, processing logistics and population needs are large and will be a big headache for everyone involved for years to come,” she said.

RJ Hauman, head of government relations at the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said he expects immigrant rights groups to argue strenuously that Afghans should be released when they arrive and await the outcomes of their cases while living in American communities.

“This is a national security disaster waiting to happen,” he said.

Even more troubling, he said, is the push to expand the scope of those the U.S. will evacuate. What started as a call to get America’s allies, those who assisted the U.S. war and nation-building efforts, has quickly become a demand to airlift Afghan journalists, human rights activists, academics and in some cases any woman or girl who faces a rougher life under the Taliban.

Mr. Hauman said that would be a “colossal mistake,” particularly given how the Biden administration has handled immigration issues during the first seven months of its tenure.

“Refugee flows are best handled in countries closer to the conflict,” he said. “We need to create workable regional solutions and only resettle some Afghans as a last resort within reasonable numerical limits and in adherence to current law.”

The government is tightlipped about what screening of Special Immigrant Visa applicants looks like, but officials insist it is robust.

The track record is less convincing.

Analysts said the risk of a terrorist slipping through the system is not hypothetical. Refugees from Middle Eastern countries have been charged with terrorism offenses over the past decade, including the 2019 arrest of a Syrian refugee accused of plotting to bomb a Pittsburgh church.

State Department officials have acknowledged the national security concerns with the Special Immigrant Visa program but say they are taking steps to minimize the risks.

Among Iraqi refugees, including people who assisted the U.S. war effort, authorities suspected at least 4,000 filed bogus applications, Reuters reported this year. Officials were reexamining more than 104,000 other cases. 

The Biden administration suspended the Iraqi preference program after federal investigators announced they had broken up a fraud ring that had stolen hundreds of applicants’ files.

Two of the people implicated were foreigners who worked for USCIS. They were apparently culling the files to see what sorts of applications were approved and which ones were rejected and then used that information to help others craft their applications.

Special Immigrant Visa denial rates shot up for Afghans in the wake of that investigation.

From January through March, the U.S. government issued 137 visas to principal applicants. It denied 728 principal applications, amounting to an 84% rejection rate.

Those who are denied because their service isn’t deemed to meet the bar for a Special Immigrant Visa can appeal. The State Department said 713 appeals were filed during those three months, and 601 were denied.

A State Department spokesperson said Tuesday that those who lose their appeals can reapply. Still, the rejection rate suggests the vast majority of people applying for the Special Immigrant Visa don’t qualify.

Ms. Vaughan said she expects a “get to yes” mentality will prevail and most applications will be rubber-stamped. Some will be delayed, she said, but those will end up in court battles and it will be difficult to find places to send those who lose their cases.

“This is going to be a festering problem for years,” she said.

Joe Biden taps emergency funds to try to help Afghans flee

Biden taps emergency funds to try to help Afghans flee

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President Joe Biden speaks about Afghanistan from the East Room of the White House, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) more >

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By Stephen Dinan

The Washington Times

Monday, August 16, 2021

President Biden directed the State Department on Monday to tap into emergency money to help speed up processing of Afghans who risked their lives to assist the U.S. war effort, saying an additional $500 million is needed to handle the surge of people.

The move comes after the stunning collapse of Afghanistan’s government, cutting short the time American authorities thought they had to vet and welcome tens of thousands of refugees. Now the Biden administration is engaged in a crash effort to get as many people out before the last U.S. troops leave on Aug. 31.

Mr. Biden said the money is needed to meet “unexpected urgent refugee and migration needs of refugees, victims of conflict, and other persons at risk as a result of the situation in Afghanistan, including applicants for Special Immigrant Visas.”

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Mr. Biden said in a White House memo to the State Department that the money can be shipped to other departments or transferred to nongovernmental organizations to help out.

The Special Immigrant Visa, or SIV, is available to translators, guides and others who assisted the U.S. in the war and nation-building operations in Afghanistan over the last two decades.

Groups involved in trying to protect the Afghan allies say about 20,000 allies, along with 50,000 of their spouses and children, are waiting in the queue to come.

U.S. officials said Monday that they believe they have capacity to handle slightly more than 20,000.

Pentagon sends troops to Afghanistan to evacuate U.S. Embassy as Taliban surges

Pentagon braces for Kabul to fall to Taliban, sends thousands of troops to evacuate U.S. Embassy

Lightning Taliban blitz claims Herat, country's third-largest city

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The Taliban delegation arrives for Afghan peace talks in Doha, Qatar, Thursday, Aug.12, 2021. (AP Photo/Hussein Sayed) more >

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By Ben Wolfgang

The Washington Times

Thursday, August 12, 2021

The Pentagon is sending thousands of fresh troops to Afghanistan to help evacuate personnel from the American embassy in Kabul, Biden administration officials said Thursday.

The dramatic move underscores growing concern that the insurgent Taliban could mount an assault on Kabul, the nation’s capital, within just a matter of weeks. Such an attack — which appears more likely by the day as the Taliban rapidly capture territory across the country — could put U.S. diplomatic personnel in serious jeopardy.

Herat, Afghanistan‘s third-largest city, on Thursday became the latest provincial capital to fall under the radical Islamist insurgency’s control, with the troops of the U.S.-backed Kabul government showing little ability or will to hold off the insurgent advances so far.

SEE ALSO: ‘Not acceptable’: Trump slams Biden’s handling of U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan

Thursday’s announcement temporarily upends Mr. Biden’s plan for a full military withdrawal from Afghanistan. It’s also a preemptive move aimed at preventing a nightmare scenario in which U.S. personnel are frantically airlifted out of Kabul while enemy fighters descend on the complex.

U.S. reinforcements will begin arriving almost immediately. Within the next two days, about 3,000 troops will fly into Afghanistan to assist with the evacuation of American personnel, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby told reporters. The deployment will consist of two Marine infantry battalions and one Army battalion.

Those 3,000 troops will join about 650 American personnel already in Kabul to guard the U.S. Embassy and to protect the city’s strategically vital international airport.

SEE ALSO: Taliban continues their blitz across Afghanistan

Within the next several days, Mr. Kirby said, another 1,000 troops will be dispatched to Afghanistan to expedite the evacuation of Afghans who worked with the U.S. as interpreters and in other key roles over the past two decades. It’s not yet clear where they’ll go. Mr. Kirby said the Defense Department will “be looking at locations overseas” and U.S. military bases at home.

Another infantry brigade will soon fly to Kuwait and be on standby, officials said, in the event that even more security is needed at the Kabul airport.

“These forces are being deployed to support the orderly and safe reduction of civilian personnel” from Afghanistan, Mr. Kirby said. “This is a temporary mission with a narrow focus.”

Mr. Kirby also warned the Taliban not to target those troops.

“Any attack on them can and will be met with a forceful and an appropriate response,” he said.

At the State Department, officials said the U.S. will reduce its diplomatic footprint as much as possible. The U.S. Embassy in Kabul issued another warning on Thursday urging Americans still in the country to get out immediately.

“We expect to draw down to a core diplomatic presence in Afghanistan in the coming weeks,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters.

Mr. Price did not offer specific figures on how many diplomats might be left at the embassy. The U.S. also reportedly is considering a plan to move virtually all of its embassy personnel to the Kabul airport, where emergency evacuations could be conducted much more quickly and where the security situation likely will be more stable.

Thursday’s announcements come against the grim backdrop of a Taliban takeover in Afghanistan that is unfolding faster than virtually anyone anticipated.

The Taliban over the past six days has captured at least 11 provincial capitals across Afghanistan. The insurgent group on Thursday also seized Ghazni, a city less than 100 miles from Kabul.

‘Complete, utter failure’: Frustration with Afghan army boils over as Taliban take 2 more provinces

‘Complete, utter failure’: Frustration with Afghan army boils over as Taliban take 2 more provinces

Biden dispatches diplomats to meet with Taliban, Pentagon warns U.S. airstrikes won't last forever

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An Afghan army soldier stands guard on the outskirts of Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Mirwais Bezhan) more >

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By Ben Wolfgang

The Washington Times

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

The Taliban captured its seventh and eighth provincial capitals on Tuesday as top U.S. lawmakers blasted the Afghan army’s “complete, utter failure” on the battlefield, underscoring the mounting frustration in Washington as Afghanistan unravels and the possibility of a full takeover by the radical Islamist insurgency grows.

In its latest effort to halt insurgent momentum, the Biden administration dispatched its special Afghan envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, to meet with Taliban leaders in Qatar and stress that the U.S. and its allies won’t recognize a Taliban-led government established through violence. The last-minute trip by Mr. Khalilzad, the veteran Afghan-born diplomat who negotiated the original U.S. troop withdrawal deal with the Taliban in early 2020, is more proof of the growing alarm inside the White House, State Department and Pentagon, as the exit of foreign troops has led directly to a wave of Taliban victories and demoralizing defeats for Afghan government troops.

The southwest provincial capital of Farah fell early Tuesday and was quickly followed by Pul-e-Khumri, capital of the northern province of Baghlan. They mark the seventh and eighth provincial capitals to come under full or partial control of Taliban forces over just the past five days. The Taliban‘s battlefield gains coincide with the full withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops from Afghanistan, which will be complete by the end of the month.

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Officials in Farah said Afghan troops are still battling insurgents but that the Taliban has captured key sites across the city.

“This afternoon the Taliban entered the city of Farah after briefly fighting with the security forces. They have captured the governor’s office and police headquarters,” said Shahla Abubar, a member of Farah’s provincial council, according to Agence France-Presse.

In addition to Farah and Pul-e-Khumri, the Taliban since last Friday also has fully or partially seized the provincial capitals of Aibak, Kunduz, Sar-e-Pul, Taloqan, Zaranj, and Sheberghan. Eight of the country’s 34 provincial capitals are now in Taliban hands.

European Union officials estimated Tuesday that the group controls roughly 65% of the entire country.

In capturing so much territory so quickly, the Taliban has steamrolled over Afghan defense forces that have been trained, equipped and advised by top U.S. military leaders for the better part of two decades. The Afghan military has its own air force, unlike the Taliban, and is presumably much better organized.

Still, the Afghan military has relied heavily on American air power to aid in the fight and appears unable to hold even urban centers on the periphery of the Kabul government’s control.

The Pentagon on Tuesday confirmed that U.S. airstrikes against Taliban targets have continued over “the last few days” in a last-ditch effort to slow the group’s advance on major urban centers. It’s generally believed that the Taliban would have captured even more ground without those American airstrikes.

But the Afghan military can’t rely on those U.S. airstrikes forever. Defense Department officials say the strikes will become much more logistically difficult and may face new legal and technical hurdles when the American military mission formally ends Aug. 31.

“We have the authorities to conduct airstrikes in support of Afghan national defense and security forces through the end of the drawdown. … I won’t speculate about authorities beyond that,” Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby told reporters Tuesday. “We will conduct these strikes where and when feasible with the full understanding that as we continue the drawdown, … the where and the when in terms of feasibility of these strikes is going to be different, and it’s going to decline.”

Moving forward, Mr. Kirby stressed that “it’s really going to come down to the leadership and the will” of Afghan military and political leaders on the ground.

‘A failed 20-year strategy’

Back in Washington, however, some of Mr. Biden’s top allies have all but given up on the Afghan military. They say that the collapse of Afghan forces should provide confirmation that the president’s decision to get out of Afghanistan was the correct one.

“The Taliban‘s surge is actually a reason to stick to the withdrawal plan,” Sen. Chris Murphy, Connecticut Democrat, said in a chamber floor speech on Tuesday. “Because the complete, utter failure of the Afghan national army, absent our hand-holding, to defend their country is a blistering indictment of a failed twenty-year strategy predicated on the belief that billions of U.S taxpayer dollars could create an effective, democratic central government in a nation that has never had one.”

“Staying one more year in Afghanistan means we stay forever, because if 20 years of laborious training and equipping of the Afghan security forces had this little impact on their ability to fight, then another 50 years wouldn’t change anything,” said Mr. Murphy.

But Mr. Biden is also taking flak from some analysts and some retired military figures who say the precipitate troop withdrawal left the Afghan army exposed to a multi-front Taliban advance, one that could topple democratic rule in the country, create an opening for terror groups such as al Qaeda, and reverse two decades of social and political progress since the Taliban were last in power.

“The depressing news of rapid Taliban gains in Afghanistan lays bare the stakes of the future of the U.S. mission in that country, and the consequences of the premature and ill-conceived unconditional withdrawal of U.S. support,” wrote Irfan Nooruddin, director of the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center, in an analysis Tuesday.

“As difficult as it will be for the Taliban to establish sole control over all of Afghanistan, it is even less conceivable to imagine now a scenario in which the Taliban is defeated militarily by the Afghanistan forces,” he added. “Any future therefore involves accepting Taliban control over large swaths of territory or a return to all-out civil war.”

Mr. Biden’s decision to pull out of Afghanistan followed along the path set out by former President Trump and Mr. Khalilzad, who struck a deal with the Taliban in February 2020 that called for the U.S. withdrawal in exchange for security guarantees from the Taliban.

In addition to the withdrawal of 3,500 U.S. troops, thousands more NATO forces also are exiting the country.

At the same time, the White House is doubling down on its diplomatic engagement with the Taliban.

Mr. Khalilzad, who was kept on as special envoy when Mr. Biden became president, arrived in Doha, Qatar, on Tuesday and met with Taliban representatives. The State Department said the meeting was designed to “help formulate a joint international response to the rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan.”

Mr. Khalilzad‘s mission also was to “press the Taliban to stop their military offensive and to negotiate a political settlement, which is the only path to stability and development in Afghanistan,” the State Department said in a statement.

The U.S. diplomat warned the Taliban leadership that if they mount a military offensive and seize the capital, Kabul, by force, such a victory will not be internationally recognized. A Taliban-led government, he said, would face near-total isolation from the global community and, crucially, be cut off from international development and aid money to rebuild the shattered country..

There are at least some signs that the Taliban wants to avoid such isolation and seeks to be seen as a legitimate, humane governing body. On Tuesday, for example, top Taliban military commanders released an audiotape ordering fighters to not harm Afghan troops and government officials who surrender.

The audio message from Mohammad Yaqoob, son of late Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, also instructed insurgent fighters to keep open local businesses and markets. Such moves could indicate that the Taliban is looking to maintain at least some level of goodwill with local populations.

But the Taliban so far has given little indication they are prepared to slow its military advance. Most foreign analysts and regional observers generally agree that the group will continue its assault with a view toward gaining even more leverage during cease-fire negotiations with the U.S.-backed Afghan government.

Conservative group files lawsuit for records of diplomats subjected to COVID-19 anal swab tests

China subjected US diplomats to anal swabs to test for COVID-19, conservative group says in lawsuit

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By Shen Wu Tan

The Washington Times

Friday, August 6, 2021

A conservative group on Friday said it filed a lawsuit against the State Department to obtain records of U.S. diplomats who were forced to undergo “invasive COVID-19 anal swab tests” by the Chinese government. 

Judicial Watch said it filed the lawsuit because the State Department did not respond to a June 18 Freedom of Information Act request for the records. The request asked for all non-identifying records of U.S. diplomats stationed in or trying to enter China who were subjected to the tests. The group also wants all communications and complaints about the testing. 

Media reports about U.S. diplomats being subjected to anal swab testing for the coronavirus by Chinese officials emerged in February. 

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“Our diplomatic personnel were abused in a reprehensible way by the Chinese, and the Biden administration seems to have done little in response – except to cover it up,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton in a statement.

The State Department told The Hill in February that Chinese officials mistakenly forced the diplomats to take anal swab tests, while Beijing denied conducting the tests. A spokesperson told the news site that the State Department “never agreed” to the tests and protested to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs after receiving complaints from staff. 

“As a matter of practice, we do not comment on pending litigation,” a State Department spokesperson told The Washington Times. 

Afghan losses, Haiti killing spark new questions about U.S. foreign military training

Afghan losses, Haiti killing spark new questions about U.S. foreign military training

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Newly Afghan Army Special forces attend their graduation ceremony after a three-month training program at the Kabul Military Training Centre (KMTC) in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, July 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul) more >

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By Ben Wolfgang

The Washington Times

Thursday, July 22, 2021

The Pentagon has invested two decades of time and untold manpower to train Afghan security forces, while American taxpayers have spent tens of billions of dollars providing direct financial assistance and military equipment for the effort.

The radical Islamist Taliban insurgents have gotten no such help, yet the two sides currently control about the same number of districts across Afghanistan, with the Taliban poised to capture even more territory as their fighters encircle provincial capitals and the U.S. completes its military withdrawal.

That troubling reality, critics say, is the latest example of the flawed premise that undergirds a massive, multi-agency program to train and equip foreign military forces all around the world. Despite a noble intent, it’s proven virtually impossible to transfer American warfighting spirit and skill to foreign troops, even if they’re provided with much of the same equipment, given similar instruction, and put through nearly identical physical regimens.

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Beyond the questionable battlefield results seen in Afghanistan and Iraq, U.S. foreign military training occasionally rears its head elsewhere for the wrong reasons. For example, at least six of the ex-Colombian soldiers involved in this month’s assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise reportedly received U.S. military training as part of Washington’s support for Latin America’s drug war.

State Department officials say it’s unfair to blame U.S. training programs for the actions a handful of foreign soldiers might take years down the road. And there certainly have been plenty of high-profile instances in which U.S. service members themselves commit violent crimes using some of the tactics they learned in military training.

But specialists argue that on the whole, programs for foreign militaries simply don’t produce the promised results and in many cases create far more problems than they solve.

“No one really examines the fundamental question, which is really important: How does this advance American national security? We’ve been doing it for so long, but what’s the payoff?” said retired Army Lt. Col. Daniel Davis, a senior fellow at the Washington foreign policy think tank Defense Priorities who worked on a military team that trained Iraqi forces after the 2003 U.S. invasion.

“My personal experience? I saw literally no difference” in the foreign troops before or after U.S. training, he said. “From the time we got there to the time we left, it was like kids in a summer camp. … It was adventure training. They weren’t taking it seriously.”

“It doesn’t work, so it needs to just stop because it’s a complete waste of time and money,” he said.

‘The capacity to fight’

The U.S. spent vast amounts of money training Iraqi security forces, but huge swaths of the country still fell under Islamic State control after a major drawdown of American forces a decade ago under President Obama. The Pentagon also launched a nearly $500 million program to train Syrian rebels to battle ISIS fighters. The program produced its first batch of 54 graduates in 2015, but Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin — then serving as the head of U.S. Central Command — admitted to Congress at the time that only “four or five” of those individuals had actually remained on the battlefield when the fighting began.

In Afghanistan, the price tag has been dramatically higher. Since the U.S. invasion in October 2001, at least $88 billion has directly been spent on training, equipping and funding Afghan military and police forces, according to figures compiled by the Associated Press. Allied governments have also set up extensive training programs for Afghan security personnel to complement the American effort.

The real dollar figure is likely much more and the costs will continue even as the U.S. exits. Hundreds of thousands of Afghan security forces have taken part in the training.

Nevertheless, the Taliban have scored major victories over Afghan security forces in recent months, amid reports some regular Afghan troops simply abandoned their posts and ceded U.S.-supplied weaponry and supplies to the advancing Taliban forces.

Pentagon leaders stand by the U.S. training efforts, arguing the fight for the future of Afghanistan is far from over. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark A. Milley told reporters Wednesday that the Afghan troops should be ready to defend their country.

“The Afghan security forces have the capacity to sufficiently fight and defend their country. And we will continue to support the Afghan security forces where necessary,” Gen. Milley said. “The future of Afghanistan is squarely in the hands of the Afghan people.” 

Afghan security forces so far have kept the Taliban from overrunning any provincial capitals, but many of those key population centers are surrounded by insurgent fighters. It’s widely expected that after the U.S. withdrawal is fully completed, the Taliban will launch a major, multi-pronged offensive targeting those cities, and many foreign policy analysts believe much of the country will fall to the insurgents.

Despite Gen. Milley’s insistence that the Afghan forces are prepared to fight on their own, Pentagon officials confirmed Thursday that the U.S. in recent days launched a series of airstrikes against Taliban targets. A defense official told the Associated Press that at least two of the airstrikes targeted artillery and vehicles that the Taliban captured from Afghan forces.

It’s unclear whether that equipment had been provided by the U.S.

Tightening protocols

Foreign training efforts in longstanding war zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan receive the lion’s share of attention, but U.S. programs extend to virtually all corners of the world. 

In fiscal year 2018, at least 62,700 students from 155 countries took part in U.S. training programs at a cost of $776.3 million, according to the most recent State Department report on the subject. In 2020, the Defense Department reportedly trained at least 31,000 foreign military students, in addition to having military advisers in more than a dozen foreign nations.

In more recent years, some of these foreign-based trainees have found themselves caught in the middle of major geopolitical disputes. In 2019, for example, the U.S. sent home Turkish students who were in America learning to fly the F-35 fighter jet. The U.S. kicked Turkey out of the lucrative program after Ankara bought the Russian-made S-400 missile system.

In other instances, military training programs have been connected to tragedy. Saudi aviation student Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani in 2019 opened fire at Florida’s Naval Air Station Pensacola, killing three people and wounding eight others. The incident sparked an outcry on Capitol Hill and led to a full-scale Pentagon review of all foreign military training programs.

Additional screening protocols are now in place before foreign military students can study at U.S. facilities.

But that was hardly the first time U.S. policymakers put new rules on foreign training programs. In the late 1990s, Congress tightened up foreign military training with the so-called “Leahy Law,” named after  Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont. The law put new limits on which countries could work with the U.S. and prohibited nations with track records of human-rights abuses from receiving the training. 

The legislation was specifically aimed at training for Latin American countries. Colombian forces, for example, have received a great deal of U.S. military training dating back decades.

Last week, U.S. officials confirmed that at least six ex-Colombian soldiers who had gotten American training were involved in the assassination of the Haitian president. Biden administration officials say there’s no indication that the U.S. assistance directly contributed to the events in Haiti.

“In accordance with U.S. law, we vet all individuals who attend U.S.-funded training based on available information and assess the proposed training against the background of the units and individuals involved, the context in which the training is sought, and U.S. national security interests,” a State Department spokesperson told The Washington Times. “The actions an individual may take years or decades after attending a course is beyond the U.S. government’s ability to predict.”

“With regards to these specific individuals, we do not believe there is any nexus between the U.S.-provided training they received in the past and their alleged actions in Haiti,” the spokesperson said. “On the contrary, all U.S. training emphasizes the importance of the rule of law and respect for human rights.”

‘I’m waiting for my number’: Time running out for Afghan allies caught in U.S. evacuation snare

‘I’m waiting for my number’: Time running out for Afghan allies caught in U.S. evacuation snare

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In this Friday, April 30, 2021, photo former Afghan interpreters hold placards during a protest against the U.S. government and NATO in Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib) more >

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By Joseph Clark

The Washington Times

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Sayed, an Afghani who served as an interpreter for the U.S. military, always pauses before opening email from the State Department about his efforts to evacuate himself and his family from Kabul.

First, he prays. Since the U.S. military began its withdrawal from Afghanistan, hostile Taliban forces are moving steadily closer to the city.

“I’m waiting for my number,” Sayed (not his real name) told The Washington Times in a Facebook interview. “When I will get shot, when I will get killed? I don’t know. But I am waiting for that.”

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An interpreter for eight years who also worked as a contractor for the Afghan military, Sayed was initially approved for a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) in 2019 to come to the U.S. Among the documentation Sayed used to prove his service to the U.S. military was a certificate of appreciation signed by then-Col. Mark Milley, now a general and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“[Sayed] is in keeping with the finest traditions of the United States of America’s Department of Defense, the Afghan Ministry of Defense, and the Islamic Transitional Government of Afghanistan,” states a certificate signed in 2003 by then-Col. Milley, who was in charge of a camp Sayed worked at early in the war.

But in May, the U.S. embassy in Kabul withdrew its approval, alleging Sayed’s “lack of faithful and valuable service.” The news was devastating.

Sayed said he hasn’t been told of any specific allegations against him. The Washington Times is concealing his identity to shield him from possible retribution by the Taliban.

Gen. Milley did not comment on Sayed’s case specifically, although people involved in the SIV process described the certificate that he signed for Sayed as routine.

Gen. Milley has been outspoken about the need to ensure the safety of Afghan enablers, saying that it is a “moral imperative” for the U.S. to “take care of those that have worked closely with us.”

Sayed is one of 726 applicants whose visa requests were denied or revoked in the second quarter of this fiscal year. The Biden administration is moving amid heavy criticism to address a backlog of about 18,000 applicants and announced that 700 Afghanis who have been cleared to emigrate to the U.S. will be relocated to Fort Lee, Virginia, ultimately with 1,800 of their relatives.

Kim Staffieri, the founder of the Association of Wartime Allies, is advocating for Sayed and other Afghanis whose lives are in danger and need visas. She said time is running out for them, and appeals of their visa rejections could take years through the normal bureaucratic process.

“It’s often like starting the process all over again,” she said.

Ms. Staffieri speaks with Sayed daily and receives calls from others in his situation day and night. The calls, she said, are increasing as the U.S. military drawdown accelerates.

“It’s intense,” she said. “And relentless. I’m always waiting for their voice to go silent. That’s rough.”

Former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan Ryan Crocker said making revisions to the SIV approval process is important, but too slow to help those who are trapped in Afghanistan.

“It isn’t going to help now,” Mr. Crocker said at a recent panel discussion on the problem. “We have got to resort to emergency measures. We need to drop requirements for all 14 or 13 boxes to have been checked. We need to get these people to safety and then sort it out.”

Lawmakers welcomed the administration’s announcement about relocating some applicants to Fort Lee, but some of them fear the notoriously cumbersome visa process will continue to stymie efforts to get the remaining applicants to safety if left unaddressed.

“While this announcement is a positive step towards getting some SIV applicants to safety, the lack of a plan for the remaining SIV applicants still waiting to complete the vetting process is deeply concerning,” said Rep. Michael T. McCaul, the top Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee. “This has been an extremely haphazard withdrawal from the beginning, and the Biden administration’s inability to provide a detailed strategy on how they will support and protect our remaining Afghan partners is unacceptable.”

The House and the Senate have proposed legislation to streamline the process and increase the number of visas available through the SIV program. But with an approval process that takes an average of 703 days, and a situation on the ground that is becoming less stable by the day, the U.S. is working against the clock.

“This is a real crisis situation,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire Democrat, said during the panel discussion last week hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “And so we’ve got to be creative about how we address it and recognize that the bureaucracy may have originally been set up because of certain circumstances, but this is a situation now where we’ve got to look for ways to make the bureaucracy work to help those people who are in danger.”

The White House recently announced Operation Allies Refuge to relocate approximately 2,500 of those in Afghanistan who have applied for SIVs. The majority are slated to be relocated to third countries to await approval to come to the U.S.

Ms. Staffieri said the SIV is the State Department‘s most restrictive visa process. But she estimates that 60% to 75% of those who are denied eventually will receive approval, which she said points to a tendency to deny applicants for illegitimate reasons.

Sayed relocated his family to Kabul after it became too dangerous in his rural hometown, where he said it was widely known that he had worked as an interpreter. The city, he said, would provide him anonymity.

But he said it is no longer safe to take his two children to a playground. He no longer works. He doesn’t feel comfortable stepping out for just a few minutes to have a smoke.

He said the situation has deteriorated quickly since the military withdrawal was announced. The Taliban has set up checkpoints on the highway in his home province, and he says that they are becoming more active in Kabul.

“They are active all over Kabul,” he said. “They have lists of everybody. They know who is working where and who is living where.”

He said the Taliban does not operate as openly in Kabul as it does in other areas, but he said recent events raise concern.

“They shoot people then they go away,” he said. “They shoot people on the street. They shoot people in the bazaar.”

Sayed had submitted several letters of recommendation from military supervisors with whom he had worked, as well as several certificates of appreciation. One was from his time with Coalition Joint Task Force Phoenix in 2003.

But the accolades seemed to carry little weight in the State Department‘s decision.

Sayed was given 120 days to appeal. But with no details of the reason for the reversal, he could do little but reconnect with those who had already provided recommendations to support his appeal.

Sayed also contacted the contracting company he worked for as an interpreter, and was assured that no derogatory information existed in his human resources file.

The denial rate is just one of many issues with the SIV process but one which complicates the proposed evacuation planning.

Sayed and others who have been denied will likely not be eligible for the initial flights out of the country while their appeals remain under review. These individuals will likely continue to face threats as their cases are adjudicated.

Second, geography will play a key role in how the appeals are meted out for applicants if they are evacuated before receiving “chief of mission” approval.

The administration has hinted at relocating applicants to third countries, rather than to U.S. territories. But advocates say the prospect would provide only a thin safety net, and would not protect those who are initially denied a visa.

“We are quite aware of the denial rate because of the systemic issues with the SIV process,” said Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service Director of Public Policy Jill Marie Bussey during the CSIS panel discussion. “And so that is why we are advocating for evacuation to Guam or [other] U.S. territory, where individuals would be able to access other forms of protection if they were – if their cases are denied and they would be able to access legal counsel to help them through the application process.”

Ms. Staffieri is adamant that the applicants should be evacuated to the U.S., rather than to a third country while they wait. She said there is no guarantee that the countries will not send them back to Afghanistan to await the appeal.

Former Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs said there are significant legal challenges for the State Department. She said the State Department is not able to guarantee visas for all applicants.

Some, she said, will be denied for legitimate reasons. Bringing them to the U.S. before their visas have been approved could run afoul of the department‘s “non-reviewability” doctrine.

“When decisions on visas are made overseas, denials cannot be challenged in U.S. courts,” Ms. Jacobs said. “Once you get them on U.S. soil, denials can be and probably will be taken into U.S. courts. And that is – that’s a serious concern for the State Department.”

U.S., Iran trade allegations over possible prisoner swap

U.S., Iran trade allegations over possible prisoner swap

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In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, July 14, 2021. The outgoing president on Wednesday warned his country could enrich … more >

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By Guy Taylor

The Washington Times

Updated: 4:58 p.m. on
Sunday, July 18, 2021

The Biden administration‘s push for diplomacy with Iran hit a fresh roadblock over the weekend, with the sides trading blame over the apparent breakdown of a prisoner swap that’s likely to delay the restart of nuclear talks.

An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman claimed Sunday that the prisoner swap was in the works, despite denials by the Biden administration of an agreement on such an exchange.

“‘Outrageous’ = the US denying simple fact that there IS an agreed deal on the matter of the detainees. Even on how to announce it,” tweeted Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh.

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The comment came hours after a Biden administration spokesman said Iran was the one being outrageous by accusing the U.S. of delaying a prisoner swap in order to force a resumption of stalled nuclear talks.

State Department spokesman Ned Price on Saturday denied there was even an agreement on a swap, saying only that the administration was prepared to continue talks about prisoners while waiting for the resumption of nuclear negotiations with Iran.

Mr. Price said the Iranians were engaged in “an outrageous effort to deflect blame for the current impasse on a potential mutual return to compliance” with the Obama-era nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The deal has been faltering since former President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of it in 2018, a move Tehran responded to by carrying out its own violations of the deal. 

Mr. Price’s comments on Saturday came after a pair of tweets from chief Iranian nuclear negotiator Seyyed Abbas Araghchi.

Mr. Araghchi claimed indirect nuclear talks that have been taking place recently in Vienna cannot resume until Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi formally takes office in August.

He also claimed that the United States and the United Kingdom had agreed to prisoner swap with Iran, but were delaying it by trying to make it contingent on the resumption of the nuclear talks.

The nuclear talks “await our new administration. This is what every democracy demands,” Mr. Aragchi said, adding that the U.S. and Britain “need to understand this and stop linking a humanitarian exchange — ready to be implemented — with the JCPOA.”

“TEN PRISONERS on all sides may be released TOMORROW if US&UK fulfill their part of deal,” the Iranian negotiator wrote.

There had been no news of a swap having taken place as of Sunday evening Iran time.

The latest back-and-forth signals ongoing difficulty for President Biden’s pursuit of talks toward restoring the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal that Trump critics say was hastily trashed by the former president.

The nuclear deal delivered billions in sanctions relief to Iran in exchange for limits to and United Nations inspections of — Iranian nuclear activities.

Tehran claims its nuclear program is peaceful but there has long been consensus among U.S. and European intelligence officials that the program is geared toward building nuclear bombs in repeated violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Throughout the nuclear negotiations, the State Department has kept Iran listed as state sponsor of terrorism, publishing annual reports that outline Tehran’s support for terrorist activities around the Middle East.

With regard to reports of a possible U.S.-Iran prisoner swap, Reuters noted over the weekend that Iran is holding a handful of Iranian-Americans and has been accused by rights activists of arresting dual nationals to try to extract a concession from other countries — a charge Tehran dismisses.

Iranian officials claim they are pushing for the release of release of Iranian prisoners being held in American and other jails for violating U.S. sanctions.

Reuters noted that in May, the Biden administration denied a report by Iranian state television that the countries had reached a prisoner swap deal in exchange for the release of $7 billion in frozen Iranian oil funds under U.S. sanctions in other countries.

Biden to nominate global religious freedom envoy, Blinken says

Biden to nominate global religious freedom envoy, Blinken says

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Secretary of State Anthony Blinken listens as President Joe Biden delivers remarks to State Department staff, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) more >

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By Mark A. Kellner

The Washington Times

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

President Biden will nominate an at-large ambassador for international religious freedom “in the coming weeks,” Secretary of State Anthony Blinken told a human rights gathering in the District on Wednesday.

The post — whose mission is to “promote universal respect for freedom of religion or belief for all as a core objective of U.S. foreign policy” — has been vacant since January 20 of this year, when Ambassador Sam Brownback, a Trump appointee and former Kansas governor, left. The position is a creation of the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act.

“We’re looking forward” to taking the step of submitting a nomination, Mr. Blinken told delegates to the 2021 International Religious Freedom Summit. The event, which has drawn 850 participants to the Omni Shoreham hotel, is billed as a civil society-focused successor to the Trump Administration’s ministerial-level religious freedom gatherings, Mr. Brownback said last week.

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Mr. Blinken, who did not name a specific candidate for the job, insisted global religious freedom was important to the Biden administration’s foreign policy.

“Religious freedom is a vital component of our diplomacy,” Mr. Blinken said via video link. “Every day, our team in the Office of International Religious Freedom at the State Department in Washington along with American diplomats around the world work…to track threats to religious freedom, coordinate responses, and lift up solutions.”

Advocates said the announcement is encouraging.

“It’s very good news and implies the administration has an active and significant interest in international religious freedom and advocating for that,” said Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. He said the relatively swift announcement “contrasts with the Obama administration, for example, which I believe [took] at least a year and a half” before announcing its first nominee for the post.

That first Obama nominee, Amb. Suzan Johnson Cook, an American Baptist minister, was panned by some critics who said she had lacked expertise in international issues. Mr. Tooley said that if the Biden administration puts forth a nominee similarly unknown in religious freedom circles, “someone without a lot of experience, who doesn’t have a lot of influence … that obviously would be very counterproductive.”

An official at International Christian Concern lauded the announcement.

“The appointment of an ambassador to this position indicates that the Biden administration is serious about advancing religious freedom around the world,” said Matias Perttula, the group’s advocacy director. “The U.S. must lead on this issue, and the appointment of an effective, empowered individual to this position is critical in that effort.”

Katrina Lantos Swett, a former U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom chairwoman, told The Washington Times last week she expected progress on the issue from Mr. Biden’s administration.

“President Biden is a man of very, very sincere personal faith,” Ms. Lantos Swett said. “I think that is something we will see permeate, and positively influence, the [international religious freedom] policy of this administration,” she added.

Efforts to establish special envoy to probe China’s genocide of Uyghurs gain steam

Efforts to establish special envoy to probe China’s genocide of Uyghurs gain steam

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By Haris Alic

The Washington Times

Thursday, July 1, 2021

The long-running efforts to establish a special envoy to probe China’s genocide of its predominantly Muslim Uyghur population gained steam on Thursday.

In an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote, the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved a Republican amendment requiring the State Department to create the post. The amendment will be part of a larger bill, named the Ensuring American Global Leadership and Engagement (EAGLE) Act, to combat China’s aggression on the world stage.

“This amendment will have a significant and positive impact on the urgent effort to bring additional scrutiny to the ongoing genocide against the Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities perpetrated by the Chinese Communist Party in the Xinjiang Province,” said Rep. Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican and the amendment’s lead author.

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Mr. Smith, as a longstanding member of the Foreign Affairs panels, has chaired more than 70 hearings on China’s human rights abuses over the years. His efforts, in particular, have focused heavily on the communist power’s crimes against humanity in its western Xinjiang province.

Xinjiang, which borders India, Pakistan and most of Central Asia, is home to 25 million people, most of whom identify as Muslim Uyghurs. Since the early 1990s, the province has seen escalating tensions between Beijing and Uyghur separatists.

In recent years, the Chinese government has used the threat of separatism and the purported ties that Uyghur independence groups have with Islamic fundamentalists to wage a campaign of repression. Using a national counterterrorism law, Beijing has imposed “mass imprisonment, forced sterilizations, torture, forced labor and draconian restrictions on religious freedom and freedom of movement” within the region.

“Beginning in 2013, the Chinese Communist Party laid the groundwork for a mass internment campaign in the Xinjiang Province that would ensnare as many as 2 million Uyghurs,” Mr. Smith said.

A report issued by the State Department in May estimates Beijing has impeded the rights of more than 200 million religious devotees, including Christians, Muslims and Buddhists.

China broadly criminalizes religious expression and continues to commit crimes against humanity and genocide against Muslim Uyghurs and other religious and ethnic minority groups,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said recently.

Mr. Smith and other lawmakers hope that passing legislation creating a special envoy for the region will be a first step in stopping the abuse.

As the legislation stands, the special envoy would have broad powers to “coordinate diplomatic, political, economic, and security activities” to investigate and expose China’s misconduct.

Senate Republicans push to halt nomination hearings over scuttled COVID-19 origins investigation

Senate Republicans push to halt nomination hearings over scuttled COVID-19 origins investigation

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In this Feb. 3, 2021, file photo, a security person moves journalists away from the Wuhan Institute of Virology after a World Health Organization team arrived for a field visit in Wuhan in China’s Hubei province. A member of the … more >

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By Joseph Clark

The Washington Times

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Senate Republicans are calling on the chamber’s leadership to halt confirmation of nominees involved in ending an investigation into the origins of COVID-19.

Sens. Bill Hagerty and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Roger Marshall of Kansas said two nominees for State Department positions, Elliot Kang and Bonnie Jenkins, should clarify their roles in ending an inquiry into whether the virus originated in China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology, which they say the Biden administration ended prematurely.

“The results of a nonpartisan arms control investigation into dual use research and potential Biological Weapons Convention violations at the Wuhan Institute of Virology are crucial to understanding the origin of the coronavirus,” the senators wrote in separate letters sent to Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair and ranking member Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, and James E. Risch, Idaho Republican, respectively.

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“The American people deserve transparency from senior government officials,” they wrote.

Ms. Jenkins is the administration’s nominee for undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. Mr. Kang is the nominee for assistant secretary of state for international security and non-proliferation.

Ms. Jenkins served on the State Department review team and Mr. King served as the acting assistant secretary for the Bureau of International Security when the senators say the Biden administration ended the investigation.

In May, President Biden shut down a Trump administration investigation, led by the State Department, looking into the virus’ origins. Shortly after ending the effort, Mr. Biden directed the Intelligence Community to “redouble their efforts” in looking into the origins after receiving an inconclusive report about the virus’ beginnings.

“The United States will also keep working with like-minded partners around the world to press China to participate in a full, transparent, evidence-based international investigation and provide access to all relevant data and evidence,” Mr. Biden said in a statement.

The senators gave the nominees until mid-July to respond to their questions.

Biden administration eases gender requirements on U.S. passports

Biden administration eases gender requirements on U.S. passports

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In this Aug. 30, 2018, file photo, a new citizens holds an American flag and passport during a naturalization ceremony at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Kendall Field Office in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File) **FILE** more >

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By Guy Taylor

The Washington Times

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

The State Department said Wednesday it will no longer require Americans to provide medical documentation proving their gender on passport applications, paving the way for individuals to choose a gender they self-identify with regardless of what their birth certificate or hospital records indicate.

“The Department of State is committed to promoting the freedom, dignity, and equality of all people — including LGBTQI+ persons,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement announcing the policy change on the final day of Pride Month.

“Most immediately, we will be updating our procedures to allow applicants to self-select their gender as ‘M’ or ‘F’ and will no longer require medical certification if an applicant’s self-selected gender does not match the gender on their other citizenship or identity documents,” Mr. Blinken said.

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He added that the State Department has also “begun moving towards adding a gender marker for non-binary, intersex, and gender non-conforming persons applying for a passport or [Consular Reports of Birth Abroad].”

“We are evaluating the best approach to achieve this goal,” the secretary of state said. “The process of adding a gender marker for non-binary, intersex and gender non-conforming persons to these documents is technologically complex and will take time for extensive systems updates.”

Mr. Blinken said the changes fit with President Biden’s commitment to human rights and directive to agencies across the U.S. government to take “concrete actions to promote and protect the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons around the world.”

He said the State Department has consulted with “like-minded governments who have undertaken similar changes.”

It was not immediately clear which governments Mr. Blinken was referring to. While several European nations have promoted changes on gender-related issues, it remains to be seen how some nations, such as China, whose government recognizes neither same-sex marriage nor civil unions, or Russia, which banned same-sex marriage last year, will react to the development.

Michael McCaul pressures Biden to rescue Afghan allies before U.S. pullout

‘He created this’: Biden under pressure to rescue Afghan allies before pullout

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By Joseph Clark

The Washington Times

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

A bipartisan group of House lawmakers on Wednesday upped the pressure on President Biden to ensure safe haven for interpreters and other Afghans who helped the U.S. war effort and now face Taliban retaliation when the troops pull out in September.

With the State Department’s visa process ensnarled in a major backlog and a military evacuation plan on ice, the lawmakers said the administration must act before lives are lost.

He created this,” said Rep. Michael T. McCaul of Texas, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee who is leading the charge to rescue the Afghan allies.

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Mr. McCaul said responsibility rests with Mr. Biden: “He made the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan. And we respect that decision that’s been made. But we need to start preparing for what the chaos is going to be once they pull out.”

The increased pressure coincides with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s scheduled visit to meet with Mr. Biden on Friday at the White House.

Mr. Biden announced the withdrawal in April, giving the Department of Defense a Sept. 11 deadline to remove all troops from the theater. The retrograde is now more than 50% complete, leading some to believe that the troops will be out of the country before the deadline.

“We only have until the end of July,” Mr. McCaul said. “And then you’re going to see the offensive take place that’s already taking place as I speak.”

New intelligence estimates predict the Taliban could gain control of the country within six months of the withdrawal, The Wall Street Journal first reported earlier this week.

“When that last soldier goes wheels up, these people will have a death sentence,” Rep. Michael Waltz, Florida Republican said. “They will have a bull’s eye … on their back. They are being hunted down as we speak. And this administration, President Biden will have blood on his hands if he does not act now.”

The State Department is sitting on a backlog of 18,000 applications for special visas to bring Afghan allies to the U.S., leaving those collaborators exposed to retaliation by the Taliban.

It could take until next year to fully process the backlog if the State Department moves at its usual speed.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken earlier this month committed to dedicating additional resources to clear the backlog but has since halted visa processing at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul due to a spike in COVID-19 cases in the country.

The substantial backlog has led some to call for the military to evacuate those most at risk, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley testified Wednesday to the House Armed Services Committee that the Pentagon is prepared to do so once directed by the administration.

“There’s no reason that we can’t act now to protect our Afghan allies,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Oregon Democrat. “It’s not only the right thing to do, but it is the smart thing to do because we rely on these partnerships all around the world.”

Mike Pompeo has ‘high confidence’ Wuhan lab is linked to China’s military

Pompeo has ‘high confidence’ Wuhan lab is linked to China’s military

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By Bill Gertz

The Washington Times

Monday, June 14, 2021

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he has “high confidence” in an assessment published by the State Department in January linking the controversial Wuhan Institute of Virology to the Chinese military.

Mr. Pompeo, a former CIA director, was among the first government officials to press the case last year that the COVID-19 pandemic could have sprung from an accident or viral escape from the Wuhan laboratory rather than naturally from an animal host.

“I was in a position where we could see the accumulating evidence,” he said in an interview with The Washington Times. “Every piece of evidence that we turned over, every rock that we pulled up suggested that this virology lab had all the hallmarks of a place where this could have leaked.”

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Then, U.S. government officials began seeing what Mr. Pompeo called “real tactical clues” that the virus came from a lab leak. The clues included doctors at the institute who reportedly contracted COVID-like symptoms in the fall of 2019 and secret military work being done inside the laboratory by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

“We started to see other significant circumstantial evidence suggesting this was the place,” Mr. Pompeo said.

At the same time, the likelihood the virus behind COVID-19 emanated from a Wuhan wild animal market, as the Chinese government initially asserted, became more implausible.

“The combination of those two things, taking place as we were just racking and stacking evidence, caused me by the spring of last year to conclude that it was pretty likely that it came from [the lab],” Mr. Pompeo said.

“It’s not close in terms of which is more credible. The lab leak is significantly more credible than the zoonotic transmission theory at this point.”

Mr. Pompeo said information about ties between the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the PLA is strong.

“To describe it in terms the intelligence community would use, I have ‘high confidence’ in that assessment,” Mr. Pompeo said, noting it would not have been made public if officials held doubts.

Reaching that conclusion “took us a while,” he noted. “We wanted to have high confidence before we made that statement because it’s a big deal and it’s important, and we didn’t want to have it wrong,” Mr. Pompeo said.

The secret military work at the institute was one of the more significant disclosures made in January in a State Department fact sheet on the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Chinese officials have denied conducting any research for the PLA at the Wuhan site.

The fact sheet, however, detailed what it said was “secret military activity” at the institute, prompting concerns Beijing is engaged in covert biological warfare work banned under the Biological Weapons Convention, which China signed.

“Despite the WIV presenting itself as a civilian institution, the United States has determined that the WIV has collaborated on publications and secret projects with China’s military,” the fact sheet stated. “The WIV has engaged in classified research, including laboratory animal experiments, on behalf of the Chinese military since at least 2017.”

Mr. Pompeo said another factor suggesting a military role at the Wuhan institute is the Chinese security system.

“There are very few things that happen inside of China that aren’t connected to their security apparatus …,” he said. “Even if technically demarked as civilian work, you can be sure that the security apparatus minders were deeply aware of the things that were taking place [at the Wuhan Institute of Virology] because they would be in each one of the labs inside of China today.”

Lab director speaks

Mr. Pompeo said Beijing should be expelled from the World Health Organization if it fails to take part in a second, more thorough and independent probe of the origins of COVID-19.

“If you’re part of a set of rules — international health regulations the WHO has — and you are called upon to comply with those rules and you do not, there has to be a cost imposed by that institution itself,” he said.

Failing to take part in the so-called phase 2 virus origin investigation should result in China being blocked from the benefits of being part of the health group until Beijing agrees to cooperate.

China announced last month it would not take part in any further investigation by the WHO on the virus origin inside China and has consistently denied the virus could have originated from the Wuhan lab.

Shi Zhengli, the lead Chinese virologist who studied bat coronaviruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, insisted again Monday in an interview with The New York Times that there is no evidence for the lab leak theory, and denied she or her staff were covering up information and records.

“How on earth can I offer up evidence for something where there is no evidence?” she said.

The newspaper did not ask the scientist, who has been dubbed “Bat Woman of Wuhan” for her virus work, about the laboratory’s connection to the PLA.

The laboratory has refused to provide WHO investigators with records of its work or virus samples.

Saying U.S. intelligence agencies are divided on the plausibility of the lab-leak theory, President Biden ordered a three-month review of the evidence to get a clearer picture. Mr. Pompeo also said it was unusual for Mr. Biden to set a time limit on such a momentous question.

“It’s an odd thing to say a 90-day review, from my perspective,” he said. “This is ongoing work. The collection of intelligence isn’t something you say, ‘Let’s go do this for 90 days.’”

Intelligence gathering on the origin of the virus should be nonstop, and Mr. Pompeo urged those conducting the review to “keep working, keep digging.”

“Make sure you’re doing everything you can and be straight up. Get the science right. If it turns out it’s not the virology lab, the world needs to know that, too,” he said.

Mr. Pompeo did not answer directly when asked if U.S. spy agencies failed regarding the pandemic.

“These are complicated things. You have a great power adversary devoting enormous resources to deny that information,” he said. “I think we ultimately got to a good place where we have a broad base for an understanding of what took place.”

Mr. Pompeo urged the U.S. government to make sure China is held accountable for any failures in the handling of the disease outbreak that has now killed 600,000 Americans and more than 3.5 million people worldwide.

In addition to ousting China from the WHO, he recommended the U.S. government impose sanctions on senior Chinese Communist Party officials linked to any cover-up of the outbreak.

Financial assets linked to China’s global infrastructure program called the Belt and Road Initiative also could be frozen.

“There should be a cost imposed for what they did wrong,” he said.

Mr. Pompeo said an even more important action should be for the international community to demand that the Wuhan Institute of Virology be shut down.

“That lab’s still open. That lab is still operating with the same crappy biosafety level that it had before this pandemic,” he said, adding he is convinced the lab is still conducting dangerous viral research.

“If they are doing gain-of-function research, the next time it could be more lethal, more contagious,” he said. “This risk to the world remains, and we have to impose real costs on the Chinese leadership to convince them that they’ve got to change the way they’re creating risk to the world.”

Ms. Shi, the institute’s virologist, had published scientific papers mentioning gain-of-function work that involves making viruses more dangerous to humans through laboratory manipulation.

China should be forced to pay a “cost recovery” fine to make up for the trillions of dollars in wealth lost and millions who died from the pandemic, Mr. Pompeo said.

Consequences

“The Chinese Communist Party has to be held accountable for that,” he said, arguing that Chinese leaders continue to cover up what took place and thus increase the danger of new pandemics.

Mr. Pompeo said Chinese President Xi Jinping has spoken in the past about poor bio-laboratory safety and thus should be among Chinese officials facing sanctions.

Mr. Xi “should absolutely be held responsible not only for the failure of the biosecurity safety levels in these laboratories but the cover-up. That is a political matter,” he said.

Mr. Pompeo also disputed recent claims made by Christopher Ford, a former assistant secretary of state who resigned in protest following the Jan. 6 Capitol assault. Mr. Ford alleged in a blog post that Miles Yu, Mr. Pompeo’s China policymaker, orchestrated a rogue operation to investigate the origin of the coronavirus at the State Department.

The virus origin probe was led by the State Department’s arms control compliance directorate, and Mr. Ford asserted that he had been deliberately excluded from the directorate’s investigation by Mr. Yu.

“I know rogue operations at the State Department,” Mr. Pompeo said. “I tried to stop a whole bunch of them. These were folks that were working against the things that the Trump administration was trying to do.”

The arms compliance bureau’s probe “was not one of those,” he said.

“This was something that I was very keenly interested in. I wanted to make sure we got the science right. That we rejected information that didn’t make sense,” he noted.

“It was something that I supported. I repeatedly told the team, ‘Go do this well. Take the time that you need. We want to get it fast, but we want to get it right more importantly.’”

The investigation involved a team of officials from several bureaus. It included Mr. Yu and David Asher, a contractor and a group of scientists with varied views on the origins of the virus.

“The team knew that I was supporting their efforts to come to understand how this took place and to make sure we evaluated as best we could the information that we were able to obtain on the connection to the Chinese Communist Party’s bioweapons program, to see if there was in fact a connection there and learn as much as we could about that as well,” Mr. Pompeo said.

The Biden administration scuttled the probe after taking office in January.

Mr. Pompeo said he hopes the department will continue to investigate the origin of the virus.

“This should be about science, not politics. We’ve got to figure this out,” he said.

Judicial Watch sues DNI, State Dept. for coronavirus origin documents

Legal watchdog sues DNI, State Dept. for coronavirus origin documents

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In this Feb. 3, 2021, file photo, a security person moves journalists away from the Wuhan Institute of Virology after a World Health Organization team arrived for a field visit in Wuhan in China’s Hubei province. A member of the … more >

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By Bill Gertz

The Washington Times

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Two lawsuits seeking documents from the State Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on the origin of the COVID-19 virus have been filed.

Judicial Watch announced the lawsuits Thursday, saying they were filed after document requests under the Freedom of Information Act had been ignored.

The lawsuits are seeking all documents held by intelligence agencies and cables from the State Department since 2017 on the Wuhan Institute of Virology, increasingly suspected as being a virus origin point.

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The group also wants documents related to intelligence on the virus origin.

President Biden recently ordered U.S. intelligence agencies to conduct a 90-day investigation into the virus origin after an earlier inquiry resulted in several agencies deadlocked over whether virus pandemic broke out naturally or was the result of a laboratory mishap.

“We don’t trust either the Biden administration or the Deep State to voluntarily come clean on COVID and its possible connections to the Wuhan Institute,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton in a statement.

“Judicial Watch’s FOIA lawsuits could be the key to unraveling the truth about COVID and the Wuhan Institute.”

Judicial Watch recently obtained emails under FOIA that link Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Biden administration’s pandemic point man, to U.S. funding for the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

In April, the ODNI issued a statement saying that the entire American intelligence community was “consistently providing critical support to U.S. policymakers and those responding to the COVID-19 virus, which originated in China.”

Last year, then-White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said in an interview that U.S. spy agencies were slow to understand the COVID outbreak and in the early days were dismissing the danger of its spread, seeing it as a disease similar to the flu.

Rep. Devin Nunes of California, ranking Republican on the House Permanent Select Committee on intelligence, also is seeking answers from intelligence agencies on whether the agencies failed to respond properly to the pandemic.

Emails obtained by the legal group last week included Department of Health and Human Services records showing that between 2014 and 2019 the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) headed by Dr. Fauci gave the Wuhan Institute of Virology $826,277 for bat-coronavirus research.

Painful memories as U.S. ponders safety of Afghan embassy

Painful memories as U.S. ponders safety of Afghan embassy

Taliban gains, troop pullout raise security, symbolism fears

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Smoke rises after a huge explosion in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, July 1, 2019. Powerful explosion rocks Afghan capital, with smoke seen billowing from downtown area near U.S. Embassy. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul) **FILE** more >

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By Ben Wolfgang

The Washington Times

Thursday, June 10, 2021

The Biden administration is working feverishly to ensure the U.S. Embassy‘s long-term security in Kabul as combat troops leave Afghanistan this summer, with analysts warning that failure to keep open a diplomatic outpost after two decades of war would be a foreign policy disaster of historic proportions.

With just three months until President Biden‘s Sept. 11 deadline for a full military withdrawal from Afghanistan, top Pentagon and State Department officials are hashing out final plans to protect the U.S. Embassy from Taliban militants, who are quickly capturing more territory and moving toward the capital. Beyond the threat of violence, the U.S. faces the prospect that Afghan leaders will strike down a power-sharing deal with the Taliban and a new government will demand that American diplomats pack their bags and leave.

Gen. Kenneth F. “Frank” McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, said this week that the U.S. Embassy will remain open as long as “we’re invited to be there.” He said he is in direct consultation with the State Department to determine how much diplomatic security, in the form of U.S. Marines, will be needed in Kabul.

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A State Department spokesperson said security at the embassy will be sufficient to “meet any particular threat.”

But major questions remain. Regional analysts say a 20-year commitment to Afghanistan will have accomplished little if a new government pushes out Americans or if security conditions force the State Department to shutter the embassy.

“My personal view would be that if we come to a conclusion we can’t maintain a diplomatic presence in Kabul, that’s a disaster for the U.S.,” said Gerald M. Feierstein, senior vice president at the Middle East Institute and a former U.S. ambassador to Yemen. “After 20 years of pretty extensive investment in trying to rebuild and to assist Afghanistan to develop as a modern country, if after all of that investment and all that effort and the loss of so many American lives in the struggle, we can’t even sustain a diplomatic presence in Kabul? Then that’s a complete disaster.”

Mr. Feierstein served as ambassador to Yemen from 2010 to 2013. By 2015, the U.S. was forced to close its embassy in Sanaa because of a growing civil war between Iran-backed Houthi rebels and the Yemeni government, backed by Saudi forces.

Three years earlier, militants attacked the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Four American diplomats, including visiting Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, were killed. The disaster led to immediate changes in how Washington protects its personnel abroad.

“We went from having seven or eight Marines to having well over 100 Marines who were posted [at the embassy in Yemen] to provide security for the embassy as well as the residential area where our staff was living,” Mr. Feierstein said in an interview. “It was a fairly significant change to what had been the U.S. approach for centuries.”

The embassy in Sanaa and the consulate in Benghazi were hardly the first U.S. diplomatic facilities to come under threat. American diplomatic personnel were evacuated from the rooftop of a U.S. government building in Saigon in 1975 at the conclusion of the Vietnam War. Four years later, Iranian activists stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took dozens of hostages in an event that marked the beginning of the country’s Islamic Revolution.

More recently, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad has come under rocket attack despite a significant security presence on site.

The Associated Press this week cited anonymous administration officials as saying the Pentagon is eyeing a force of several hundred troops, up to “a bit less than 1,000,” for security missions in Afghanistan.

Those missions include protection of the embassy and counterterrorism. It’s unclear exactly how many U.S. troops will be stationed at the embassy.

Specific information about diplomatic security has become much more restricted since the Benghazi attack, though the State Department says the embassy in Kabul will be safe.

“Ensuring the safety and security of U.S. diplomats and personnel is our top priority, and the United States is committed to maintaining a robust diplomatic presence in Kabul through the U.S. Embassy,” a State Department spokesperson told The Washington Times. “While we cannot comment on specific measures, the security at each and every diplomatic facility worldwide is constantly assessed based on a variety of factors, with resources allocated to ensure our personnel are well-positioned to meet any particular threat.”

As is the case at diplomatic facilities around the world, Marine security guards will work with the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security to guard the complex in Kabul.

‘At that point, you have to leave’

U.S. troops are just one part of the equation.

Pentagon officials stress that the Afghan government and its security forces bear much of the burden for guarding foreign diplomats in their country.

“The protection of any diplomatic mission in any country is first and foremost the responsibility of the host nation. So we won’t be there unless we’re invited to be there,” Gen. McKenzie told reporters on a conference call this week. “We do plan to have an embassy in Afghanistan, it will be at the invitation of the government of Afghanistan, and it will be first — and most important — their responsibility to protect that embassy, although we will always take whatever measures are necessary to protect our diplomats in any embassy anywhere in the world.”

Questions about the future of the U.S. Embassy have swirled since Mr. Biden announced the U.S. military withdrawal two months ago. During a speech on the chamber floor last month, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, rattled off a list of questions that critics say haven’t been answered as the withdrawal approaches its final stage.

“How many forces will be required to secure our embassy? If a pro-Taliban mob threatens to overrun it, what will we do to protect it? Where will a quick-reaction force be based, if not in Afghanistan? Will it be quick?” Mr. McConnell said. “The reality is, they don’t know.”

Administration officials reject the notion that there is no plan. Mr. Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and a host of other administration officials have vowed that the U.S. will maintain a well-protected diplomatic complex in Kabul that will serve as a symbol of the American-Afghan partnership. The State Department and Defense Department are constantly developing “integrated crisis response options” to protect diplomats should the security situation rapidly deteriorate, a State Department spokesperson said.

Despite the administration‘s best efforts, there are serious questions about the reliability and willingness of Afghan troops to help protect the embassy. The Taliban have boasted in recent weeks about hundreds of Afghan forces abandoning their posts and joining the insurgent movement. Many of those accounts have not been independently verified, but the Taliban appear to be gaining momentum and growing their ranks as they capture territory across the country.

Even if the embassy in Kabul isn’t under immediate threat, Mr. Feierstein said, the State Department and the Pentagon must constantly assess whether Afghan troops are willing and able to defend it from attack.

In Yemen, “we made the decision we needed to close the embassy because, at that point, the Houthis had come into Sanaa … and it was our assessment that the authorities in control in Sanaa were neither capable nor did they have the political will to provide protection for the embassy,” he said.

“That will be the daily evaluation that the embassy is going to be making about their situation,” Mr. Feierstein said. “Even if you have 100 Marines, if the host government is not willing to provide security, then you don’t have a viable security situation. And at that point, you have to leave.”