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Congressman Crow’s Office Fields 400 Calls From Americans And Afghans Fleeing Taliban

U.S. Gen. Frank McKenzie addresses American troops and Afghan civilians on board a C-17 Globemaster at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Afghanistan on Aug. 17, 2021.
Courtesy Department of Defense
U.S. Gen. Frank McKenzie addresses American troops and Afghan civilians on board a C-17 Globemaster at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Afghanistan on Aug. 17, 2021.

In the two days since the Taliban has taken control of Kabul, Congressman Jason Crow’s office has been inundated with pleas for assistance.

“I'm non-stop at this point, receiving texts, phone calls, emails of people with friends in Afghanistan,” Rep. Crow said in an interview on Wednesday with KUNC. “I'm getting texts with passport photos of young children. My office has actually taken in and processed over 400 individual requests for assistance, for evacuation for Afghans and citizens. It's fairly overwhelming.”

Crow’s office, like many other lawmakers, are compiling pleas and sending them to the State Department.

“It's our understanding that it is being processed into kind of a global list of potential evacuees,” Crow said.

But Crow’s office and sources on the ground in Afghanistan tell KUNC that there is a problem — a bottleneck at Hamid Karzai International Airport. Some people are in the vicinity of the airport with tickets to fly, but cannot get to the planes. Others cannot even get to the airport.

“It's one thing to have somebody on a list for evacuation,” Crow said. “It's another thing for them to be able to get to the airport and process to get onto a plane.”

On Tuesday, Ned Price, a spokesman for the State Department, said U.S. officials have secured the airport.

“Our staff on the ground is communicating with American citizens in Kabul who are not at the airport with instructions on when and how to get there,” Price told reporters in a press briefing. “We have communicated to the first tranche of American citizens who have requested evacuation assistance. Our team is working hand-in-glove with military colleagues to help load planes safely and securely, and as fast as possible.”

He added that the U.S. is “working around the clock to facilitate the swift, safe evacuation” of others, including Special Immigrant Visa holders and “other vulnerable Afghans.”

The U.S. has also received assurances from the Taliban that safe passage will be given to civilians on their way to the airport. News accounts have contradicted those assurances, saying Afghans have been beaten and whipped as they approach Taliban checkpoints.

Crow said it is critical that people be able to get to the airport to evacuate. He has also received reports of Taliban crackdowns in Kabul.

“I'm actually receiving video taken almost in real-time from people on the ground of Taliban searching apartments, setting up checkpoints, gunfire immediately outside the gates of the airport, accounts of killings and disappearances, beatings of people trying to make their way to the airport and everything in between,” Crow said. “It's horrific.”

Crow, a former Army Ranger and Democrat, has been one of the most persistent voices that the U.S. withdrawal in Afghanistan has been ill-planned and that months passed by without aiding Afghans who served as interpreters to troops and worked with companies. Several other members of Congress who served in the military are part of a bipartisan effort to pressure the Biden administration to keep the airport in Kabul open as long as it takes to process as many Afghan allies as possible. They include Reps. Mike Waltz, R-Florida; Tom Malinowski, D-New Jersey; and Peter Meijer, R-Michigan.

“We do have substantial resources and power and ability to get tens of thousands of people out,” Crow said. “We just have to make the commitment and have the will to do so.”

On Wednesday, the nonprofit International Refugee Assistance Project filedmultiple emergency petitions on behalf of all Afghan Special Immigrant Visa applicants who worked as interpreters and for U.S. contractors. The organization estimates that there are about 20,000 Afghans who could meet SIV requirements and resettle in the United States. The application process is arduous and slow, taking months, even years in some cases.

“The Biden Administration has done far too little for these SIV applicants despite knowing, since the day it called for the U.S. troop withdrawal, that thousands of Afghans were still languishing in the broken U.S. visa system,” a statement from the organization said. “Now that the Afghan government has collapsed and the Taliban has taken over, there is no time left. IRAP calls on the United States to fulfill its legal and moral obligation to do everything in its power to bring as many people to safety before it is too late.”

As investigative reporter for KUNC, I take tips from our audience and, well, investigate them. I strive to go beyond the obvious, to reveal new facts, to go in-depth and to bring new perspectives and personalities to light.
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