Biden calls US vets before Afghan withdrawal anniversary
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Monday called the leaders of two U.S. veterans groups assisting Afghans who have fled from the country on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Biden spoke to the leaders of the veterans-led #AfghanEvac and Honor the Promise groups to express his appreciation for their work resettling Afghan allies in the United States since the U.S. ended the 20-year war in Afghanistan.
“They discussed the substantial efforts that have been undertaken by the U.S. government, veterans, and by so many Americans of all stripes to welcome nearly 90,000 Afghans to our country over the past year and the U.S. government’s ongoing efforts to build a sustainable model to support relocation efforts and honor our commitments,” National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said.
Tuesday marks the one year anniversary of Biden declaring an end to the war. The final weeks of America’s longest war were chaotic as the U.S.-backed Afghan government collapsed, a grisly bombing killed 13 U.S. troops and 170 others, and thousands of desperate Afghans descended on Kabul’s airport in search of a way out before the final U.S. cargo planes departed.
Biden continues to face criticism from immigrant refugee advocates that the administration has fallen short in resettling Afghans who assisted the U.S. war effort.
As of last month, more than 74,000 Afghan applicants remained in the pipeline for special immigrant visas that help military interpreters and others who worked on government-funded contracts move to the United States and pave the way for them to receive a green card. That total counts only the principal applicant and does not include spouses and children. More than 17,000 of that pool of applicants had received a critical chief of mission approval, according to White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre Monday.
John Kirby, coordinator for strategic communications at the White House National Security Council, said the administration is continuing efforts to approve the visa process.
“We understand the frustration by many,” Kirby said. “Quite frankly, we share that frustration and we try as hard as we can to to streamline the process.”
Shawn VanDiver, a Navy veteran and founder of #AfghanEvac, said in statement that “Biden shared his enduring commitment to welcoming our Afghan allies to the United States.”
“The President pledged to maintain and expand the relocation and resettlement program for Afghan allies, and it’s clear he recognizes how big of an impact this will have on people’s lives, particularly Afghan women and girls,” VanDiver said.
Days after the unexpected fall of Kabul last year, national security adviser Jake Sullivan promised the White House would “conduct an extensive hot wash” and “look at every aspect” of the withdrawal from top to bottom.” The administration has not said when the review might be released to the public.
Biden last week issued a statement honoring 13 U.S. troops who were killed in the final days of the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan at Kabul International Airport as they assisted with the evacuation of Afghans who assisted the American war effort.
Jean-Pierre said she did not have any details on how Biden would mark Tuesday’s anniversary. The president is scheduled to travel to Wilkes Barre, Pa., on Tuesday to deliver a speech on his efforts to reduce gun crime in the U.S.
AP White House correspondent Zeke Miller contributed to this report.