In Afghanistan, We Must Not Forget About Those Still Left Behind

September 09, 2021

By Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Keith Kellogg and Javon Price

Multiple media outlets this week have reported that the State Department is allegedly blocking private rescue flights from leaving Afghanistan. Instead, the Biden Administration seems to be choosing to rely on the Taliban to be a faithful partner in the evacuation of American citizens and allies alike. As private citizens are seeking to rescue their fellow Americans, Special Immigrant Visa (SIVs) holders, and green card holders from the murderous Taliban regime, the State Department could be embracing the public private partnership being offered by brave Americans who can assist in streamlining evacuations. Furthermore, Congress could consider legislation to ensure the legal immunity for private citizens seeking to rescue their fellow Americans from the deadly grasp of the Taliban.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken this week stated that the Taliban has reassured the United States of its commitment to let people leave considering they already have the proper documentation—including American citizens still stranded in the country—alongside permanent residents, and Afghan interpreters who worked with the American military. Yet, in this same press conference, Secretary Blinken noted that, without personnel on the ground, it would be a “challenge” to verify the accuracy of the manifest, identities of the passengers, flight plans, and aviation security protocols.

Understandably, without the U.S. military’s presence in the country, evacuating the remaining Americans, SIVs, and green card holders has become a difficult task. However, it also presents the opportunity to call upon other resources outside of the federal government to ensure the mission gets accomplished. The DoD uses what it terms PSCs—private security companies—to fulfill what it describes as “non-combat requirements for security Contingency Operations, Humanitarian or Peace Operations, and other military operations and exercises.” The evacuation of the remaining citizens, SIVs, and green card holders in Afghanistan could be described as one of the functions listed above and would allow the Biden Administration to prevent a troop surge, while securing the withdrawal of U.S. citizens from the hostile nation. While uncommon, this type of public-private partnership was pioneered successfully during the Trump Administration. As the Nation battled against the destructive coronavirus, the Trump Administration’s innovative approach resulted in the creation and distribution of three vaccines in record time.

However, the State Department’s intransigence on the issue has created an opportunity for Congress to address the situation. Congress should consider legislation that protects private citizens seeking to help evacuate Americans, SIVs, and green card holders. This protection could be in the form of legal immunity therefore liberating these organizations from punitive action from the State Department. Additionally, Congress may be able to use legislation to force the State Department to work with PSCs and other private organizations to help safely and efficiently evacuate those still stranded in Afghanistan.

The federal government has an obligation to protect its citizens across the world. As our Nation recovers from natural disasters and the pandemic within our borders, we cannot forget those left behind outside of them. Congress can use its constitutional role to help save Americans, while the federal government ought to use its vast resources to enhance efforts already underway.

Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Keith Kellogg serves as Co-Chairman, Center for American Security and Javon Price serves as a Policy Analyst, Center for Opportunity Now; Center for Second Chances; and Center for American Security for the America First Policy Institute (AFPI).