US Embassy Kabul Suspends Operations on 8/31/21; Next, the Afghanistan Affairs Unit in Qatar?

 

The US Embassy in Kabul issued a Security Message announcing its suspension of operations:
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul suspended operations on August 31, 2021.  While the U.S. government has withdrawn its personnel from Kabul, we will continue to assist U.S. citizens and their families in Afghanistan from Doha, Qatar.
After 20 years, one ‘forever’ war finally ended and one of the largest US embassies in the world just closed its doors.
We are assuming that the US Embassy Kabul will now transition to the Afghanistan Affairs Unit (AAU) operating out of the US Embassy Doha in Qatar. This is a guess given the precedence with four other remote units after the suspension of diplomatic operations in Yemen, Venezuela, Libya, and much earlier, Somalia.

— Yemen Affairs Unit (Remote Mission Site: U.S. Embassy Riyadh, Saudi Arabia)

— Venezuela Affairs Unit (Remote Mission Site: U.S. Embassy Bogota, Colombia)
— Libya External Office (Remote Mission Site: U.S. Embassy Tunis, Tunisia))
U.S. Embassy Mogadishu, Somalia (Remote Mission Site: U.S. Embassy Nairobi, Kenya) – the Department officially established Embassy Mogadishu as a permanent post in 2019. The IG says that although the  Somalia Unit no longer exists as a remote mission, some staff continue to be based at Embassy Nairobi, and Embassy Mogadishu continues to rely on Embassy Nairobi for support services.
According to the IG audit, the VAU has been open for  almost 2 years; the YAU has been open for more than 6 years; and the Libya External Office has been  open for almost 7 years. The Somalia Unit operated from U.S. Embassy Nairobi, Kenya, for more than  9 years before the Department reestablished a permanent diplomatic presence in Somalia.
The most recent OIG report we could locate for Qatar is dated 2010. At that time, the OIG describes Embassy Doha as a mid-size embassy, with a staff of 82 U.S. direct-hire person­nel, 113 foreign national staff, and 11 locally hired American personnel. No Qatari citizens are employed by the mission. Operations under chief of mission authority include representatives from the Department of Defense, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Foreign Commercial Service. Operating budgets for U.S. Gov­ernment agencies under chief of mission authority total approximately $13.7 million.  Post is likely supersized already. We just don’t know by how many. Would be interested to see what the staffing pattern is going to be like for the AAU in Doha.

From way, way back in 2015:

Related posts:

US Embassy Kabul Evacuates 2,800 Locally Employed Staff and Families

 

Related:

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US Embassy Kuwait: 850 Americans and Embassy Kabul Staff Transits Via Kuwait

 

 

@StateDept Spox on Afghanistan: “This is not a full evacuation. This is not — “

 

 

Via State Department Briefing/August 12, 2021:
The State Department spox made the following points about the US Embassy in Kabul:

— Our embassy in Kabul has been on ordered departure since April 27th, and we’ve been evaluating the security situation every day to determine how best to keep those serving at our embassy safe. This is what we do for every diplomatic post in a challenging security environment.

— … we are further reducing our civilian footprint in Kabul in light of the evolving security situation. We expect to draw down to a core diplomatic presence in Afghanistan in the coming weeks. In order to facilitate this reduction, the Department of Defense will temporarily deploy additional personnel to Hamid Karzai International Airport.

— The embassy remains open and we plan to continue our diplomatic work in Afghanistan. The United States will continue to support consular services, and that includes the processing and operations of the Special Immigrant Visa program, and will continue to engage in diplomacy with the Afghan Government and the Afghan people. Additionally, we will continue our focus on counterterrorism.

— To date, Operation Allies Refuge has brought more – has brought to the United States more than 1,200 Afghans who worked side by side with Americans in Afghanistan. That includes interpreters and translators, along with their families. Additional flights will begin landing daily, and you’re going to see the total number grow very quickly in the coming days and the coming weeks.

QUESTION: Can you move to the second part of the question? Will it remain open at its location or is it going to the airport?

MR PRICE: We are always evaluating the situation on the ground. We are planning for all contingencies. This was a contingency, in fact, that we had planned for. So I’m not going to entertain hypotheticals. I’m not going to go into what additional contingencies may arise, but it’s very important to say that our embassy remains open and our diplomatic mission will endure.
[…]

QUESTION: Ned, it’s not a hypothetical. Is the embassy staying at its current location or is it moving locations to the airport?

QUESTION: Or anywhere else.

MR PRICE: Christina – Christina.

QUESTION: Or anywhere else?

MR PRICE: The embassy remains open in its current location.
[…]

QUESTION: Ned, my last one and I’ll let everyone else go because I know – yeah. But my last one is: The people who are being drawn down, the staffers who are leaving, are they flying out commercially or is it that that’s what the military is going in to do?

MR PRICE: Well —

QUESTION: To take – to take them out.

MR PRICE: The military will be there to help effect an orderly and a safe reduction in our personnel. I do expect that the military will help with these relocation operations. But as we know, Hamid Karzai International Airport does remain open. Commercial flights continue to take off and land at the airport. So the military is not the only way in or out of Afghanistan.
[..]

QUESTION: Can I – so you said that today is a continuation of what has been happening, but it appears very clearly to be a preparation for a full evacuation of all U.S. diplomats from Afghanistan. So what is your response to that?

MR PRICE: My response to that is that’s not true. This is not a full evacuation. This is not —
[…]

QUESTION: Ned, I’ll give you points for the old college – giving it the old college try on this. But when you talk about the message that this sends as enduring partnership, in what language does turning your tail and sending 3,000 troops in to – and you say it’s not an evacuation, but you lost that point when you said that the military, the 3,000 troops are going to be flying these drawn-down staffers out. It’s —

MR PRICE: I did not say that there would be 3,000 troops.

QUESTION: Okay. Sorry. You didn’t. Others have said that that’s the number that’s going in. But that the military, the U.S. military, is going to be – is going to be taking these people out, that is an evacuation. And I’m very cognizant of the difference between a drawdown where people leave commercially or if they drive out on their own. That’s not what this is. So I don’t understand the message of “enduring partnership” when you’re basically leaving.

 

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US Embassy Kabul Interviewed 1,600 Afghan SIV Applicants Since April, Interviewed ≠ Issued Visas

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Via DPB July 12, 2021:

QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. In addition – on Afghanistan, in addition to the change in command that happened earlier today, the embassy announced overnight that it’s going to resume immigrant visa processing. And I am just wondering, is this resumption going to make a dent in the backlog, or how much of a dent will it make in the backlog? Does it affect the relocation plans or the option for relocation, and is anything – has anything been decided on that front?

MR PRICE: Well, you are correct that the embassy has announced over Twitter that it will resume immigrant visa interviews this week, and that does include the SIV process. As you know, the SIV process is written into law. It was designed by Congress and involves more than a dozen steps, and that includes both a role for the Department of State as well as for the Department of Homeland Security. As we’ve said before, there are approximately 18,000 Afghan principal applicants at some stage of this process as of May of 2021.

Approximately half of those applicants are at some stage of the process pending applicant action, so in other words, approximately 9,000 or half of these applicants need to take action before the U.S. Government can begin processing their case. About 30 percent of these applicants are awaiting a decision at the chief of mission stage and the final 20 percent were approved by the chief of mission stage and they’re moving through the application process, either in the petition or the visa processing stages.

You are also right in your question that we have mobilized significant resources to do all we can to make a dent in the applicants. As you know, we have been very clear and consistent that we have – the United States has – a special responsibility to those who have assisted us in different ways over the years, often at great risk to themselves, sometimes to their families as well. That is also why we have identified a group of SIV applicants – that is to say, individuals who were already somewhere in that SIV processing chain – whom at the right time before the military withdrawal is complete later this year relocate or at least offer to relocate to a third country as they go through their SIV application processing. We have been in conversations, diplomatic discussions with a number of countries around the world. These have – discussions have occurred at any number of levels, to include senior levels, but we don’t have any updates for you regarding that.

The other point I would make is that throughout this process, we have prioritized the safety and the security of those who, often at great risk to themselves, have helped the United States over the years. And so we will be in some cases constrained in terms of what we can say publicly about relocation, about numbers, about certain details. But as soon as we have more to share on that front, we will do so.

QUESTION: Okay, but how much of a – once the interviews resume, how many can they do? How many can – how much of a dent do you think you can make in the backlog?

MR PRICE: Well, look, we are moving just as quickly as we can. The —

QUESTION: You can’t say – just say that so I don’t keep – because I’m going to keep asking the question until you – if you don’t know, that’s fine. But I’m just – that’s my question.

MR PRICE: Matt, we have already made significant progress in shortening the period it requires for an applicant to go from the start of the process to – through the visa provision stage. We have shortened that by a number of months and we have done that by surging individuals, by – through operations in Kabul, but the other important point is that much of this adjudication and processing that takes place at the chief of mission stage need not and does not take place in Kabul. This is a point that we have made in terms of our embassy staffing posture in Kabul. We are able to process individuals at the chief of mission stage from here in Washington.

And the other point I would make – again, this program is defined in statute. It was passed by Congress, designed by Congress. We will continue to work with Congress to find ways that we could potentially streamline these operations, knowing that there are to date more than 18,000 people who have – who are somewhere in that process. Again, our goal is to shorten that process as much as we can in a way that is pursuant to the safety and security needs of these individuals but also responsible in the way that we are processing the individuals.

QUESTION: So since the President’s announcement that all troops would be gone by the end – by September 11th and now August 31st – but since the initial announcement back in May, how many SIV applicants – applications have been approved, and how many of those approved visa holders have been admitted to the United States? May, June, July – that’s three months.

MR PRICE: We can see if we can provide a snapshot of that three-month period. I don’t have that —

QUESTION: Well, is it more than zero? I don’t know. I’m —

MR PRICE: We’ll see if we can provide specific numbers.

CDA Ross Wilson did post on Twitter that Embassy Kabul has “assisted over 15,000 Afghans relocate to the U.S.”
Not clear what is the time frame of that relocated to US number? He also noted that post is “working hard to process SIV applicants and have interviewed more than 1600 along with their family members since April.”
Note that “interviewed” does not mean the case was approved or that the visa was issued.
If there are “approximately 18,000 Afghan principal applicants at some stage of this process as of May of 2021” — that 18,000 figure is not the final number needing visas as that does not include the count for family members who may qualify for derivative status based on the principal applicants.
Also if all US troops must be gone by August 31st, and Embassy Kabul did interview 1,600 SIV applicants for the last three months, how is it going to tackle the rest of the backlog before time’s up? We really want to now how many visas were also issued during the last three months.
But let’s just say there are 18,000 applicants waiting to be processed — 1,600 interviews in three months means 6,400 cases a year. That means, they won’t get anywhere near 18,000 – well, 17,600 until the first quarter of 2024, if we go by that number. And that’s just the interviews. What’s the refusal rate for this type of visas?
Another scenario, of course, is that Embassy Kabul may have a larger processing capacity for SIVs that was impacted by COVID, and that post can actually process more than 1,600 interviews in three months. But we won’t know what’s that going to be like until the operation returns to normal. Given the recent COVID outbreak at post, what’s normal going to be like?
We should note that for FY2020, the State Department issued a total of  8,722 Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs); this includes 7,878 SIVs for Afghanistan. In FY2019, 11,384 SIVs were issued worldwide, including 9,805 for Afghanistan. In FY2016, 16,176 SIVs were issued including 2,270 for Iraq, and 12,298 for Afghanistan.

 

Related item:

US Embassy Kabul on COVID Lockdown, AFSA Calls For Vaccination Requirement For All Staffers

13 Going on 14 — GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27

 

The US Embassy in Kabul issued a Management Notice for an Immediate COVID-19 Lockdown due to surging cases at post. The notice notes that “95% of our cases are individuals who are unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated.” The notice also says “Failure to abide by the Mission’s COVID policies will result in consequences up to and including removal from Post on the next available flight.”
AFSA has issued a statement calling for the Biden Administration to “take swift action to allow the Department of State to require all personnel, including local employees and third-country nationals, serving at our embassies and consulates abroad under Chief of Mission authority, direct-hire and contract alike, to be fully vaccinated for Covid-19 as a condition of their physical presence in the workplace.” AFSA’s vaccination requirement push includes “for those individuals who cannot get vaccinated due to medical reasons or disability or religious belief or practice.”
Below is the AFSA statement:

Our Embassy in Afghanistan has announced that one employee has died and 114 have been infected with Covid-19. Several employees have had to be evacuated from Afghanistan, and others are being treated in an emergency Covid-19 ward at the Embassy that was created because U.S. military hospital facilities are full. The entire Embassy staff has been put on lockdown and nearly all staff members are confined to their quarters around the clock.

At a time when the U.S. military withdrawal is accelerating, attacks on Afghan and Coalition forces are intensifying and the U.S. is seeking to establish a stable and positive presence in Afghanistan after the withdrawal, the damage to our national security and national interests is potentially grave.

AFSA urges the Biden Administration to take swift action to allow the Department of State to require all personnel, including local employees and third-country nationals, serving at our embassies and consulates abroad under Chief of Mission authority, direct-hire and contract alike, to be fully vaccinated for Covid-19 as a condition of their physical presence in the workplace. The only exceptions would be for those individuals who cannot get vaccinated due to medical reasons or disability or religious belief or practice.    

This has always been a matter of life and death, but now it literally has become exactly that for our members and colleagues serving their country abroad. Recent Federal court rulings have upheld requiring vaccination as a condition of employment in specific situations, such as health care. Service at our embassies and consulates should be treated similarly.

 

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US Embassy Kabul Now on Ordered Departure for a “Relatively Small Number” of USG Employees

Once a year, we ask for your support to keep this blog and your dedicated blogger going. So here we are on Week #7 of our eight-week annual fundraising. Our previous funding ran out in August 2020. We recognize that blogging life has no certainty, and this year is no exception.  If you care what we do here, please see GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27.  We could use your help. Grazie!  Merci! Gracias!

On April 27, US Embassy Kabul issued a Security Alert informing U.S. citizens in Afghanistan that the State Department has ordered the departure of USG employees from the capital city:

On April 27, 2021, the Department of State ordered the departure from U.S. Embassy Kabul of U.S. government employees whose functions can be performed elsewhere due to increasing violence and threat reports in Kabul. The Consular Section in U.S. Embassy Kabul will remain open for limited consular services to U.S. citizens and for Afghan Special Immigrant Visa processing.

The Embassy reminds U.S. citizens that the Travel Advisory for Afghanistan remains Level 4-Do Not Travel due to crime, terrorism, civil unrest, kidnapping, armed conflict, and COVID-19. Commercial flight options from Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA) remain available and the U.S. Embassy strongly suggests that U.S. citizens make plans to leave Afghanistan as soon as possible. Given the security conditions and reduced staffing, the Embassy’s ability to assist U.S. citizens in Afghanistan is extremely limited. 

The State Department has also issued a Level4: Do Not Travel advisory for Afghanistan due to COVID-19, crime, terrorism, civil unrest, kidnapping, and armed conflict. U.S. citizens wishing to depart Afghanistan are urged to “leave as soon as possible on available commercial flights.”
CDA Ross Wilson tweeted that the mandatory evacuation affects a “relatively small number of employees” at post. We’d like to know how many employees are actually affected by this evacuation order.

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Snapshot: Top Five Bureaus & Posts With the Highest Number of Sexual Harassment Complaints (2014-2017)

Via State/OIG:

Related post:
State/OIG Releases Long-Awaited Report on @StateDept Handling of Sexual Harassment Reports

 

 

 

US Embassy Kabul: As Many as 20 People Infected With COVID-19 (Via AP)

 

Afghanistan Papers: A secret history of the war #hardreading