Why Is The US Government Blocking Refugee Flights From Afghanistan?

Lela Gilbert is Senior Fellow for International Religious Freedom at Family Research Council. This article appeared on Religion Unplugged on September 3, 2021.

The question is being raised everywhere – in daily emails, WhatsApp messages or texts from people on the ground in Afghanistan. “Why are our efforts being blocked?” is repeatedly voiced by NGOs, philanthropists and everyone else who is trying to help thousands of would-be Afghan refugees. Why are these refugees becoming refuseniks?

You’ll also hear the “why?” question if you talk to former U.S. military service members about what’s being said on the ground in Afghanistan. Or if you seek information about refugees from American and European Christian organizations. Or if you interview humanitarian workers who have long labored in Afghanistan, asking them to explain about the status of at-risk Afghans who are on the run.

The two big questions are: who is blocking the rescue operations? And why?

The answer continues to be the same: the U.S. State Department is obstructing virtually every passageway out of Afghanistan. One charter flight was cleared for departure on Thursday after days of dithering, but it apparently still awaits Taliban approval, which may be days away. RealClearPolitics reported on Friday: “Several other planes in the same group – each carrying at least a dozen American citizens – are still awaiting an okay from U.S. officials to leave, the source said.” 

Meanwhile, borders are closed to anybody who might try to flee on foot. And the rules for evacuee documentation continue to be changed arbitrarily and without explanation. For far too many, this has made departure impossible. 

On Sept. 1, Mindy Belz of WORLD reported that President Biden promised to “ensure safe passage for any American, Afghan partner, or foreign national who wants to leave Afghanistan.” However, “Experts involved in ongoing extractions say the State Department is actually making the process more difficult by imposing new requirements on countries in the region that process Afghan refugees.”

As of Monday, Aug. 30, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said Kabul airport was without air-traffic control and civilian aircraft were barred from landing in Afghanistan without prior approval. In fact, a Becker news story claimed, “Amid widespread reports of rescue efforts from groups like Task Force Pineapple, Task Force Dunkirk, and Team America, the U.S. State Department has issued an advisory to nations surrounding Afghanistan to deny support to aircraft conducting such operations in Afghanistan.”

Conservative writer John Cardillo tweeted, “Now being told that State Dept. is telling nations surrounding Afghanistan not to allow private jets handling the private extractions to land and/or refuel. This is inexplicable and evil.” 

Charmaine Hedding is President of Shai Fund, a privately funded international charity which is providing logistical support for Glenn Beck’s Mercury One’s rescue flights. Shai Fund is assisting at-risk religious minorities who are seeking to escape danger posed by Taliban threats.

Hedding explains, “This is a privately funded initiative, and we have permission from several countries willing to welcome our refugees. But, at the moment, Mercury One’s aircraft are grounded and unable to leave Afghan airspace due to current U.S. regulations. Our passengers have included those under severe risk of religious persecution including Hazara converts to Christianity, who recently had their IDs changed from Muslim to Christian, which sent the Taliban door-to-door looking for them. We also listed Ahmadiyya Muslims who have been victims of the most heinous crimes, forcing most of the population to flee in recent years. But despite our best efforts and the very real dangers at hand, we have been blocked every step of the way.”

Others involved in refugee efforts, who have asked not to be identified, are deeply concerned about the level of authority that the Taliban has been granted regarding approval of passage for American citizens. Despite appeals through U.S. Senators and military leaders, the State Department remains intractable. How is it that our government’s cooperation with the Taliban has taken priority over America’s traditionally compassionate and generous humanitarian activities?

At the time of this writing, help is not on the way for thousands of at-risk American passport or green-card holders, military translators, religious minorities representing several religions, and thousands of others whose lives are at risk. Of course, those risks are due to the Taliban’s arcane Islamist edicts. But even more disturbing is the U.S. State Department’s acquiescence to them.

Who is making these decisions? And why?