WASHINGTON—The U.S. estimates it left behind the majority of Afghan interpreters and others who applied for visas to flee Afghanistan, a senior State Department official said on Wednesday, despite frantic efforts to evacuate those at risk of Taliban retribution in the final weeks of the airlift.
In the early days of the evacuation effort, thousands of Afghans crowded Kabul’s airport seeking a way to flee the country. Some made it through without paperwork, while American citizens and visa applicants were unable to enter and board flights out.
The U.S. still doesn’t have reliable data on who was evacuated, nor for what type of visas they may qualify, the official said, but initial assessments suggested most visa applicants didn’t make it through the crush at the airport.
“I would say it’s the majority of them,” the official estimated. “Just based on anecdotal information about the populations we were able to support.”
The Special Immigrant Visa program set up in 2009 aimed to help those at risk of Taliban reprisal for helping the U.S., including interpreters for the U.S. military and diplomatic and foreign aid workers.
The Biden administration has been under intense pressure by lawmakers, veterans and other advocates to do more to help the more than 20,000 Afghans who had already applied for visas when the U.S. decided to withdraw. Including their family members, as many as 100,000 Afghans may be eligible for relocation.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the U.S. had evacuated 7,000 Special Immigrant Visa applicants to the U.S. It wasn’t clear whether the figure included family members.
The State Department has repeatedly said it lacks complete data on the composition of the evacuation population.