For some Afghans, permission to leave comes too late as military veterans race to get them to safety

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Saadi Khalidi, a Kurdish-Iranian dissident who had worked in Afghanistan for 20 years protecting Americans in Kabul, had been on the run with his family since the U.S. military left Afghanistan in August. He worked for a pharmaceutical company and knew his life was threatened after the U.S. withdrew. He applied for a Special Immigration Visa for him, his wife, and their two children. Last Friday, February 4, he received good news from the State Department.

“Dear Sir/Madam: Congratulations! Your Chief of Mission (COM) application was approved for the Afghan Special Immigration Visa program (SIV).”

Khalidi was then told to submit his documents to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in Nebraska.

“He got his SIV chief of mission approval letter so that his family could move forward and he can move forward with them. The only problem is two weeks ago, he was assassinated,” Matt Nelson, a former U.S. Marine and board member of Save Our Allies, said after landing in the Middle East to help with another privately-funded evacuation. “He was a fine example of someone who should have been protected, should have been saved, should have been on a plane out.”

Children that were evacuated from Afghanistan play at the U.S. airbase in Ramstein, Germany, August 28, 2021.

Children that were evacuated from Afghanistan play at the U.S. airbase in Ramstein, Germany, August 28, 2021.
(REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach)

Khalidi’s wife and children are now on the run after the Taliban encircled their house in Baghlan province.

“Our deepest condolences go out to his family.,” a State Department official said in response to a query from Fox News. “In general, under U.S. law, if an individual’s surviving spouse and child were part of an applicant’s submitted application, those family members may still be eligible for SIV status in certain circumstances.”

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Nelson of Save Our Allies, one of the private veterans groups helping Afghans escape through a network of safe houses and private donations, said the bureaucracy is still taking too long.

“It waited and waited and waited, and his time ran out. His family two weeks after his death received a congratulatory letter from the State Department. And that’s just the typical travesty that we’re starting to see become more and more common every day,” said Nelson, who left his job in August to continue evacuations.

Evacuees from Afghanistan are seen at their temporary shelter inside the U.S. Army Rhine Ordonanz Barracks in Kaiserslautern, Germany, August 30, 2021.

Evacuees from Afghanistan are seen at their temporary shelter inside the U.S. Army Rhine Ordonanz Barracks in Kaiserslautern, Germany, August 30, 2021.

He spoke from the Middle East where he flew this week to facilitate visas for 200 Afghans who he helped escape to Pakistan.

“We have Brigadier Generals in the Afghan National Army. We have female journalists that have been persecuted. We’ve got several that young Hazara girls who are targeted to be war brides, young war brides, and we’ve been able to get all of them to safety to this point. And they’re getting ready to make that final jump,” Nelson said.

“I’ve got the family, the mother and father of an active duty U.S. Marine that is part of this group. We’ve got famous Afghan media personalities.”

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One of those Hazara women was visited by the Taliban this week and beaten.

“I just literally two nights ago received the video and pictures from a young Hazara woman who when she got back to her house, the Taliban were waiting for her and they beat her, severely, broke her nose, cracked her orbital bone,” Nelson said. “We’ve moved her to a safe place and put her in hiding.”

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul has operated out of Qatar since the U.S. withdrawal, where it is processing about 500 Afghan applicants through the Chief of Mission adjudication stage of the Afghan SIV process.

Afghanistan's evacuees leave Kabul

Afghanistan’s evacuees leave Kabul
(Project Dynamo)

Since August 31, the State Department has directly facilitated the departure of 495 U.S. citizens and 455 lawful permanent residents from Afghanistan. “We have also facilitated the relocation of a couple thousand of their family members and our Afghan allies and their family members from the country,” a senior U.S. official told Fox News. When President Biden took office, the State Department surged resources to accelerate SIV processing, and approved more than 8,200 SIV applications in 2021. 

“The U.S. government continues to help U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents and their eligible family members, SIV holders and post-COM SIV applicants and their eligible family members, and individuals with family in the United States, depart Afghanistan as operational and security conditions allow. We are working around the clock on these efforts to support our Afghan allies and their families, which – as Secretary Blinken has said – has no deadline,” according to a State Department official.

U.S. officials say that Saadi’s family, who were included in his original visa application, are eligible to come to the U.S. But first, private evacuation groups like Save Our Allies say, they have to get out of Afghanistan.

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“Everything that we’re doing right now is done on a personal basis. There’s no government money, there’s no government funding. There’s no government plane waiting, waiting at the end of a tarmac,” Nelson told Fox News.

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