foreign-policy Antony Blinken on Friday said the “backlog” of Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) that accumulated under the Trump administration is the reason why conflicts allies remain in the now-Taliban-controlled nation.
In answer to questions regarding why more Afghan allies had not been evacuated prior to the U.S. withdrawal, Blinken said “the program was basically in a dead stall” when he acquired it.
The SIV program was established so that Afghans who worked with the U.S. throughout the 20-year long war could emigrate to America.
“When we took office we inherited a backlog of more than 17,000 SIV applicants,” he told reporters. “There had not been a single interview of an SIV applicant in Kabul in the nine months prior to us taking office, going back to March 2020.”
But the secretary acknowledged that the coronavirus pandemic was a “major impediment” to the program and that the congressionally mandated scheme did not function efficiently under an evacuation scenario.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin earlier this week told reporters the program was “designed to be a slow process.”
“The SIV program is obviously not designed to accommodate what we just did, in evacuating over 100,000 people,” he told reporters Wednesday.
“For the type of operation we just conducted, I think we need a different kind of capability,” Austin added.
The visa system requires a 14-step process that also relies on agencies outside of the State Department for visa approval.
Blinken did not answer whether any Americans have gotten out of Afghanistan since US troops withdrew. He said the State Department is in regular contact with Americans who are in the country and want to get out and that dedicated teams are assigned to handle their cases.
Blinken said the administration started revamping the SIV program and initiating interviews within two weeks of taking office.
Fifty people were reportedly added to the team in Washington that processed applications, and resources were doubled in Kabul.
“We went from issuing about 100 Special Immigrant Visas every week in March to more than 1,000 every week in August,” the secretary said.
Operation Refuge Allies was then launched in July to start the transportation of Americans and SIV holders from Afghanistan to the U.S.
Blinken said the State Department will be reviewing the SIV program and what they have learned from the mass evacuation of more than 124,000 individuals from Afghanistan.
“We have…learned through hard experience that the SIV process was not designed to be done in an evacuation emergency,” the secretary said. “There are lessons here that we need to learn and will learn as our work continues.”
Blinken said that the department will remain in “active contact” with individuals who are still stuck in Afghanistan and will continue to process applications and issue visas as quickly as possible.
“There’s absolutely no deadline on this work,” the secretary said.
Fox News’ Jacqui Heinrich contributed to this report.