Top GOP senators want joint review of Afghan visa process

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) is seen during a Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee hearing to discuss security threats 20 years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on Tuesday, September 21, 2021.
Greg Nash

The top GOP lawmakers on the Senate Armed Services, Foreign Relations and Homeland Security committees want four government watchdogs to conduct a joint inquiry into how the Biden administration handled the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The State Department inspector general earlier this week announced a series of reviews to look at the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program, among other issues, but Sens. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) are asking for a wider investigation.  

“While we appreciate the U.S. Department of State Office of Inspector General’s commitment to carry out a review of the SIV program, we feel any audit must be comprehensive in scope and consider the role of other key agencies, notably the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense,” the senators wrote in a letter sent Thursday to the inspector generals of the Pentagon, State Department, Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Agency for International Development.

“This investigation should thoroughly review each individual executive department that holds responsibilities in the SIV process, as well as their respective bureaus, offices, and missions, and the interagency processes in place to help facilitate communication and coordination between them.”

The end of the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan was thrown into chaos with the fall of the Western-backed government in Kabul to the Taliban on Aug. 15.

Both Democrats and Republicans have criticized the administration’s handling of the chaotic U.S. exit from the country and demanded to know how 20 years of financial and physical investment failed to prepare Afghanistan’s government and armed forces for a Taliban takeover after U.S. troops left.

Emergency evacuation efforts also appeared to be crafted on the spot as the U.S. embassy in Kabul unexpectedly closed its doors and hastily moved temporary operations to the city’s international airport to help with the evacuation of 125,000 people when commercial options ceased. 

State Department acting Inspector General Diana Shaw is the lead for her department’s review of those actions and will take input from other departments.

The lawmakers, however, want agencies to work more closely together to give a detailed description of how many SIV applicants remain in the pipeline. They also want to know about the SIV process, how long it takes and figures on applications received, approved, and denied by year, to highlight those approved between April and August as the Biden administration struggled to process a backlog while the situation in Afghanistan quickly turned dire.  

They also ask for details on how the State Department and Department of Homeland Security adjusted the SIV process to expand capacity “and address longstanding bureaucratic hurdles” following the Trump administration’s February 2020 deal with the Taliban to pull U.S. troops from Afghanistan; as well as how viable the current SIV process is “in light of the recent Taliban takeover.”

Many SIV-qualifying Afghan allies toiled for years in a frustrating bureaucracy to fill out their paperwork, with many applications left incomplete amid a system that was long criticized as too cumbersome and slow given the approaching deadline for U.S. withdrawal. The State Department has acknowledged that the majority of those allies were left behind in Afghanistan.

Tags Afghanistan Jim Inhofe Jim Risch Rob Portman

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