Biden taps veteran diplomat to lead Afghan relocation efforts

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The State Department on Tuesday announced that veteran senior State Department official Elizabeth Jones will oversee Afghan relocation efforts.

Jones, who served as deputy special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan during the Obama administration, will be the administration’s point person on helping to facilitate the relocation of tens of thousands of Afghans who fled the country amid the Taliban’s takeover in August. 

Jones will assume oversight of the entire Afghanistan relocation effort, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement. This includes the departure of individuals looking to leave Afghanistan — including American citizens and Afghan allies who served with the U.S. over the past 20 years — and relocation and resettlement efforts in the U.S. 

Politico first reported Jones’s appointment. 

Jones is a 35-year veteran of the State Department and achieved the rank of career ambassador and is coming out of retirement to serve. She served as Ambassador to Kazakhstan and Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia, among other top diplomatic positions. 

“Ambassador Jones will focus on the very complex issues related to our efforts to facilitate the relocation and resettlement in the United States of Afghan individuals to whom we have a commitment,” Price said in a statement.

“This includes efficient and effective coordination within the Department, across the interagency and with international partners, as well as outreach to our colleagues in Congress, our press corps, and to others. These operations will be managed along four primary areas of responsibility: relocation out of Afghanistan, third-country transit and processing outside the United States, resettlement in the United States, and overall outreach and engagement.” 

She’ll be taking over as the State Department’s point person on relocation efforts from John Bass, who flew to Kabul days after the Taliban took over the city to help run logistics and consular efforts for evacuating Afghans. 

Bass was nominated in July by President Biden to serve as Under Secretary of State for Management, the third-highest ranking official in the State Department. 

The appointment comes following Biden meeting virtually on Tuesday with leaders of the Group of 20 nations to discuss Afghanistan — including allowing for foreign nationals and Afghans allies at risk, those that worked alongside international groups and the U.S. over the past 20 years, to leave the country. 

European and Central Asian countries have served as key transit points for Afghan refugees that managed to escape Afghanistan amid the Taliban’s ousting of the western-backed government in Kabul and the pull out of all U.S. troops on August 31.

The Biden administration helped facilitate the evacuation of 125,000 people, the vast majority categorized as “Afghans at risk” of retribution from the Taliban under its strict, fundamentalist Islamist-rule.

Jack Markell, the White House Coordinator for Operation Allies Welcome, the effort to relocate Afghans in the U.S., told reporters last month that there are a little more than 50,000 Afghans on military bases in the U.S. and that between 12- and 13,000 people were expected to be transferred by early October from military bases in Europe.

But the administration has acknowledged that it left behind the majority of Afghans who qualify for Special Immigrant Visas to the U.S., those that largely served as interpreters or in other positions alongside American forces over the past two decades. Advocates put that number at around 100,000. 

U.S. officials last week met with Taliban representatives in Doha, Qatar in an effort to press for the safe passage of Afghan SIV applicants, among others, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement on Sunday. 

Updated 1:54 p.m.

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