So why is Congress OK’ing 2,500 more US visas for Afghan immigrants?
A just-released Pentagon report suggests Afghanistan is spiraling toward civil war with the number of terrorist attacks, casualties and displacements of Afghans hitting record highs, thanks in no small part to former President Obama’s precipitous withdrawal of US combat troops starting in 2014.
As the Afghan government risks losing roughly 40 percent of the country to terrorists and insurgents, Congress proposes issuing 2,500 more visas to Afghan nationals to allow them to immigrate to America, a move that raises security concerns. The Pentagon says ISIS has established beachheads in several Afghan districts, along with al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and these and other terrorist groups could use the visa program to infiltrate the US.
The new report from the Defense Department’s special inspector general for Afghan reconstruction paints a picture of chaos and instability throughout the country. Among the shocking findings:
* The number of terrorist attacks and other security incidents throughout 2016 and continuing into the first quarter of 2017 reached their highest level on record.
* Casualties suffered by Afghan security forces "in the fight against the Taliban and other insurgents continue to be shockingly high,” with 807 killed and 1,328 wounded in just the first six weeks of this year.
* Conflict-related civilian casualties in Afghanistan rose to 11,418 in 2016 – the highest on record.
* A whopping 660,639 people in Afghanistan fled their homes due to conflict in 2016 – a 40 percent jump over 2015 and the highest number of displacements on record.
* The Afghan government now controls barely 60 percent of the country's 407 districts, while the Taliban and other insurgents control or threaten to control the rest.
"Preventing insurgents from increasing their control or influence of districts continues to be a challenge" for the Afghan government, the report warned, noting that Kabul’s control of the country has dropped from 72 percent in November 2015 to just under 60 percent today.
"Afghanistan remains in the grip of a deadly war,” inspector general John Sopko said, and one that has seen insurgents gaining more and more territory over the past 18 months.
The 2,500 special visas for Afghan refugees, championed by Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, were stuffed into the compromise spending bill and are up for consideration on the Hill this week.
US visas issued annually to Afghans nearly doubled under the Obama administration, soaring from 2,454 in 2008 to 4,156 in 2015, the latest year for which data are kept.
Experts say the number of Afghan refugees recently resettled in the US is on the rise.
“I’ve noticed an uptick,” Refugee Resettlement Watch director Ann G. Corcoran said. “The number is increasing."
Few in Washington are raising alarms about this largely uncontrolled influx of new Afghan immigrants, but the security risk compounds the risk posed by Syrian refugees.
Though their numbers are relatively small next to the projected flood of Syrians, experts fear the Afghan immigrants could include jihadists who decide to lash out at their generous Western host -- as they have in Germany, which is deporting 12,000 Afghan refugees after some carried out terrorist attacks there.
Several recent Afghan immigrants have already been busted for terrorism in America, including: Afghan refugee Hayatulla Dawari, who got as far as naturalization before authorities learned of his involvement with an Afghan terror group and convicted him in 2014; and Afghan refugee Sohiel Omar Kabir, who was sentenced in 2015 to 25 years in federal prison for providing material support to terrorists and conspiring to kill Americans.
Afghan immigration, moreover, factors into recent “homegrown" terrorism, including the Orlando, Fla., and Chelsea, N.Y., attacks.
Assurances that Afghan refugees will be vetted for security risks and monitored while in America are not comforting. The Pentagon can’t even keep track of the Afghans it brings here for military training exercises designed to help them go back and defend their own country.
Alarmingly, at least 45 Afghan soldiers have disappeared in the US over the past two years while training at military installations. Many of these AWOL immigrants, who also came here on special visas, have extensive training in weapons and explosives.
“Taliban commanders give instructions to their forces to buy weapons, ammunition and fuel from the Afghan army and police,” according to the Pentagon report.
Afghanistan is conspicuously absent from the list of seven terror-prone countries in President Trump’s indefinite immigration ban, even though al-Qaeda has reopened terrorist training camps there and ISIS is operating in several districts.
The Pentagon reveals that no fewer than 20 terrorist groups, including ISIS, are now operating in Afghanistan, mostly along the Pakistan border.
"This is the highest concentration of terrorist groups anywhere in the world,” it says.
The department also notes that “the Taliban and other insurgents have gained territory over the past two years,” as Obama hastily withdrew US troops, and now threaten to control more than 40 percent of the country.
Sperry is a former Hoover Institution media fellow and author of the bestsellers “Infiltration”