On August 24, Defence One reported that Security officers at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar had detected at least one Afghan evacuee from Kabul Airport with potential links to Islamic State (ISIS). As per reports, the Automated Biometric Identification System of the Defense Department flagged close to 100 Afghans evacuated as possible recipients of Special Immigration Visas or SIVs. These individuals are potential matches to the watch lists of the Intelligence Agency.
The US has evacuated at least 6,000 Afghans to Al Udeid who wanted to escape the country after the Taliban takeover. Thousands of others have been moved to other temporary bases across the Middle East and Europe. According to officials, the Customs and Border Patrol screeners are evaluating these evacuees and checking their IDs and biometric data against the databases of law enforcement agencies.
The thousands of Afghans evacuated from Afghanistan will be housed at military bases in the US, including Fort Bliss in Texas, Fort McCoy in Wisconsin and Fort Lee in Virginia. Officials said that during screening, several evacuees triggered alerts, after which they were pulled aside by the security personnel. At least one of them looked like a potential member of ISIS, the official said and added, “They’re still working that through.”
A senior administration official managing the screening process of Afghans evacuated to a third-party country said in a statement on Tuesday that the evacuees are going through “robust security processing” before they are allowed to enter the US.
He said, “That process involves biometric and biographic security screenings conducted by our intelligence, law enforcement and counterterrorism professionals who are working quite literally around the clock to vet all these Afghans before they’re allowed into the United States.”
Till August 24, the US military has evacuated 63,000 Americans, Afghans and allied partners from Afghanistan after the Taliban took over the country. Reportedly, it is one of the fastest and largest air evacuation operations in US military history.
A large number of evacuees is a challenge
Security officers told Defence One that a large number of Afghan evacuees is a challenge for the screeners. The agents are struggling with the old vetting systems and could not process all the information required, including the biometric database information of the Defense Department. An official said, “CBP on the ground has the old tech, and they don’t know how to use it, integrate it, and there’s not enough people to process all the evacuees.”
Reports suggest that the system screeners are using may take up to an hour to crunch all the data and inform the screener if a person is okay to let go or should be detained under the pretext of a potential security risk. In such a situation, a large backlog of evacuees is being created at the screening centres across temporary military bases. An official said, “The bottom line is the system is working but slow in the process.”
On Tuesday along, US military and civilian aircraft operation evacuated 21,600 people from Afghanistan. The US is pacing up the evacuation operations as it is not in the mood to extend the deadline of August 31 to get all the troops out of the country. With a large number of evacuees spread over different bases, it is possible that red flags would be raised on other bases as well.