Congressional offices and outside advocacy groups are fielding a flood of frantic calls from American citizens and foreign allies desperate to escape from Afghanistan amid unfolding chaos there.
On Sunday, staffers from Sen. Tom Cotton’s office set up a hotline for Americans stranded in Afghanistan who have not yet been able to receive any clear communication from State Department officials or other government resources.
In less than 24 hours, several hundred individuals had contacted the line, including a number of Americans trapped behind Taliban lines.
“The situation is dire, but we’ll do everything in our power to help keep you informed and to help get you out,” Cotton, R-Ark. and an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan, said in a statement.
Staffers said they do not have any special inside information on evacuations or State Department planning, but have been able to consolidate contact information and streamline communications with appropriate officials on the ground.
Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., offered similar assistance through his office.
For many panicked individuals there, that’s an improvement over the current lack of information.
State Department officials have set up their own hotline at 1-888-407-4747 for domestic calls and 1-202-501-4444 for overseas calls, as well as a Repatriation Assistance Request form for individuals seeking emergency flights out of Afghanistan.
But because of a crush of requests, officials have not been able to respond to every inquiry, leaving many confused as to whether they are awaiting further instructions or caught outside the system.
“Do not call the U.S. Embassy in Kabul for details or updates about the flight,” the department’s official advisory states. “Do not travel to the airport until you have been informed by email that departure options exist.”
Officials from No One Left Behind — which for years has advocated for better policies regarding immigration and assistance for Afghan nationals who helped U.S. military forces — said on Monday that they spent most of the weekend fielding calls from veterans trying to help former interpreters get on one of the last few American flights out of Afghanistan.
“State and [International Organization for Migration] aren’t returning calls,” group officials wrote on social media. “We are working as fast as possible to answer all communications. You are not alone.”
Officials from Amnesty International said U.S. and other foreign governments need to do a better job “expediting visas, delivering support for evacuations from Kabul airport, providing relocation and resettlement, and suspending all deportations and forced returns” in order to prevent an unfolding humanitarian crisis.
Much of that depends on the American military’s ability to secure and defend the main airport in Kabul as Taliban forces advance in the capital city. The Associated Press reported Monday that U.S. defense officials met with senior Taliban leaders, warning them not to interfere with the U.S. military’s evacuation operations at the airport.
“My heart has broken,” said Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., who served with the Army in Afghanistan. “Like most vets, I left part of me in Afghanistan.
“Later we’ll debate the failures of the last 20 yrs, but today our mission is clear: hold the airport as long as possible and get all U.S. citizens and as many Afghan partners out as we can.”
President Joe Biden is expected to deliver a national address on the Afghanistan situation on Monday afternoon.
This is a developing story. Stay with Military Times for updates.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.