Afghans who spied for the CIA have a problem: no paperwork to get US visas

KABUL — Rahmat says he led secret Taliban espionage missions for the Central Intelligence Agency in remote border areas of Afghanistan for nearly a decade.

He has no contract to prove it, and his CIA supervisors have never shared their real names. Now, as the United States prepares to withdraw all of its forces from Afghanistan by September 11, thousands of Afghans who worked for the United States face retaliation from the Taliban.

“They didn’t give us anything because our missions were secret,” said Rahmat, who has wavy black hair and a slender figure, remembering in a low voice the CIA officers walking in and out of his life. “One was Santos. Marie, Jason, Stu, John.

Rahmat’s story is emblematic of the obstacles Afghans, especially those in intelligence, face in joining a visa program to resettle people who worked for the US government back to the United States. Special immigrant visa applications typically require details such as contract numbers, certificates, and the names and addresses of supervisors.

Rahmat said all he had to prove his identity and work history were yellowed photographs, a letter from a trucking company that served as his cover and an old badge. Afghan officials who know him personally, both now and when he was recruited, have confirmed his account. The Wall Street Journal agreed to use only his first name.


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The 14-step process for applying for a special immigrant visa requires more paperwork than the CIA typically provides to local hires, according to a former CIA officer who served in Afghanistan who does not know Rahmat but spoke in general. Record keeping was also minimal compared to other government agencies, especially in the early years of the war. Afghans working on so-called black operations might not even be named on classified contracts retained by the agency, the former officer said.

“It is very likely that he could even have worked for 10 years, done whatever he said and walked away without a piece of paper to prove anything,” the former officer said. CIA about Rahmat. “It’s an underground organization that works in a classified environment.

One of the Afghan officials who knows him personally said that dozens of Afghans like Rahmat contacted him daily to ask their American managers for help as their lives are now in danger.

A US official said the CIA has been helping local partners with their applications for years and appreciating their contributions and sacrifices. A person familiar with CIA efforts said former employees can usually rely on a personal network to find their supervisors in the United States and the agency sometimes provides resources to help them move inside. or outside the country.

“I never asked them to help me get a visa because at that point I never imagined that we would be faced with a situation where I had to leave my country,” said Rahmat, who guesses his age around 40 years old. “It’s a shame that I worked to help them end terrorism in my country, and instead the terrorism got stronger. I never imagined that one day the Taliban would be too strong.

The first American to die in action after the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 was a CIA agent killed during an uprising in Mazar-e-Sharif prisons. The agency has spent nearly two decades conducting intelligence and paramilitary operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, relying on local personnel as translators, spies and security guards. Missions in remote areas have been kept off the books or hidden behind top secret classifications.

In 2001, Rahmat said, the CIA recruited him from a group of Eastern fighters who had fought the Taliban alongside American troops. He started in the eastern province of Kunar and spent four years in an anti-terrorist unit tasked with killing or capturing local insurgents.

He then joined a six-man intelligence gathering team, he said, spying on the Taliban on both sides of the Pakistani border. Rahmat said he made more than 200 trips to Pakistan, where the insurgency leaders are based, over the next six years. He said the CIA met him at a military base after each mission for a debriefing and paid him in cash.

The CIA paid well. He said his salary had increased from $ 700 to $ 1,000 per mission – a lot of money in a country where per capita income is barely $ 500 a year.

Rahmat said he lost his job in 2014 when the Obama administration began to scale back US deployment in Afghanistan and closed some bases and outposts. He said his last CIA supervisor promised to give him a certificate attesting to his years of service, but they failed to make contact until the spy left.

President Biden has said he will withdraw all US troops from the country by September 11, marking the second time in less than two years that a US president has set a date to end his involvement in the Afghan conflict , the longest war in US history. (Published 4/14/2021) Photo: Andrew Harnik / Getty Images

Since then, he said, the Taliban have shot dead several of his former comrades after linking them to a deadly US drone strike in the region.

“All the villagers in my home province know that I worked for Americans, and they all also know what kind of work I did,” he said. “I can’t go to my home province now. I am threatened. I cannot walk and move around freely outside.

Rahmat appealed to No One Left Behind, an independent Virginia-based advocacy group for special immigrant visa applicants, to help track down his American supervisors. His brother, who worked for the US military, just got his SIV after two years of waiting, and arrived in the US this month. Together, and building on a network of friends who have done so, they hope to find someone to vouch for Rahmat’s service.

The Special Immigrant Visa program is for translators and interpreters, people who have performed “sensitive and trustworthy activities for US military personnel” and others. It has been beset with delays, and at least 300 Afghans have been killed while awaiting visas since 2009, according to No One Left Behind. Rather, visas that by law must be approved or denied within nine months take three to five years to be tried. Earlier this month, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul said it would suspend interviews with visa applicants due to concerns about Covid-19.

Military leaders, veterans groups, and Republicans and Democrats in Congress have urged the Biden administration to evacuate former officials and their families and process visa applications in a third country. So far, the administration has resisted those calls and said it has added staff in Washington to process special immigrant visa applications.

The State Department has a backlog of about 18,000 pending applications, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Congress earlier this month.

“We are determined to honor our obligations to those who have helped us, who risked their lives, the lives of their families by working with our military, by working with our diplomats,” Blinken told CNN. this month.

Many Afghans who worked for the United States have had their applications rejected or cannot even apply for lack of papers, having quit their jobs years ago, aid workers and Afghan officials have said. Others do not have the necessary funds, including several thousand dollars for medical examinations.

The SIV program is “a bureaucratic nightmare, and the burden of this bureaucratic nightmare is primarily on the applicant,” said Deepa Alagesan, lawyer at the International Refugee Assistance Project, a non-profit organization that helps refugees apply. coming to the United States. What they call a 14-step process doesn’t capture all the back-and-forths and pitfalls that are possible.

Even those who apply have a harder time getting visas, according to State Department statistics. The latest State Department report to Congress shows a rapid increase in special immigrant visa denials from Afghanistan at the end of 2020. It approved 237 and denied 1,640 between October and December, up from 283 approvals. and 430 refusals between July and September.

Rahmat tried to start a small business after he quit working for the CIA, he said. His way to the United States blocked, Rahmat lives in hiding with his wife and 10 children, aged 3 to 21.

“They promised us that if you’re in trouble, we can get you and your family out of Afghanistan to the United States,” Rahmat said, referring to his CIA officials. “But that didn’t happen.”

Write to Jessica Donati at [email protected] and Michelle Hackman at [email protected]

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