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Polis to Biden: Colorado 'stands ready' to help Afghan refugees

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Hundreds of Afghans race after a U.S. Air Force plane leaving the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. Seven people died in the chaos.
Hundreds of Afghans race after a U.S. Air Force plane leaving the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. Seven people died in the chaos. 
Credit: Mukhtar Wafayee and PBS NewsHour

UPDATE: On Wednesday August 18, Colorado Governor Jared Polis sent a letter to President Biden saying, in part, "Colorado stands ready to receive Afghan refugees. Please advise on how Colorado can assist. You can read the full letter here. Read our original story below.


DENVER — Two decades after U.S.-led military forces ousted the Taliban from power in Afghanistan, the militant, Sunni Islamist organization known for uncompromising brutality returned to power, taking control of Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital.

The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan was quick—quicker than the U.S. government anticipated, Biden admitted in an August 16 speech—and so was the response from congressional leaders, pundits, and foreign policy experts.

As NPR’s Barbara Sprunt noted in a round-up of reactions, criticism of the Biden’s administration withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban’s surge to power was bipartisan: “Republicans were scathing about the White House's actions, and Democrats, while acknowledging that Biden was carrying out the policies of his predecessor, criticized the haphazard manner of the U.S. withdrawal.”

Rocky Mountain PBS spoke to Sheila Rucki, a professor of political science and international relations at Metropolitan State University of Denver, who said the situation in Afghanistan was “shocking but not surprising.”

Colorado VoicesCrisis in Afghanistan - MSU Denver Professor Comments

Lessons from Afghanistan - Discussion points with Dr. Sheila Rucki

“It is just incredibly sad to think there are so many Afghans who helped the United States and who threw their lot in the hope of a brighter future that now are in hiding. It’s just reprehensible that we’ve once again left so many people who trusted us behind,” Rucki said in a reference to the fall of Saigon in 1975.

Also drawing a line to the Vietnam war, Republican Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, criticizing the president, called the fall of Afghanistan Biden's "Saigon moment."

In an August 16 press conference with former United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and other leaders, Colorado Congressman Jason Crow (D-Aurora) criticized the Biden administration’s role in the ongoing chaos in Kabul.

“We should have started this evacuation months ago and had we done that tens of thousands of folks could have been brought to safety,” Crow said during the press conference. “It could have been done deliberately and methodically. We think that was a missed opportunity.”

Harrowing footage from Kabul showed thousands of Afghans rushing to the airport as U.S. Military aircraft departed. Seven people died in the chaos, according to the Associated Press, including multiple people who fell from the plane. U.S. forces killed two people who Pentagon officials described as carrying weapons.

[Related: Inside the desperate, dangerous scramble to evacuate Kabul as Taliban seizes control]

President Biden in a speech delivered August 16 said that while the Taliban’s rise to power happened more quickly than the U.S. was expecting, he stands by his decision to withdraw (a plan that his predecessor, Donald Trump, put into motion after negotiating with the Taliban).

“American troops cannot, and should not, be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves,” Biden said, adding, “I am deeply saddened by the facts we now face, but I do not regret my decision."

Biden said the quick collapse of the Afghan government and the lack of fight from the Afghan military reinforced his decision to withdraw the American troops.

"There is no chance that one more year, five more years or 20 more years of U.S. military boots on the ground would have made any difference," Biden said, noting that he is the fourth U.S. President to preside over the war in Afghanistan.

“I will not pass this responsibility onto a fifth president,” Biden added. You can watch his full speech below.

Concern for the future of Afghanistan has taken center stage. Many people recall the violence and oppression when the Taliban previously took control of Afghanistan—public executions were carried out in soccer stadiums, women were not allowed to work (and had to cover themselves from head-to-toe), and girls could not go to school. Television and music were outlawed.

[Related: Will Taliban Rule Be Any Different This Time?]

The uncertainty about the vision of current Taliban leadership has led many people to call for the support of Afghan refugees looking to escape life under Taliban rule. Nobel peace laureate Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Taliban in 2012 for advocating for education, told the BBC that countries need to open their border to Afghan refugees.

Many leaders called on the Biden administration to do a better job in supporting Afghans who helped U.S. troops over the course of the previous two decades.

When Biden announced the U.S. would leave Afghanistan before September 11, Rep. Crow and others began pushing for the expansion of the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program, which helps Afghans who worked with the U.S. government. But the program has a major backlog. According to the International Rescue Committee, “over 300,000 Afghan civilians have been affiliated with the US mission, yet only 16,000 Afghan SIVs have been issued since 2014. There are currently more than 18,000 applications in the pipeline, as well as thousands of Afghans ineligible under this program who are in dire need of protection.”

Back in April and May, Crow spoke with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell about the men and women in Afghanistan who helped Crow and his fellow soldiers. Crow said he saw those Afghans as his “brothers and sisters.”

“Bottom line, I may not be here today had it not been for those men and women, those Afghans and Iraqis, who lived with us, served with us, fought alongside us and in some instances died alongside us,” Crowd said. “If we don’t do right by these folks, in the future people are not going to work with us.”

On Monday, Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona echoed Crow’s sentiment, but with more colorful language: “Evacuate every person we can that helped us in Afghanistan,” he tweeted. “Skip the bureaucratic bulls**t, get people on planes. Land them any where [sic] in the United States.”

Speaking during the press conference with Crow, Sec. Albright said “The protection of Afghan women must be a top priority.” Professor Rucki agreed.

“I want to make it clear, what awaits women and children in Afghanistan is awful,” she said. “I expect it is going to be awful. And the kinds of social advances women made, the ability to be educated … all of that kind of stuff will be whittled away quickly.”


Kyle Cooke is the Digital Media Manager at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach him at kylecooke@rmpbs.org.

Jennifer Castor is the Executive Producer of Multimedia Content at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach her at jennifercastor@rmpbs.org.

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