Democrat, GOP Lawmakers Receiving Thousands of Afghan Evacuation Requests as Withdrawal Nears

Democratic and Republican lawmakers have received thousands of Afghan evacuation requests as the U.S. prepares to complete its withdrawal from Afghanistan on August 31 after nearly 20 years, the Associated Press reported.

Tissues for crying breaks were set out on a conference room table for aides of Democratic Representative Eric Swalwell of California as they took numerous calls from people pleading for help to evacuate loved ones and friends from Afghanistan.

The offices of lawmakers across the country are becoming inundated with similar requests after the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan and following an attack in Kabul on Thursday that killed 13 U.S. Marines and many more Afghans.

"The hardest part is just the sense of helplessness," Swalwell said. "We're seeing all of this, you know, anxiety, and we can't do enough."

"When you're working 18 hours a day or so for a week and people are not getting through and you hear about people dying, yeah, it's emotional," said Republican Representative Don Bacon of Nebraska. "These guys are on the edge of their nerves."

Bacon, who served in Iraq, said his office is dealing with over 800 people trying to leave Afghanistan.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Man Evacuated from Afghanistan
Democrat and GOP lawmakers across the U.S. are receiving thousands of Afghan evacuation requests as the U.S. withdrawal deadline of August 31 nears. Above, families evacuated from Kabul, Afghanistan, walk through the terminal before boarding a bus after they arrived at Washington Dulles International Airport, in Chantilly, Virginia, on August 27, 2021. Jose Luis Magana/AP Photo

The stories have poured in by the thousands with heartbreaking pleas not to be left behind.

Across the county, the offices of members of Congress have become makeshift crisis centers, flooded with requests for help getting people onto one of the last flights leaving the Kabul airport.

More than 105,000 people have been evacuated since the Taliban takeover August 14, in one of the largest U.S. airlifts in history. The work could hardly be more urgent or dangerous after Thursday's suicide bombing attack. Nearly 100 Afghans were also killed and scores more wounded alongside 18 marines that were wounded.

President Joe Biden said after the devastating attack that the U.S. would not be intimidated, "and our mission will go on." But he also acknowledged the limits of what can be done as the U.S. focuses on safe passage for Americans, while countless others remain, many fearful for their futures.

"Getting every single person out is—can't be guaranteed of anybody," Biden said.

In the race against time, the lawmakers are stepping up where the other branches of the U.S. government have maxed out. It's infuriating, emotional work, the rare undertaking that crosses party lines, Republicans and Democrats, working around the clock, to help the friends, family, and loved ones of their constituents—and helping the U.S. keep its word.

In Northern Virginia, the office of Democratic Representative Don Beyer reports that the number of constituent requests coming in—more than 100 a day—is what they would typically have in a full month. The area is home to many Afghans as well as military personnel and defense contractors, some with ties to the region. In the adjacent congressional district, the office of Democratic Representative Gerry Connolly reports that staff has submitted the names of nearly 10,000 Americans and Afghan interpreters and others to the State Department for consideration.

Swalwell's district is home to a large Afghan diaspora community. The city of Fremont has a neighborhood called Little Kabul. But from coast to coast, and across the heartland, lawmakers around the country are also seeing huge spikes in requests for help.

Bacon's workload of evacuation requests grew in part because of the number of veterans working for him, including two retired colonels plus a Gold Star wife whose husband was killed in Afghanistan, who still have connections overseas. They are having some success, but more often than not, they are hearing from people who can't get through Taliban-controlled checkpoints, he said.

Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said that many lawmakers are forwarding cases his way. "I get texts every night, every hour, every half hour," McCaul said.

The effort is personal for those members of Congress who served in the national security apparatus in Iraq and Afghanistan. Prior to joining Congress, Representative Andy Kim (D-N.J.) had provided strategic advice to General David Petraeus, the former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. He said his office has received more than 6,000 evacuation cases in just more than a week.

"This is about the expectation of what the American handshake means to those that were willing to put their lives at risk to help us and our service members and our diplomats on the ground," Kim said.

In North Carolina, which is home to Fort Bragg, Republican Senator Thom Tillis has been working with veterans from the 82nd Airborne to help people he said they consider "brothers and sisters" in arms, having worked alongside the U.S. troops for years.

"They've seen their families grow up, they spent time on the battlefield, they saw people die there," Tillis said.

Tillis pushed back against those critics, particularly in his own Republican Party, who warn against welcoming the foreigners out of fears they could be terrorists themselves. "You probably ought to get to know them, maybe get to know their story and welcome them to this country," he said. "We owe them a debt of gratitude for saving American lives."

On Thursday, he said his office has a list of 1,000 people in Afghanistan he's trying to help evacuate—and he's just one senator out of 100.

"Focus on the math," he said. "That's one office, and it's growing every single day....It's fairly easy to see how the number gets up in the tens of thousands."

For all the horror stories lawmakers are hearing about people being turned away or having their papers ripped, they are getting word of some successes. Bacon said his team helped arrange for the rescue of an American family by helicopter, plus the evacuation of an Afghan general and his family.

"Our folks can know that, for the rest of their lives, they made a lifetime impact on a family," Bacon said. "They can cherish that until the day they die."

Swalwell beamed at the photo of one little smiling Afghan girl who made it out safely. "That's what keeps us going," he said.

"It's like one photo of joy for hundreds of stories that are painful and may not have a happy ending."

Afghanistan Evacuees
Democrat and GOP lawmakers across the U.S. are receiving thousands of Afghan evacuation requests as the U.S. withdrawal deadline of August 31 nears. Above, people disembark after the landing of a chartered Air Belgium plane carrying evacuated people from Afghanistan, at the military airport in Melsbroek, on August 24, 2021. Eric Lalmand/AFP via Getty Images