About 200 of the 30,000 Afghan refugees processed at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany were marked “red” and are now under further background checks, according to Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. What is the probability of terrorists sneaking into Europe and the US under the guise of refugees?
Speaking to Fox News on 5 September, Gen. Mark Milley explained that “if the evacuee has some sort of derogatory information, it will pop up as ‘red’ or ‘yellow'”, adding that he was satisfied with the vetting process.
At least 50,000 Afghan refugees are expected to be admitted into the US, according to Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Afghans have already been processed through security vetting and arrived in the US to begin the process of resettlement. Mayorkas told Fox News that about 20 percent of those who have arrived are either American citizens or permanent residents. The rest are people who have received or are going to receive a Special Immigrant Visa.
Yet, Republicans are up in arms about Biden’s plan to open the nation’s doors to Afghan refugees. “How many terrorists will Joe Biden bring to America? We don’t know!”, former President Donald Trump said late last month. For their part, potential GOP presidential candidates have offered to send Afghans to “neutral and safe third countries”.
Extremists Trying to Sneak Into Western Countries
“It is to be expected al-Qaeda* or Daesh*-based Afghanistan would have tried and have some of their members obtain access onto the flights leaving Afghanistan to Europe and the counter-terrorism authorities will be aware of this”, says Dr David Lowe, a senior research fellow at Leeds Beckett University Law School and head of a consultancy business in terrorism and security.
The security expert explains that Europe and North America have implemented a filter system from checks at Kabul Airport prior to boarding aircraft, to interim checks in countries like the United Arab Emirates (UAE) before bringing them to their designated country and in the country itself. In the case of the US, the Afghan refugees are processed at a military base in Germany before moving onto the country.
According to Lowe, the system gives the authorities time to check the flight lists and once at their country of destination to conduct background checks while the refugees are being held in a holding centre.
These security background checks have limitations, argues David Otto, counter-terrorism and defence specialist and director of the Geneva Centre for Africa Security & Strategic Studies.
“[One] can only rely on documents and previous records”, he explains. “With the collapse of the Afghanistan government there has been concerns of people faking documents to make it through. This is one of the reasons the US has taken steps to process individuals from third party countries to control the risk. Despite these measures, groups like ISIS-K* [Daesh-K] and al-Qaeda will encourage its sympathisers to beat the system”.
Otto laments that “besides screening individuals to the best of their ability”, “there is little that is being done” to secure Europe from Daesh-linked sleeper cells. According to him, “Europe and the West are at high risk of terrorist attack from individuals who have sneaked themselves into the country posing as affiliated to the USЭю
If a refugee is found to be “unreliable” and posing a threat to the state, then in most cases there will be no alternative but to return them to Afghanistan, according to the observers. Yet, “German laws prevent [the] forcible deportation of Afghans after the Taliban* took control of the country, and this means that they can live in Germany in a special situation”, notes Dr Jassim Mohamad, head of the European Centre for Counter-Terrorism and Intelligence Studies in Bonn.
“Dangerous persons may be subjected to supervision, but none of them will be imprisoned, and residency status may remain temporary or limited”, he stresses.
Afghan Civil War & Terror Training Camps
The terror problem does not end here, according to Lowe. He outlines two potential situations raising concerns regarding the terrorist threat.
First, there is the potential of an Afghan civil war, especially between the Taliban and Daesh-K, the security expert suggests, citing Daesh’s capability of spreading across the Middle East and encouraging foreign fighters to join their ranks. Second, Lowe expects the formation of terrorist training camps in Afghanistan.
“European and North American counter-terrorism agencies are aware of these possibilities in relation to the terrorist threat”, he says.
The unfolding situation is a result of the less than smooth ending of the nearly 20-year war in Afghanistan, according to Dan Schwartz, a former Nevada State Treasurer running for lieutenant governor. He believes that when US troops invaded the country after 9/11, “the attempt was to build a society modelled on the US, which I think was highly unrealistic, and this went on for 20 years until what unfolded, I guess, this past month”.
“What I can say is and I think the people in Afghanistan are very different than they are in Iran and very different than they are in Pakistan”, he says. “It’s certainly a Muslim country, but they are a very proud country, very independent”.
While the GOP may capitalise on the White House’s chaotic withdrawal and the migration problem ahead of the 2022 midterms, the Biden administration is “going to try and obfuscate the issue and try and get Americans to focus on infrastructure, voting rights, and other important issues”, according to Schwartz.
“But the real bottom line is that I can tell you as an American, I’m embarrassed by what happened in Afghanistan”, he concludes.
*Daesh (ISIS/ISIL/Islamic State), Daesh-K (ISIS-K), al-Qaeda, and the Taliban are terrorist organisations banned in Russia and many other states.