Home>Articles>Opinion: Smith welcomes Afghan refugees, says essential that comprehensive vetting continues

Rep. Christopher H. Smith. (Photo: Office of Congressman Chris Smith.)

Opinion: Smith welcomes Afghan refugees, says essential that comprehensive vetting continues

By Congressman Christopher H. Smith, September 02 2021 7:42 pm


As Afghan evacuees continue to arrive at Joint Base MDL, today I joined members of the NJ congressional delegation and the Governor for a high-level briefing at the base by U.S. Northern Command Commander General Glen VanHerck.

As the process to assist and relocate the Afghan evacuees intensifies, the outstanding men and women of the Joint Base are playing a critical role in this humanitarian crisis by meeting the basic needs of temporary housing, food, medical care, resettlement assistance and transportation.  We are grateful for their work and for the extraordinary leadership of Airforce Major General Mark Camerer, Commander of Joint Task Force Liberty.

I believe that there is a both a compelling need and moral obligation to provide immediate safe haven and humanitarian aid to those who have fled the unspeakable cruelty, violence and terrorism perpetrated by the Taliban and ISIS-K.

And, in welcoming Afghan evacuees to the U.S.—and out of an abundance of respect and concern for all Americans as well as genuine refugees—it remains absolutely essential that comprehensive and effective vetting occurs to ensure that no terrorist surreptitiously slips into any American community.

Some of the individuals and families arriving at the Joint Base provided vital assistance to our brave servicemen and women who served in Afghanistan fighting the war against terrorism and now need the U.S. to fulfill our promise to protect them.

Shockingly, according to the Wall Street Journal, the majority of interpreters and other U.S. visa applicants were left behind in Afghanistan.

We are told that prior to arriving at the Joint Base, vetting is robust and that biometric screening is being employed.

However, according to Politifact, “How does vetting work?  U.S. officials have emphasized that the vetting of evacuees is thorough, but they have not provided much detail.”

Also of concern are the comments by President Biden’s press secretary, Jen Psaki, who today said ‘We know ISIS-K has a keen interest in attacks against aviation targets, and our personnel on the ground and our personnel on the ground in our military bases…”

We need to know more.

Reliable background information on Afghan evacuees—including fingerprints, cross checking terror watch lists and public records—on many if not most simply doesn’t exist, and if such information did, is likely neither available nor retrievable—especially now.

That said, how many Afghan refugees have been “screened out” thus far due to their past?  What country will accept them?  We have no idea.

During the war in Kosovo, I travelled to Stenkovec refugee camp in Macedonia in 1999 and then was here at McGuire Air Force Base months later to welcome some of the 4,400 people brought from that camp to the United States. One refugee – Agron Abdullahu – was apprehended years later and sent to jail in 2008 for supplying guns and ammunition to the “Fort Dix 5” – a group of terrorists who were also sent to prison for plotting to kill American soldiers at the Fort Dix.

Despite the vetting process used then, he was missed. We cannot allow another such failure to happen again.

It is expected that up to 13,000 Afghan evacuees may be housed at the base.

New Jersey residents and families and NGOs are showing deep compassion and empathy by reaching out to offer generous donations and supplies.

Christopher H. Smith, Republican of New Jersey’s 4th district, is a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. 

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