Governor Baker criticizes ‘catastrophe’ in Afghanistan, suggests Mass. would accept Afghan refugees

Governor Charlie Baker Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Governor Charlie Baker on Tuesday denounced what he called the “mismanagement” that led to the chaos in Afghanistan amid the United States’ withdrawal, saying the situation imperils those trying to escape Kabul.

“The mismanagement that led to the catastrophe unfolding in Afghanistan has needlessly endangered Americans and our allies,” Baker said in a tweet. “I am deeply thankful for the men and women who have fought to protect the homeland and pray for the safety of all of those now serving.”

In a follow-up tweet, Baker indicated that Massachusetts would accept Afghan refugees. US forces are in the process of evacuating Afghans who aided the US government during the 20-year war.

“Massachusetts is ready to assist Afghan refugees seeking safety and peace in America,” he said.

On Tuesday, Pentagon officials said they are coordinating with the Taliban and bringing in thousands of additional US troops to finish evacuating Americans and Afghan allies from the Kabul International Airport within two weeks.

The Massachusetts Immigration and Refugee Advocacy Coalition welcomed Baker’s support for Afghans and said the number of applicants seeking refugee status was climbing.

“Historically Massachusetts has taken an outsized number of refugees, relative to the size of the commonwealth, and we’re glad to see Governor Baker committing to opening up and accepting the people who need to come here from Afghanistan,” said Daniel Pereira, communications director for the coalition.

Jeffrey Thielman, CEO of the Boston-based International Institute of New England, said his organization is eager to welcome Afghan refugees and visa holders and help them resettle in the region.

“We urge the Biden administration to get them here as quickly as possible,” he said.

Thielman said he felt “energized and excited” by Baker’s tweet and believes it reflects a wider sentiment across the state to help refugees fleeing the turmoil in Afghanistan.

“My sense is there’s a strong desire on the part of not only the leadership of the state but also of communities and philanthropists in the area to welcome people from Afghanistan and support them,” he said. “We’re very hopeful that many special immigrant visa holders and refugees will be arriving very soon and we hope we can help them.”

According to the International Rescue Committee, about 300,000 Afghan civilians have been affiliated with the American effort in Afghanistan since September of 2001. Only a small minority qualify for refugee protection in the United States.

The US military, along with veterans of the war, has been working to expand and expedite the number of special immigrant visas for those who worked with US forces. However, thousands are stuck in a yearslong backlog.

Afghanistan plunged into chaos in recent days after its government collapsed, the president fled the country, and the Taliban took control of its capital. Afghans attempting to leave Kabul flooded its airport Monday, leaving at least seven people dead in the chaos, including some who plunged to their deaths after clinging to a US military jet as it took off.

Baker’s statement comes as President Biden has faced criticism over the withdrawal, which has sparked comparisons to the end of the Vietnam war. On Monday Biden said in a speech that he stood by the decision to pull US troops from the country and blamed the collapse of the government on the refusal of the Afghan military to fight the Taliban advance.

Governor Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, a Republican, on Tuesday asked the Biden administration for information on how many New Hampshire residents may be stranded in Afghanistan, citing “countless calls” to his office from constituents.

Massachusetts’ congressional representatives have expressed concern for the safety of US personnel and allies in Afghanistan while acknowledging the futility of the US’s decades-long effort there. Some said Biden did the best he could with the situation he inherited.

In her statement Monday of support for President Biden, Senator Elizabeth Warren

added that ,“it is our moral responsibility to immediately admit more refugees and to ensure the safety of those who aided the United States throughout this conflict.”

Massachusetts has offered to assist fleeing refugees in the past. In 2014, then-Governor Deval Patrick said in an emotional speech that the state would provide temporary shelter for up to 1,000 children who crossed the US-Mexico border, submitting two locations in the state for federal approval, though they ultimately weren’t needed.

Jim Puzzanghera of the Globe Staff contributed to this report. Material from The Associated Press and New York Times was used.

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