"We can't do enough": Lawmakers flood with evacuation pleas

Tissue holders sit atop the conference table where the congressman's aides field frantic requests from constituents desperate for help in getting friends and loved ones out of Afghanistan before it's too late.

"We can't do enough": Lawmakers flood with evacuation pleas

Stories have been flooding in from all walks of life, with heartbreaking pleas to not be forgotten.

One of the aides explained that tissues can be used to break up crying.

"The hardest thing is the feeling of helplessness," stated Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif).

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 before President Joe Biden's Tuesday deadline for the withdrawal of all U.S. military forces out of Afghanistan.

More than 105,000 people have been evacuated since the Taliban takeover Aug. 14, in one of the largest U.S. airlifts in history. It is a dangerous and urgent task that could not be more urgent than Thursday's suicide bombing attack, which killed 13 U.S. Marines while injuring 18. Nearly 100 Afghans were also wounded and killed.

Biden stated that after the attack, the U.S. would never be intimidated and "our mission will continue." However, he acknowledged that there are limits to what can be done. The U.S. is focusing on American safety while many others remain, many of them fearful for the future.

Biden stated that "every single person can't be reached"

The lawmakers are taking on the challenge of time in a race against the clock. It's a frustrating, emotional job, the rare undertaking that crosses party boundaries, Republicans and Democrats working around the clock to help their constituents, their loved ones, and keep the U.S. on its word.

The office of Democratic Rep. Don Beyer in Northern Virginia reports that more constituent requests are coming in than they would normally receive in a month. Many Afghans, as well as military personnel or defense contractors, call the area home. The office of Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly reports from the nearby congressional district that the staff submitted names of almost 10,000 Americans and Afghan interpreters to the State Department for review.

Swalwell's district houses a large Afghan diaspora. Little Kabul is a neighborhood in Fremont. However, there are huge increases in the number of requests for assistance from all parts of the country, including the coasts.

Don Bacon, a Nebraska Republican Representative, said that his office works with over 800 people to get out Afghanistan. This is partly due to the increased workload of veterans who work for him, which includes two former colonels and a Gold Star wife whose husband died in Afghanistan. He said that they are seeing some success but are more often hearing from people who cannot get through Taliban-controlled checkpoints.

Bacon, a former soldier in Iraq, said, "When you work 18 hours a days or more for a week, and people aren't getting through, and you hear about deaths, yeah, that's emotionally draining." These guys are at the edge of their nerves."

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) is the ranking Republican on House Foreign Affairs Committee. He stated that many legislators are forwarding his cases. McCaul stated, "I receive texts every night, every hour and every half hour."

For those who were part of the national security apparatus in Afghanistan and Iraq, this effort is personal. Before joining Congress, Rep. Andy Kim (D-N.J.) provided strategic advice for Gen. David Petraeus who was the former commander of U.S forces in Afghanistan. His office received over 6,000 cases of evacuation in less than a week, he said.

Kim stated, "This is about what the American handshake signifies to those who were willing to risk their lives to help us and the service personnel on the ground."

North Carolina's Fort Bragg is where Republican Senator Thom Tillis works with veterans of the 82nd Airborne. He said that they are "brothers" and "sisters" in arms. He has worked for many years alongside the U.S. military troops.

Tillis stated, "They've seen the families grow up, spent time on wargrounds, and they saw people die there."

Tillis responded to those who, especially in his Republican Party, warn against welcoming foreigners because they might be terrorists. He said, "You should probably get to know them. Maybe get to learn their story. And welcome them to this nation." We owe them a debt for saving American lives.

He said that his office had a list of 1000 Afghans he wants to evacuate. This is just one senator from 100.

He said, "Focus only on the math." "That's just one office and it's growing daily... It's easy to see how the number rises in the tens or thousands."

Even with all the horror stories that lawmakers hear about people being turned down or having their papers taken, there are some positives. Bacon stated that his team was responsible for the rescue by helicopter of an American family and the evacuation of an Afghan general with his family.

Bacon stated, "Our family can be proud that they have made a lasting impact on the lives of our loved ones." They can treasure that memory until their death."

Swalwell smiled at the picture of one smiling Afghan girl, who had made it safely. He said, "That's what keeps me going."

It's like a single photo of joy for hundreds and thousands of stories that are difficult and may not have happy endings.

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