US ‘No Man Left Behind’ Also Applies to Our Afghan Interpreters
Britain expediting relocation of interpreters in Afghanistan ahead of US withdrawal
Britain is expediting the relocation of interpreters in Afghanistan ahead of the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops by Sept. 11. The Ministry of Defense said in a statement that local staff who worked for the U.K. government in Afghanistan, including interpreters, will be eligible under a program that began in April that intended to prioritize relocating those who were threatened as a result of working with the U.K. "We owe a debt of gratitudeThe Ministry of Defense said in a statement that local staff who worked for the U.K. government in Afghanistan, including interpreters, will be eligible under a program that began in April that intended to prioritize relocating those who were threatened as a result of working with the U.K.
One of the last times I saw my interpreter Ali, we were driving through a valley in southeastern Afghanistan when a vehicle in our convoy struck an IED. An ambush followed. Muzzle flashes lit up the rocky hillside as we pried the bodies of four Afghan soldiers out of their mangled vehicle, including Mortaza, a friend of Ali’s. I remember the two of us putting pieces of him in a vinyl body bag. Afghan or American, the person’s nationality didn’t matter—you never leave a man behind.
Ali wasn’t my interpreter’s real name, but it’s what everyone called him. We worked in special operations, and to protect his family, he hid his identity. After I returned to the U.S., Ali and I lost touch. But about 18 months ago, I received an email from an unfamiliar name with the subject “This is Ali!” He told me that, after several years of navigating the exhausting Special Immigrant Visa program, he’d settled with his wife and children in Texas. He was happy. He was worried, however, about his siblings and parents still in Afghanistan. They had received death threats from the Taliban because of Ali’s work and that of his younger brother, also an interpreter who has been trying for years to get his SIV. We kept in touch after that. In April, when the Biden administrationits planned withdrawal of all American troops from the country by September 11, Ali wrote to plead for help in getting his family to safety.
Lawmakers urge Biden to evacuate Afghan allies ‘immediately’
A bipartisan group warns that thousands of people are at risk if the U.S. doesn't immediately fix the Special Immigrant Visa backlog.In a June 4 letter obtained exclusively by POLITICO, lawmakers led by Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) wrote that they are "increasingly concerned" that the administration has not yet mobilized the Pentagon to help protect Afghan allies. The State Department’s current plan to approve special immigrant visas allowing thousands of Afghans to enter the United States is moving too slowly to avert the coming crisis, they said.
The withdrawal from Afghanistan is under way and currently proceeding ahead of schedule: The Pentagonthat, as of last week, it was 30–44 percent complete. U.S. troops will likely be out of Afghanistan before the end of the summer. But Americans aren’t the only ones who have fought for America. Interpreters like Ali and his brother wore our uniforms, used our weapons, and watched our backs. They deserve asylum in the United States. If no action is taken, we are, in effect, sentencing them—as well as their families and others who worked with the U.S. government—to death at the hands of the Taliban.
What the U.S. must do is clear: We need to evacuate our interpreters, as well as other key Afghan partners and family members threatened by the Taliban. And if we can’t do that by our September 11 withdrawal deadline, then our withdrawal will not be complete.
Pressure mounts on White House to help Afghans who aided U.S.
With the drawdown from Afghanistan nearing its halfway mark, the administration has outlined few details about how to protect nearly 18,000 Afghans and their families who are eligible for visas.Thousands of Afghans who were employed by the U.S. government as interpreters, translators or in other positions are eligible for a special immigrant visa to leave the country for their safety.
Ali spent three years trying to get his U.S. visa. He had to gather letters of recommendation from past supervisors, submit to interviews, and undergo a medical evaluation. Currently, the State Department has more thanunprocessed applications for such visas, far too many to complete in the next three months. “There is clearly no way to get this done under SIV,” Representative Seth Moulton told me. He is a co-chair of a working group comprising 21 members of Congress, many of whom are veterans. On June 4, the group delivered a to the Biden administration calling for an evacuation plan.
The U.S. has managed such evacuations before. As the Vietnam War was ending, the U.S. evacuated 111,000 Vietnamese to Guam in. America also evacuated to Guam in the 1990s. Once the evacuees were there, the State Department vetted their applications for asylum in the U.S. The Afghans deserve a similar process. This would require extensive airlifts out of Afghanistan as well as temporary housing on the military base at Guam. Michael San Nicolas, the current delegate from Guam, has committed to such an effort, despite concerns among his constituents about an influx of refugees fueling the spread of COVID-19. He is among the signatories of the White House letter.
Taliban aversion to peace talks could imperil U.S. diplomats and interpreters after military leaves
Taliban officials do not appear to want to negotiate a peace deal with the U.S.-backed central government, according to a senior American general, raising questions about the security of Western officials and their interpreters as they withdraw NATO forces. © Rahmat Gul /AP Afghan soldiers patrol outside their military base on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, May 9, 2021. By Sept. 11 2021, at the latest, the remaining U.S.and allied NATO forces will leave Afghanistan, ending nearly 20 years of military engagement.
Yet no evacuation can happen without a formal directive from the White House. Thus far, that directive has proved elusive. The Biden administration has, as of yet, not made evacuation a priority. As Representative Jason Crow, a former U.S. Army Ranger and the other co-chair of the group, told me, “Our interpreters lived with us, fought with us, and some died with us. Without them, many of us also would not have come home.” Leaving those who worked with us behind would not just be a moral catastrophe, it would certainly undermine American credibility abroad, a point the signatories of the June 4 letter addressed explicitly. “If we fail to protect our allies in Afghanistan,” they wrote, “it will have a lasting impact on our future partnerships and global reputation, which will then be a great detriment to our troops and the future of our national security.”
The administration still has time to act. When I asked Crow whether he thought the Departments of Defense and State could logistically conduct an evacuation to Guam or another U.S. territory on short notice, he was unequivocal: “If the military is given the order by the White House, the military is prepared to accomplish that. That’s not conjecture by me, that’s what the military has said.”
Senators introduce bill to improve visa program to protect Afghan interpreters who helped US
A bipartisan group of senators has introduced legislation aimed at improving the Afghan special immigrant visa (SIV) program amid a growing push from lawmakers, veterans and advocates to ensure that Afghan interpreters and others who helped the United States are protected once US troops fully withdraw from Afghanistan. © Joe Raedle/Getty Images A U.S. Marine (C) talks through his interpreter (L) to an Afghan man during a patrol on July 6, 2009 in Mian Poshteh, Afghanistan. The bill introduced Thursday by Sens.
And if the timeline does prove to be too short for such an effort, then the answer is simple: Move the deadline. The September 11 deadline has, since its inception, been arbitrary, of arguably no military significance, a gimmicky way to add symmetry to an asymmetrical conflict. This anniversary should not dictate the timing of our withdrawal, especially if our rush does not allow us to evacuate our partners and allies.
When I mentioned the possibility of an evacuation to Ali on the phone, he didn’t say much. For the past three years, his younger brother has been trying to secure a visa. His brother is now in; American troops pulled out of the city in mid-May, leaving him and other partners behind. Ali told me that his brother had recently sent him a statement by the Taliban, in which the group announced its plan to offer clemency to interpreters and others who worked for the Americans. “Really?” I asked. “Yes,” he said. “So long as the interpreters repent and admit that they betrayed the Afghan people.” When I asked what he thought of the Taliban offer, he laughed and said, “These days, I’d hesitate to take anyone at their word.”
Senator who votes with Democrats wants Biden's 'hair on fire' to get interpreters out of Afghanistan .
A senator who typically sides with Democrats is pressing President Joe Biden to do more to help Afghan interpreters who assisted U.S. forces there get out of the country, and possible harm, before American forces depart this summer. © Provided by Washington Examiner "I want the White House's hair on fire" over the pressing need to ensure Afghans' safety, Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine, told reporters. "The time is short and getting shorter all the time." There are some 18,000 special visa applications from Afghan citizens awaiting processing, a backlog that could take some time to ease.