Before the United States left Kabul, we heard nice words from the White House on the rescue of the Afghan allies who aided the American troops.
Yet the majority of the 18,000 Afghan applicants for special immigrant visas (called SIVs) who were designated by Congress for translators and other military helpers were left behind in the chaotic evacuation. State Department admitted for that.
The Taliban have lists of those who remain and are prepared to imprison or kill them.
Yet the only ongoing rescue efforts for those in the SIV queue are being organized by private groups of US veterans and humanitarian organizations. These groups must raise considerable funds for refuges and charter flights from Afghanistan to the Arab Gulf countries. They get no financial aid from the US government.
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“We are outsourcing our policy to individual Americans and we expect them to pay for the evacuations,” said former US Ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald Neumann, “while sending the Afghans into a situation where we don’t have no clear policy as to who we will admit ”.
It is high time the Biden administration showed loyalty to the Afghans who have shown loyalty to us.
These include people like N, who I last spoke to in Kabul via WhatsApp, as he hid in a cold, rented room with no power, terrified because he had heard that the Taliban were conducting house-to-house searches. (Due to fears for N’s safety, I will refer to him only by the first initial of his first name.) A computer specialist, he worked with US forces in Kandahar, while his wife, a women’s rights activist, and his father, a lawyer, worked with US military contractors in Kabul.
N was caught outside and severely beaten by Taliban who knew his name and his father’s name, and told him he would pay to help US forces. He narrowly escaped. I saw pictures of his broken nose and bruised face.
But N, along with his wife and father, find themselves in the early and middle stages of the SIV application process, which is so complicated it can take years. With the U.S. Embassy in Kabul closed, there is no way to complete the request. It is also not possible for SIV candidates to visit a US embassy in a neighboring country when their names are on a Taliban list at the border.
So N and his family, including four children, are in separate hiding places, not knowing how they will survive.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price claimed the department aims to “give a certain degree of automaticity” to the operations of private charter flights, in order to facilitate the departure “of Americans, lawful permanent residents and others to whom we have a special commitment from Afghanistan” .
Say what? Price also said there will be no US military evacuation flights, and there is no offer from the US government to pay for private charters. Likewise, in a deadly Catch-22, there is no indication that Team Biden will accept thousands of SIV applicants who have not completed the visa process, which is impossible now that the US Embassy in Kabul is closed. .
This leaves the burden on volunteer groups as the SOAA (Association of Special Operators of America). Its director, Special Forces veterinarian Daniel Elkins, said they were trying to “help the Afghan brothers and sisters who fought alongside us,” providing them with shelters and helping them find a safe pipeline. .
Or Argo working group, made up of military veterans and nonprofit leaders. Organized by Jesse jensen, a retired U.S. Army Ranger, and Iowa State Senator Zach Nunn, also a veteran – along with a group of former military buddies – Task Force Argo has displaced 2,120 people on charters, including 61 U.S. citizens.
“We continue to operate flights for those who have served or supported US forces,” Jensen told me. But he would like “a stronger relationship with the State Department.”
“We are still waiting,” he said.
This means that clear guidance from the State Department is needed on how to funnel SIV applicants and allies of Afghan military officers through the US admissions pipeline – as well as details of who the US is. United are willing to admit.
Jensen would also like to see the state work with NATO allies to facilitate locations in third countries where SIV candidates would be safe during their screening. “We need countries to move them to,” he adds, “if there is no approval for them to go to the United States.”
As for who has to pay for charters: “It seems like the role of the US government to honor the promises made to the people who served to protect our troops and worked for democracy.” I look forward to the United States playing a more active role.
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But frustration was evident in Jensen’s voice, as well as that of Congressman Seth Moulton, an Iraq veteran and a main voice among the bipartisan group of US lawmakers who lobbied to bring out the SIV candidates.
“I and other congressional veterans have not been told of any plan to get the people who helped us out,” he told me. “As far as I know, there is no plan.”
He welcomed the appointment of the qualified career ambassador A. Elizabeth Jones, who recently returned from retirement to coordinate Afghan resettlement efforts. “But she has to have the power to act and get things done.”
The bottom line: the chaotic exodus from Afghanistan has left most translators and those who have assisted the US military in dangerous limbo. It should not be left primarily to military veterans to fund and save those who fought alongside us. They should get the maximum amount of help and funding from the State Department.
“I feel scared, disappointed, helpless and broken,” N told me via WhatsApp on Thursday. Is the US government prepared to let him and thousands of SIV candidates be jailed or killed?