Afghani Interpreters And Their Families Left BehindBy The US – An Unconscionable Abandonment

On July 19, 2021, a full three months after President Biden’s decision to withdraw all combat troops from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021, his administration set up the “Operation Allies Refuge” task force to relocate the tens of thousands of Afghan interpreters and their families, who worked for the US military since the start of the Afghan War in 2001. At the same time, the Pentagon formed a parallel “crisis action group” to support this State Department-led effort.

Two weeks later, the first 200 Afghan applicants for the special immigrant visa program began arriving in the US. It was announced that these arrivals were part of a “first tranche” of about 700 applicants who were in the final stages of the process to relocate to the US over the next few weeks. While Biden was criticized for his slow start, there was initial optimism as this program began to yield results. Afghanistan Task Force Director Ambassador Tracey Jacobson called it “a force multiplier” for the special immigrant visa process and assured these applicants that “we’ll stand with you just as you stood with us”.

Tragically, as the dramatic events of the last couple of weeks have unfolded, this worthy effort has turned out to fall grievously short of its goal – to insure the protection and safe refuge for as many as 50,000 interpreters and their family members.

While the Biden administration’s plan and goals were admirable, there appears to have been a catastrophic miscalculation of the swiftness with which the Taliban would overrun the current Afghan government and take power. Afghani President Ashraf Ghani has now fled the country while the US has scrambled to evacuate Americans.

President Biden said recently that he will send 5000 US troops to Afghanistan to help both Americans and Afghanis. But his administration has moved far too slowly to get the interpreters and their families out of the country despite urgent warnings from former military officers, members of Congress, and nonprofit advocates.

An estimated 300 interpreters have died since 2009 while seeking a US visa, and this was during a time when the US military maintained a significant presence in Afghanistan. It is imperative that the Biden administration uphold its commitment to the thousands of interpreters and their families, whom Kelli Ann Burriesci, acting undersecretary for Strategy, Policy and Plans, has called “these true teammates of the US government” who are now in grave danger under Taliban rule –- and didn’t get out in time.

By The Immigration Post – Guest Editor

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