The U.S. Must Honor Our Promises and Protect Afghan Partners
Washington, June 3, 2021
Mohammad spent most of the past 12 years working for the U.S. government in Afghanistan, first in the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and later as a DoD contractor. When his wife and family started receiving threats in 2010, he applied for a Special Immigrant Visa. Wrongful rejections and delays pushed Mohammad’s application back year after year- through three American presidencies and several attempts on his life.
On January 27, 2021, Mohammad was driving to work with his 10-year old son in Afghanistan when a vehicle blocked the road. Taliban assassins jumped out and gunned him down in front of his son, saying, "Where are the American forces to save you? Where are their helicopters? Where are their airplanes? You helped them for a decade! Where are they now?"
Generations of American servicemen and women have relied on local partners to accomplish their missions and advance democracy around the world, from the resistance fighters in World War II who operated behind Nazi lines to the Kurdish forces who fought with us in Iraq and Syria to defeat ISIS.
We believe America has both a moral and strategic responsibility to those who have helped us. The moral one is clear. We cannot, and must not, be a country that doesn’t honor our word. When we ask for help, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, or any of the other dozens of places where our forces operate around the world, we often promise to help and protect those who assist us. Americans recognize the inherent value of keeping our word.
There is also a strategic imperative to keeping our promises: we need friends and partners to help us meet future challenges. Make no mistake: the world is watching our withdrawal and whether we help those who helped us. If we fail to protect our current partners, it will be hard to find future ones.
The good news is we don't need to reinvent the wheel. We have a template and the capability to do the right thing. Past Administrations of both parties have ordered evacuations of at-risk populations, including those who risked their lives to advance our missions. In 1975, before and after the fall of Saigon, we evacuated 130,000 Vietnamese refugees to the U.S., 111,000 of whom were transported to and housed in Guam while being processed for resettlement. In 1996, we airlifted more than 6,000 Iraqi refugees, including Kurds and others who supported American efforts, to Guam. In 1996, the U.S. airlifted 20,000 Kosovar Albanians to Fort Dix, New Jersey, to receive refugee status.
In addition to emergency evacuation, the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program provides a unique tool. The Afghan SIV Program was created in 2009 through the Afghan Allies Protection Act. These special visas grant lawful permanent resident status to Afghans who worked as translators or interpreters or were employed by the U.S. Government and are experiencing ongoing and serious threats to their safety due to their support of the U.S. mission.
Unfortunately, the Afghan SIV program has faced significant challenges with application processing, security screening, and visa availability. It has been plagued by delays and is facing severe backlogs, with wait times routinely stretching for years. The Afghan SIV Program has also been subject to caps on the number of visas that can be issued each year, which has exacerbated these problems. Currently, there are over 18,000 potential applicants and as many as 9,000 applicants awaiting approval. With time and resource constraints, the program will only be able to process a fraction of the pending applicants before the September 11th deadline.
The U.S. is capable of using a combination of emergency evacuation, refugee programs, and expediting the SIV process to ensure we are saving the thousands of Afghans whose lives are now in jeopardy during and after our withdrawal.
As members of Congress from both parties, we are coming together to ensure that America honors its promise to those who have stood by us for the last 20 years.
We will debate the merits of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq for decades to come. But what isn't up for debate is our obligation to stand by those who stood by us. It's too late for Mohammad and many others like him. But it's not too late for the thousands of others waiting in line that we can help. There is honor for us in doing the right thing for our friends and partners while we close this chapter on America's longest war.