Even those Americans who long have doubted the wisdom of our country’s military mission in Afghanistan would surely want to assure those Afghans who volunteered to help our effort they would be provided protection once our troops come home.
Unfortunately, so far that does not appear to be the case. A front page story in Monday’s New York Times described the plight of Afghan interpreters who, unless something is done to help them, may become especially vulnerable to revenge attacks by the Taliban after the American combat troops leave the country.
Thousands of Afghans were recruited to help the Western military mission in Afghanistan and now they find themselves patiently waiting for the slow-moving State Department to give them special immigration visa applications that would help them seek safety, The Times reported.
After the fighting in Iraq, Congress stepped in to help thousands of at-risk Iraqis get out, but according to the newspaper’s report Afghans now find there are far fewer visas and fewer options than were available to Iraqis.In the meantime, a backlog of applications is growing.
“As the American pullout hits full pace and bases across the country are shut down, hundreds of Afghans have suddenly found themselves without jobs, leaving them without military protection despite the continued risk of attack by the Taliban,” the report noted.
For an estimated 8,000 interpreters, the risks are especially high. In February, two interpreters were gunned down south of Kabul and in December an interpreter working in Jalalabad was singled out while heading home on leave. The Taliban killed his two brothers in the attack.
“The urgency among Afghans to receive visas mirrors the situation in Iraq on the eve of the American military pullout there,” the Times observed.
“Only in Iraq, the system, while still problematic, has been better equipped to deal with the visa situation brought on by the withdrawal, thanks to the intervention of lawmakers, including Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts in 2008,” the report continued.
While there were 25,000 visas made available to Iraqis, only 7,500 have been allocated to Afghanistan. Also, Iraqis were allowed to be accompanied by all members of their family while, at least for now, Afghans acquiring visas can be accompanied by only their wife and their dependent children.
And while Iraqis were eligible to apply directly to the United States for refugee status, no such program exists for at-risk Afghans.
Fortunately, some elected officials again appear prepared to do their part to pressure the State Department and the Obama administration to take steps to remedy the ugly situation.
“The extension and reform of these programs is a matter of national security, and these programs represent an important tool for the U.S. operations in Afghanistan,” 19 members of Congress wrote in a letter to the White House and the State Department last month.
The approval process for the visas can last more than two years, leaving thousands of applicants at risk. Nobody should expect the process to be particularly simple and straightforward, but a two-year waiting period on such an issue so critical to so many suggests a bureaucracy that is mired in its own arcane rules and procedures.
While the State Department won’t comment publicly, some officials have privately said that the consular division has doubled its resources to speed up its processing ability. It would be even more gratifying if the White House and the State Department were to publicly pledge to protect those who have risked so much to assist our military mission in Afghanistan.
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