As time is running out for “normal-channels” action to evacuate the tens of thousands of Afghans whose lives would be in danger after U.S. forces depart, the Pentagon continues to develop options to evacuate these people out of Afghanistan, possibly, first,– using mass airlifts — to U.S. military bases in the area, such as Guam.
Guam Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero has said she would support bringing Afghan interpreters to the island while their visas are being processed, but she has not heard from the Biden administration yet, according to Defense One.
That is because the White House has not yet instructed Defense to implement such plans.
In the meantime, other NATO governments who have had Afghan nationals work alongside their troops are being urged to implement similar evacuation plans.
German Defense Minister Annegret Kamp-Karrenbauer has said Germany has a “deep obligation” not to leave vulnerable Afghans behind and “is considering bringing up to 520 Afghan translators and family members to Germany.”
The Daily Mail has reported that as part of “Operation Sanctuary,” dozens of former Afghan translators and their families are set to fly to the UK to escape the threat of Taliban revenge attacks
And, in the Netherlands, outgoing Defense Minister Ank Bijleveld has responded to a call from the House of Representatives to evacuate local Afghan interpreters who have worked for the Netherlands before the Dutch mission ends on 4 July. The parliamentary motion did not even have to be put to a vote.
The decision to withdraw our troops out of Afghanistan after 20 years of fighting, training, and “peacekeeping,” will probably be debated for another 20 years.
However, there should be no debate nor delay on the quick withdrawal of those thousands of brave Afghan men and women – at times even children – who have risked their lives by working with U.S. military and government officials and who believed in America’s honor and promises to protect them if and when the time came when they could become the targets of the Taliban and other terrorist and criminal groups.
Now, such time is approaching even more rapidly than expected for these interpreters, “cultural advisers,” “Afghan contractors” and others who risked their lives by serving alongside U.S. soldiers or supporting the mission in other dangerous ways.
A recent piece, “Leave No Afghan Interpreters Behind,” probably best describes the sacrifices made and risks faced by these Afghan heroes:
Those brave men assisted and aided American soldiers in Afghanistan and saved many lives by putting their own lives at risk, and they are at even greater risk if they remain in Afghanistan. There is a moral obligation for the United States to uphold the wishes of the soldiers who served beside these brave Afghans and give these men the opportunity to begin new lives in America for their dedicated support during Operation Enduring Freedom.
Hundreds have already been killed, tortured, and injured by the Taliban or are living in hiding and a bloodbath is certain to take place when the U.S. troops leave.
According to the State Department, about 18,000 people who have applied for special immigrant visas to the US are still awaiting approval.
On Feb. 4, President Biden signed an executive order that included a provision for reviewing the special immigrant visa program, giving the State Department six months to make recommendations to the White House.
However, this was before his announcement on April 14 that the U.S. would withdraw all remaining troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11.
And now, the Pentagon has announced that the U.S. military intends to be out of Afghanistan “by early to mid-July, well ahead of President Biden’s Sept. 11 withdrawal deadline.”
That leaves only 50 days to process and issue tens of thousands of SIVs and to safely remove from Afghanistan those Afghan nationals and their families.
When there were still 114 days left until the U.S. withdrawal, advocates noted that it was already too late “to rely on the visa program to save allies threatened by the Taliban.” That, “no matter how much the program is expedited or how many additional visas are approved…it’s time for U.S. officials to airlift these Afghans and their families to an American territory to keep them safe from the Taliban.”
Christopher Purdy, a project manager at Veterans for American Ideals, said, “The only solution at this point is an evacuation of every American-affiliated Afghan…to an American territory where they can be safely, securely, and efficiently processed for visas.”
Matthew Zeller, a co-founder of No One Left Behind, emphasized that, based on the fact that, on average, translators bring three people with them to America, it means there are likely more than 70,000 people waiting on a decision who “are going to be murdered if we don’t get them out of Afghanistan right now.”
Zeller estimates it will take more than 300 flights on military aircraft to move all these people out of Afghanistan. However, if the military is planning to withdraw by July 4, “the evacuation would require seven flights per day,” he says
Similarly, the International Refugee Assistance Project has asked President Biden to consider mass airlifts of vulnerable Afghans to U.S. military bases, such as Guam, as the U.S. did after the fall of Saigon.
The Pentagon is aware that time is of the essence and is in the early stages of planning for the potential evacuation of thousands of Afghan nationals.
Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the commander of US Central Command: “…from a Central Command perspective and the perspective of the US military, if directed to [getting Afghans out of harm’s way], we could certainly do it.”
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, confirmed to CNN that “there are plans being developed very, very rapidly” to evacuate Afghans whose work for the US could make them Taliban targets.
“We recognize that a very important task is to ensure that we remain faithful to them, and that we do what’s necessary to ensure their protection, and if necessary, get them out of the country, if that’s what they want to do,” Milley said.
The author is a retired U.S. Air Force officer and a writer.