US to evacuate Afghan interpreters before pullout is over

Published June 25, 2021
A US soldier from the 3rd Cavalry Regiment walks with the unit's Afghan interpreter before a mission near forward operating base Gamberi in the Laghman province of Afghanistan in December 11, 2014. — Reuters/File
A US soldier from the 3rd Cavalry Regiment walks with the unit's Afghan interpreter before a mission near forward operating base Gamberi in the Laghman province of Afghanistan in December 11, 2014. — Reuters/File

WASHINGTON: The United States is planning to evacuate a group of vulnerable Afghan interpreters before it completes its withdrawal so they can wrap up their visa applications from safety, officials said on Thursday.

The decision by President Joe Biden’s administration risks creating a sense of crisis in Afghanistan, just a day before Biden meets Afghan President Ashraf Ghani for talks aimed at projecting a sense of partnership despite the military exit.

The White House meeting comes as Taliban press a major offensive in Afghanistan, triggering growing concern in US Congress.

The US officials did not disclose where the Afghans would be transported or say how many would be involved, but said the group consisted entirely of Afghans who have already started the visa process.

“Should it become necessary, we will consider additional relocation or evacuation options,” one of the officials said.

Fighting between US-backed Afghan forces and the Taliban has surged in recent weeks, with the militants gaining control of territory. The Pentagon now estimates the Taliban control 81 of the country’s 419 district centres.

Political talks between the government and the Taliban have largely stalled and it is unclear how Afghan security forces will perform after US troops depart. The Taliban have assured Afghans who worked with foreign forces of their safety.

But as the clock ticks down, Afghans who have applied for visas increasingly fear that the Taliban will target them and their families, in retribution for helping foreign forces during America’s longest war.

Samey Honaryar, a former Afghan interpreter who was granted asylum in the United States after his life was threatened, said at a news conference at the US Capitol on on Thursday that time was running short for his compatriots.

“Please evacuate them,” he said. “They were good people, they helped you.”

The US military has completed more than half of its withdrawal from Afghanistan and is set to finish in the coming weeks. That leaves little time to process applications for special immigrant visas already filed by roughly 9,000 Afghans, or the thousands of others who have formally expressed interest.

Although the US State Department has increased staffing, officials say there is a limit to how fast a 14-step, multiple-agency process that includes security vetting can move without changes to legislation. If all goes well, a visa could normally be processed in nine to 12 months, officials say.

Administration officials say changes in legislation could accelerate the process, but its plans have been upended by the coronavirus pandemic, which has repeatedly forced the US embassy in Kabul to postpone visa interviews.

US Representative Seth Moulton, a Democrat and former Marine, introduced legislation on Thursday to help Afghans who worked for the United States.

With Honaryar and other former interpreters, he told reporters he welcomed reports of the planned evacuations.

“This is a good day in this story, but it is far from the final chapter,” Moulton said.

Published in Dawn, June 25th, 2021

Opinion

A decade of change & stagnation
Updated 20 Sep 2021

A decade of change & stagnation

Over a decade, three more women out of 100 aged between 19 and 39 have acquired college degrees, compared to only two more men.
All about life
Updated 20 Sep 2021

All about life

There is no shortage of issues on which the Single National Curriculum has stirred controversy.
‘Honourable men’
20 Sep 2021

‘Honourable men’

Is it ambition to support our athletes only after they bring us glory?
Concerns of proxy wars
Updated 19 Sep 2021

Concerns of proxy wars

A lobby in the US favours a plan for proxy warfare so that America can sustain its global influence.

Editorial

20 Sep 2021

Banking for women

AS the old adage goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. How far the new State Bank initiative —...
Off the red list
Updated 20 Sep 2021

Off the red list

There are aspects of coronavirus management, especially by developed nations towards those less so, that smack of discrimination.
20 Sep 2021

Exciting frontiers

HISTORY was made on Wednesday at the Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral. It was not the launch of the first, or...
Talking to the Taliban
Updated 19 Sep 2021

Talking to the Taliban

PRIME Minister Imran Khan has announced that he has started a dialogue with the Taliban for the formation of a...
New Zealand’s departure
Updated 19 Sep 2021

New Zealand’s departure

THERE was chaos and despair when New Zealand decided to call off their tour of Pakistan barely minutes before the...
19 Sep 2021

Crucial polio campaign

THE national vaccination campaign that kicked off in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on Friday is being described by experts as...