The Biden administration plans to evacuate a number of Afghan allies who aided U.S. military to third countries, The New York Times reports. Administration officials reportedly began informing members of Congress on Wednesday, following months of ongoing pressure from advocates who said the lives of allies, as well as their family members, will be at risk when U.S. forces leave in September.
“Welcome news from the WH to Move Afghan allies to 3rd countries,” tweeted Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) president Krish O’Mara Vignarajah. The resettlement organization has been among the voices advocating for Afghan allies. “But lives hang in the balance and we need a full plan and senior operational commander to oversee this interagency effort.”
International Refugee Assistance Project’s Betsy Fisher tweeted that with the Taliban “reclaiming districts and cities with lightning speed,” “time is still of the essence, and that the pressure should not let up.” She said it was not yet clear if all special immigrant visa applicants will be evacuated, or what happens if an applicant is evacuated but eventually is not able to receive a visa. “It was unclear whether people who somehow do not qualify would be sent back to Afghanistan or left in a third country,” The Times said.
Roughly 17,000 Afghans who aided U.S. military have applied for the visa program, and LIRS estimates they have about 53,000 family members who must also be protected. The Washington Post reported that the Biden administration “declined to provide information about how many people would be airlifted out of Afghanistan,” but said it has “been quietly but intensively planning to relocate a significant number of Afghans associated with our presence out of the country while their applications are being processed.”
The U.S. House’s Honoring Our Promises Working Group recently introduced legislation that would both expand and expedite the special immigrant visa program, and in a press release Tuesday continued urging the Biden administration to act quickly to protect Afghan allies and their families.
“As we near the complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, our Afghan partners’ lives are on the line and without a plan to keep them safe in the face of heightened danger by the Taliban,” members said in the press release. “There is no time to wait. We strongly urge the administration to act quickly and provide a detailed plan that will address the serious SIV backlog and bring our Afghan partners to safety.”
In that same release, former Afghan interpreter and now U.S. citizen Janis Shinwari said he’s “worried about the last of our brothers in Afghanistan, and their family members.” The New York Times reported that according to advocacy group No One Left Behind, more than 300 translators or family members have been killed since 2014. “President Biden, I took bullets for our countries’ shared goal of freedom, working shoulder-to-shoulder with the US forces,” said Zia Ghafoori, another U.S. citizen and former interpreter. “We are counting on your administration to do the right thing.”
“They are our allies,” Shinwari continued in the press release. “President Biden, it has been almost three months since you announced we would be withdrawing from Afghanistan. We ask that you please act quickly before it’s too late. Time is running out—we can’t let our friends and allies lease be killed by the Taliban because of their service to the United States.”