Afghans who assisted the U.S. military are urgently calling on the Biden administration to safely evacuate them before U.S. military forces leave Afghanistan in just months, citing the danger the Taliban poses to their lives. NBC News reports that more than a dozen veterans groups have joined them in this call, urging the administration to evacuate thousands of Afghans to a third territory for vetting to the U.S. “Our experience tells us that the Department of Defense is up to this task,” they write.

Bloomberg News reports that the Biden administration may now be weighing this option. “The likeliest scenario for the U.S. would involve extracting Afghans through an existing program called special immigrant visas—which has a long backlog—and allowing Afghan interpreters to seek refugee status, according to several people familiar with the matter,” the report said. “They asked not to be identified because no decision has been made.”

In their letter to the Biden administration, veterans wrote that the U.S. has successfully evacuated refugees to Guam for screening numerous times for decades, including 130,000 Vietnamese in 1975 and thousands of Iraqis in 1996. “Given the September 11 deadline, now is the time to begin the project of protecting those who helped us as we carried out our mission in Afghanistan,” they wrote. “At this moment, the future of a generation of Afghans who believed and worked with us on our mission is at risk.”

Bloomberg News reports that the number of Afghans who could be eligible for the special immigrant visa program totals 35,000, including spouses and children. But the Biden administration also has a massive backlog on its hands. “Between endless red tape, slashed refugee admissions, and new ‘extreme vetting’ measures, the U.S. has made it all but impossible for its wartime partners to get the safe passage they were promised,” tweeted The International Refugee Assistance Project last October. 

In a hopeful sign for many waiting in limbo, the Biden administration reportedly began preparing to process applications immediately after taking office. “This is a big job, and we expect you to command the use of the military’s logistical expertise and American diplomatic power to execute it,” the veteran groups continued in their letter.

Bloomberg said that the special visa numbers would not fall under the president’s newly announced 62,500 refugee cap for the current fiscal year. “If the Biden administration were to open a pathway for Afghans through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, the qualifications are broader, but numbers would fall under the refugee quota,” the report continued. In a statement, Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, joined veterans in urging the Biden administration to act.

“Welcoming them to America is the right and moral course of action, but the benefits of doing so extend well beyond humanitarian leadership. These courageous and resilient individuals, like so many before them, will also go on to become essential workers, business owners, community leaders, and cherished neighbors. As a refugee resettlement organization, we stand ready to extend a warm welcome fitting of the tremendous sacrifices our allies have made.”

The Washington Post reported in December that in a letter to then President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris, one Afghan man wrote that violence around him makes it feel like each day could be his last. “I am so scared cant go any where even when i am going to my work place i feel today is my last day because every day target killing is going on,” Khaliqdad H. wrote, according to the Post. “help me please go get out of this place. help me please.”

“As we draw an end to America’s longest war, we must remember that our departure from Afghanistan will put our allies there at grave risk,” the veterans said. “Providing an exit for these Afghans must be as high a priority as protecting and safely redeploying American troops and equipment. We owe these Afghans a debt of honor; as our armed forces withdraw from Afghanistan, we must honor that debt.”

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