U.S. to Relocate Afghans Who Aided Military as Deadline Nears
(Bloomberg) -- The Biden administration plans to relocate an unspecified number of Afghans who assisted the U.S. military’s invasion and occupation of the country before American forces finish their withdrawal later this year, administration officials said.
“We are identifying SIV applicants who served as interpreters, as well as translators, to be relocated outside of Afghanistan before we complete our military drawdown,” State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter told reporters Thursday, referring to Special Immigrant Visa applicants.
The move comes as the White House and top Biden administration officials are increasingly under pressure to say how they intend to aid Afghan allies who could face retaliation after American forces leave in the coming months and the Taliban seek to take control of the war-torn country. Republican and Democrats on Capitol Hill have criticized the administration for not having a plan in place.
President Joe Biden said Thursday that “those who helped us are not going to be left behind,” but he added that he didn’t know which country would host them if they aren’t sent to U.S. territory. Biden will meet with Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani at the White House on Friday.
Matt Zeller, a fellow at the Truman Center and a retired Army major who served in Afghanistan and arranged for his interpreter to immigrate to the U.S., said advocates for America’s Afghan allies will hold a protest outside the White House on July 1 to pressure Biden to evacuate more people from the country.
The Afghans will be moved to a third country while they wait for the U.S. to approve visas for them and their families, a senior administration official said. They are people who are easily identifiable as U.S. partners because they worked on the front lines with American troops, the official said.
Some of them have been in the process of applying for Special Immigrant Visas for years, the official said, and their advocates have raised alarm that after the American withdrawal -- the deadline is Sept. 11 -- they will be vulnerable to reprisals from the Taliban and other U.S. enemies. The New York Times reported earlier Thursday that they number in the thousands.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said there are about 18,000 Afghans in the process of obtaining an SIV. But advocates in the U.S. say there are thousands more who should be evacuated, including former U.S. military contractors and Afghans who work for human-rights groups and other nongovernmental organizations.
Representative Seth Moulton, a Massachusetts Democrat and a former Marine, said Thursday that he and other lawmakers have been in touch with the White House about the relocation plan, but “they haven’t provided any details to this point.”
“Today, we have made a promise to people who will die,” he said. “And tomorrow, we need to make this promise to allies in the future -- or else we’ll never have anybody to support our troops overseas.”
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Thursday that the Defense Department is fully involved in planning the evacuations. He also acknowledged that U.S. military leaders are concerned about the “deteriorating” security situation in some areas of Afghanistan.
Zeller, the U.S. veteran of the war who is organizing next month’s protest, has publicly called for Afghans to be relocated to Guam, a U.S. territory, while they wait for visas.
The Taliban has said that Afghans who assisted the U.S. have nothing to fear after the American withdrawal and should remain in the country.
“We viewed them as our foes when they were directly standing in the ranks of our enemies, but when they abandon enemy ranks and opt to live as ordinary Afghans in their homeland, they will not face any issues, hence they should not remain fearful and should continue living a serene life in their own country,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed said in a statement this month.
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