Blinken Vows Visas for Afghans Who Worked With U.S. Troops

Secretary of State Antony Blinken pledged to expedite immigration visas for Afghans who worked closely with U.S. forces as a Republican warned they’ll be targeted by the Taliban once remaining American troops depart.

Testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Monday, Blinken said the U.S. is looking at “every option” to help the Afghan employees -- interpreters, drivers, construction workers and other staff -- who may become victims of the Taliban as the Pentagon pushes ahead with President Joe Biden’s order to remove the troops by Sept. 11 at the latest.

The top U.S. diplomat responded to Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, the committee’s top Republican, who said “these people will have a bulls-eye or target on their back from the moment we leave the country” and that if they are abandoned “we are effectively signing their death warrants.”

A Taliban spokesman on Monday said Afghans who were “misled” and decided to work for the U.S. and coalition forces should remain in the country, vowing that they “shall not be in any danger.”

“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,” according to a statement by spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed.

In response to lawmakers’ questions, Blinken said a backlog of immigration applications is being cleared, and he asked Congress to raise a cap on special immigrant visas for Afghans by 8,000 slots.

There’s now a congressionally mandated cap of 26,000 slots under the Special Immigrant Visa program, which lets Afghans apply for visas if they can show their lives may be in danger for having worked for the U.S. Blinken also didn’t rule out that the U.S. might move thousands of Afghans to another location -- the island of Guam has been raised as a possibility -- while their applications are processed.

Pressed by McCaul on the dangers the Afghans face, Blinken said there may be some flexibility because the U.S. Embassy in Kabul isn’t closing and security may not worsen too quickly.

Blinken said “a significant deterioration” in security “could well happen.” But he said “I don’t think it’s going to be something that happens from a Friday to a Monday, so I wouldn’t necessarily equate the departure of our forces in July, August, by early September, with some kind of immediate deterioration in the situation.”

It was the first of two days of scheduled testimony by Blinken before four House and Senate committees.

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