While some senior Pentagon officials still insist that the Afghan government and military are capable of defending the country from the Taliban once the United States-led coalition withdraws this summer, Congress feels differently.
A bipartisan group of Congressional lawmakers is urging the Biden White House to begin transporting Afghan allies “immediately” to a safe zone such as Guam ahead of the full withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan by September 11.
Elizabeth Neumann, a former Homeland Security Department official in the Trump administration, said that “we are aware and appreciate that the National Security Council, the Department of Defense and the State Department are very rapidly planning to figure out how to best help these allies, but with only six to eight weeks left before potential full withdrawal, it’s really time for action.”
In a letter written on June 4, lawmakers led by Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) wrote that they are “increasingly concerned” that the administration has not yet mobilized the Pentagon to help protect Afghan allies. The State Department’s current plan to approve special immigrant visas allowing thousands of Afghans to enter the United States is moving too slowly to avert the coming crisis, the letter said.
The letter added that the State Department application for the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa program (SIV) takes about 800 days while the U.S. is withdrawing in less than 100 days. So, the letter argues, without American support, the lives of our Afghan partners will be in mortal danger.
“No U.S. entity — [including] the Department of Defense, Department of State, USAID, et al. — has the ability or authority to protect them in Afghanistan after our withdrawal.
“It would be a moral failure to transfer the responsibility to protect our Afghan partners onto the shoulders of the Afghan Government. The time is now to honor our promise,” the Congressmen wrote in their letter to the president.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley confirmed last week that while the military currently has no plan in place, nor has it been ordered to do so, it has started planning how it could evacuate Afghan interpreters and others.
“There are plans being developed very, very rapidly here for not just the interpreters but a lot of other people that have worked with the United States. So there’s a prioritization of categories of these folks,” Milley said to a press contingent accompanying him on an aircraft last week.
“We recognize that a very important task is to ensure that we remain faithful to them and that we do what’s necessary to ensure their protection and, if necessary, get them out of the country if that’s what they want to do,” he added.
The Congressional group recommends that the Afghan partners be relocated to Guam, where the U.S. moved over 130,000 Vietnamese after the U.S. withdrawal from the war in Vietnam in the 1970s. At the time, lawmakers had introduced a bill to streamline and accelerate the process by raising the visa cap and waiving the medical exam requirement. The group asked administration officials to establish a task force to handle visa management, vaccination efforts, and other logistical issues related to such a move.
“While we may have differing opinions on the withdrawal from Afghanistan, we can all agree that it would be wrong to abandon the Afghan men and women who supported the U.S. mission for nearly two decades — doing so would essentially hand them a death sentence,” Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) said.
It should be noted that the Afghan partners mentioned in the letter include translators and interpreters, but not specifically members of the government.
Currently, there are about 18,000 Afghans waiting for the SIV program to allow them to travel to the U.S. This high number is indicative of the Afghans’ lack of faith in their government’s ability to protect them and stay in power long enough.