The United States plans to evacuate thousands of Afghan interpreters — who had worked for the American military — and their families ahead of September’s withdrawal, senior Washington officials have said.
“They’re going to come,” President Biden said during a press conference. “We’ve already begun the process. Those who helped us are not going to be left behind. They’re welcome here just like anyone else who risked their lives to help us.”
The plan could involve moving as many as 50,000 people to other countries so that they can finish Special Visa Applications (SIV) to the United States in safety. Afghan interpreters who have worked for the U.S. military for years fear reprisals from the Taliban after the withdrawal.
Estimates are that between 9,000 and 18,000 Afghans have applied for U.S. visas. Yet, the lengthy 14-step process which involves several different agencies and can take anywhere between nine and 12 months, has been hindered by further delays.
The Biden administration has largely avoided talk of large-scale Afghan evacuation plans and has been careful about the wording concerning any Afghan evacuations. The administration does not want to trigger panic among the civilian population due to the American withdrawal as it could worsen Afghanistan’s security situation.
President Biden is scheduled to meet today with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah at the White House.
A Bipartisan Effort to Withdraw the Afghan Interpreters
Congressman Mike McCall (R-TX), who spearheaded the bipartisan effort to withdraw the interpreters, said destinations that “could be on the table” include Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain. He said the operation would involve “a lot of planes.” However, he added that this operation will add to “optics” that Afghanistan “is imploding … the decision has been made to pull out our military forces and so this really needs to be part of the preparation and planning.”
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the plans were already ongoing but that military aircraft may not be needed for the evacuation.
“We are taking this seriously. We know we have an obligation to these men and women and their families,” Kirby said to the media. “Planning is ongoing, lots of options are available.”
Congressman Seth Moulton (D-MA) has also been a vocal supporter of the effort to rescue Afghan interpreters from the Taliban. He said he hasn’t seen the White House’s plan, but on Thursday released a detailed plan that would use Guam as a temporary safe location for the Afghans as they go through the visa application process. Moulton cited the precedent of using the U.S. territory for Vietnamese refugees, who were U.S. supporters, after the Vietnam war.
“We don’t want a single Afghan ally to die because we can’t find a third country or the program is moving too slowly,” he said.
Is the Afghan Government Heading to a Swift Collapse?
The withdrawal of Afghan interpreters who worked for the U.S. is seen in some circles as exacerbating a sense of the Afghan government’s impending collapse.
Recent leaked estimates by the U.S. intelligence community report that the Afghan government could collapse within six months with some believing that the Taliban could take over the country within three months of the Western withdrawal.
The Taliban now control 81 of the country’s 419 district centers. This week they also besieged Mazar-e-Sharif, a key city that was instrumental in their ousting in 2001.
Peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government have essentially stopped since the Taliban now feel that they’ll once again have the strength to totally rule the country and have no use for negotiation. On Wednesday, the Taliban were already proclaiming their “manifest victory and triumph” in a released statement. They wrote that their ongoing offensive “will be the beginning of the end of the ills birthed by occupation.”
The United States has plans to leave about 650 troops in the country to support and defend the U.S. diplomats that will remain in Kabul.
Suggested reading on “Americas Was in Afghanistan”:
Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia, Second Edition
The Taliban at War: 2001 – 2018
Directorate S: The C.I.A. and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan
Code Name: Johnny Walker: The Extraordinary Story of the Iraqi Who Risked Everything to Fight with the U.S. Navy SEALs