About 17,000 Afghan nationals who served U.S. forces during our long military campaign in that country are still waiting for admission to the United States. Not only did these men and woman serve at great risk, but the threats to them have also actually increased with the reduction of U.S. forces. They are now being targeted for murder and reprisals against their families by members of the Taliban who see them as infidels. The Taliban know that the service of these people was absolutely vital, that many American servicemembers owe their lives to an Afghan interpreter or other associate, so now these men and women, who served us heroically under conditions of great danger, are being killed because they worked for the Americans. When the last U.S. Forces leave Afghanistan in a few months, the only effective impediment to the Taliban reprisal will be removed, and thousands more will die, often with their families. It’s time to get them out. Now.
The principal means under which Afghan and Iraqi nationals who served the U.S. military have come to this country is called the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program. The course of applying for SIV status is extremely lengthy, taking up to five years. It has been slowed by the COVID pandemic. Many have been killed as they navigated this process, some, tragically, after having their applications approved and on the verge of leaving Afghanistan for America. Given the available in-country resources and the difficult security situation, it strains credulity to think that the remaining thousands of SIV applicants could have their visas approved before the withdrawal of the last U.S. forces. The other option, and the best course of action at this point, is to stage a mass evacuation of the remaining SIV applicants.
The United States has done this before. At the end of the Vietnam War and of our involvement in Kosovo we conducted evacuations of persons who had served our cause and who were at risk. U.S. forces train to conduct non-combatant evacuations. With its naval, aviation, and logistical assets it can conduct these operations on a large scale and over long distances while providing security both for its own personnel and for the evacuees.
There are both practical and ethical reasons for the United States to conduct this operation. On a practical level, who is going to want to work with us or ally with us if we abandon our friends, especially in a moment of crisis in which they are in imminent and mortal danger? These people have demonstrated guts and resiliency in an extremely hard school. Whether their time in America is short, or whether they go on to apply for citizenship and remain, they will be an asset to our Republic. On an ethical level, we have incurred a moral obligation to the people who have risked their lives in the service of the United States. If we fail to act, we will have blood on our hands, not merely innocent blood, but that of comrades in arms.
A successful evacuation of people in the SIV pipeline with their families could be an exercise in honor and redemption for America and the armed forces. Like Dunkirk, this could be a sorely needed victory and inspiration in difficult, confusing times, an unmistakably good action to remind us of our better angels. What kind of people are we? I remember hearing a story from a woman who had been a refugee from her country as a little girl. American troops were on the runway on the day she left. Her father pointed to one of them and said, “That’s an American soldier. If things go wrong before we can leave, run to him. He will protect you.” As an American and veteran, that is surely how I want people of other countries to see us, as brave, honorable, dependable. We have the chance now to show this face to the world, but the time is slipping away, and the orders must go out soon, or we will lose this chance, and fail to our loss and to our shame.