As Troops Pull Out of Afghanistan, a Behind-the-Scenes Evacuation

Up to 18K vulnerable translators, other nationals have applied for special visas to the US
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted May 28, 2021 9:26 AM CDT
US Plans Swift Evacuation of Afghan Interpreters
In this April 30, 2021, photo, former Afghan interpreters hold placards during a protest against the US government and NATO in Kabul, Afghanistan.   (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

Joe Biden's planned troop withdrawal from Afghanistan has reportedly been moved up from September to July, pulling out the 3,500 or so service members who remain in the country ahead of the 20th anniversary of 9/11. That will put an entirely different demographic—Afghan interpreters and other workers who've assisted the American military or US Embassy—at possible risk, and now the Biden administration is trying to help those citizens get out. The BBC reports that up to 18,000 Afghan nationals have applied for Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) to come to the US, and Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Mark Milley says the State Department is overseeing the initiative. "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," he said, per Defense One.

NBC News, which reports this is the first time an administration official has verified that an evacuation plan was in the works, notes it's been a delicate balancing act to both confirm the danger the interpreters could be in and also avoid setting off panic among Afghans who will see their fellow citizens mass-defecting. The outlet also notes that the visa program has been hit with delays, which has left some applicants in a holding pattern for years. GOP Rep. Mike Waltz, who's a member of the Armed Services Committee, says efforts have to be sped up. "We need to see action sooner rather than later," he said in an email. "We need to show the world we reward those who help us against the enemy rather than leave them behind." (More Afghanistan stories.)

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