Afghan Allies Headed to U.S. to Avoid Taliban Revenge
WASHINGTON — A proposal that would expedite visas for Afghans who assisted the U.S. military glided through a congressional hearing Monday as the urgency grows to save them.
As U.S. troops withdraw from Afghanistan, some Afghans who helped the U.S. or NATO forces are facing death threats from the Taliban. Others have already been killed.
“They helped save American lives, now they find themselves top targets of the Taliban,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., chairman of the House Rules Committee. “No ally or their families should be left behind.”
He spoke during the hearing only hours after the Biden administration announced plans to fly about 2,500 Afghans to a military base in Virginia as intelligence reports show they are at grave risk from the Taliban.
Their visa applications are nearly completed, according to the Defense Department. For some of them, there’s no time to finish the application process in Afghanistan if they are to be spared.
Similar concerns were expressed by Republicans and Democrats on the House Rules Committee.
“Certainly we need to help our friends get out of harm’s way,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla.
More than 8,000 additional Afghans would qualify for the fast-track visa process described in the Allies Act Congress is considering. About 10,000 already have been approved for evacuation to the United States.
Many of them were interpreters who helped U.S. troops track down the Taliban and al Qaeda fighters blamed for the worst of terrorism and war that have wrenched Afghanistan and the Middle East since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
To qualify for the visas, the applicants must pass rigorous criminal and national security background checks as well as demonstrate they can maintain gainful employment in the United States.
They also must demonstrate “a credible basis for concern about an ongoing threat” to themselves and their families.
Any disagreements over the bill resulted from the speed of Democrats in pushing it through toward a vote and the cost.
“It’s going to cost approximately a billion dollars,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio.
He also said he wished the Democratic majority in the House had brought in more witnesses to testify about the need for the Allies Act. It was introduced in the House less than a month ago.
The Biden administration’s announcement Monday addressed similar issues in describing its evacuation effort, called Operation Allies Refuge. It will allow Afghans to complete their visa applications in the safety of Fort Lee, about 28 miles south of Richmond, Va.
“These are brave Afghans and their families as we have said whose service to the United States has been certified by the Embassy in Kabul, and who have completed thorough SIV security vetting processes,” a State Department spokesman said at a press briefing.
SIV refers to Special Immigrant Visas for Afghans and Iraqis who were employed by the U.S. government.
Thousands of other Afghans are applying for U.S. visas but they are unlikely to be evacuated to the United States. Instead, Congress and the Biden administration are negotiating for sites in allied countries.
The exact sites are not being publicly announced because of what Defense Department officials call “operational security.” However, they did say the first flights will begin as soon as next week.
In a previous evacuation from Iraq during a military offensive by armed forces of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, refugees were evacuated to Guam to complete their visa applications. The Biden administration acknowledges it is considering using Guam again for the Afghans.
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