Details of “planning steps” to evacuate Afghan allies

As the United States prepares to evacuate thousands of Afghans who have aided the United States in combat, details on the timing, scope and destination of the evacuation remain undefined as a strategy unfolds to protect the allies from Taliban attacks after the departure of American soldiers from Afghanistan.

Advocates, bipartisan groups of lawmakers and veterans have called for the evacuation of Afghan allies for months, citing Taliban death threats that military interpreters and others receive because of their work for states -United. The reality of these threats has grown as the American presence in Afghanistan has receded.

“It’s okay. It was about time. We know that for many it’s too late,” said Betsy Fisher, director of strategy at the International Refugee Assistance Project. a few years ago. The second best time is now.

Administration officials have confirmed that the United States will evacuate “a group of applicants” among the 18,000 Afghans who have already applied for a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) to come to the United States, although the exact number is not clear. The evacuation of this group will also include their immediate family members, who represent another 53,000 people.

The evacuation will include translators who served alongside U.S. soldiers — who make up the majority of people in the visa pipeline — as well as “other at-risk categories, the White House press secretary said Friday. Jen Psaki.

“They will be moved to a location outside of Afghanistan before we complete our military withdrawal by September, in order to complete the visa application process,” Psaki said.

Now, lawmakers and officials are turning their attention to the details of the evacuation plan, while proponents are calling for a broad scope around who is included, a safe and efficient destination, as well as executing the plan well ahead of time. withdrawal of the army in September.

Where and how

The United States could choose to secure Afghan allies either in a third country or in American territory such as Guam, where local officials say they are ready to help.

Chris Purdy, a veteran and project manager for Veterans for American Ideals, said choosing US lands like Guam could help expedite visa processing for Afghans upfront.

“Start processing the first set of documents. Do your health checks, you can finalize some security checks, and then transport people out of Guam to places across the country,” he said.

“There is infrastructure, there are open hotel rooms, and they can be treated as guests, not inmates,” he added.

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said Thursday that the administration still had “lots of options” when it came to whereabouts and details were still in the “planning stages”.

If the evacuation instead takes Afghans to a third country, advocates have warned it should come with a guarantee of humanitarian protection while their visas are being processed, such as temporary asylum.

“What’s important is that the place is safe for the claimants, that they have rights there,” Fisher said. “We must ensure that these people are not forcibly returned to Afghanistan.

As for the part of the government that oversees evacuation efforts, Kirby confirmed that the State Department is still in the lead, as it has been in visa processing.

But, he said, “it will take quite an interagency effort to get there,” promising that the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security would be involved.

However, Kirby also noted that military aircraft are not the only option for airlifting Afghan allies out of the country.

The group Human Rights First, along with veteran and Congressman Seth Moulton, D-Mass., laid out their own vision of a detailed evacuation plan online, which includes options such as military aircraft, charter aircraft or passenger aircraft.

Who is included

The scale of the evacuation is critical for performers like Omid, who spoke to Spectrum News from Kabul earlier this month – he was initially denied a visa because he was kicked out of his work as an interpreter after failing a routine polygraph test.

But Omid said his dismissal did not matter to the Taliban, who always ask his family members where he is, while he remains indoors as much as possible.

“They call all the Afghan interpreters ‘American spies,'” he said. “If the Americans pull out of Afghanistan for even a minute, I cannot guarantee that I will be able to be alive.”

He recently appealed his case in April.

Omid receives a medal from the American soldiers with whom he worked as an interpreter. (Courtesy of Omid)

A National Security Council spokesman did not confirm that interpreters like Omid would be included in an evacuation.

Instead, they told Spectrum News that 50% of the 18,000 SIV applicants are in the very first stage of the process, pending their own submission of documents.

“In other words, approximately 9,000 of these applicants need to take action before the US government can begin to process them,” the NSC spokesperson said.

A group of former interpreters, including Omid, staged a protest in Kabul on Friday, calling on US officials to ease visa approval requirements, including considering Afghans who have been fired from their jobs and reducing the length of employment required from two years to six months.

“Everyone who has applied for an SIV visa, at whatever stage of the process they are in, should be on a plane by September,” Purdy said. “There are a myriad of reasons why people can be denied a visa and then, on appeal, that denial is overturned.”

Former Afghan interpreters hold signs during a protest to reach out to the U.S. government, outside the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, June 25, 2021. They called for interpreters who have been discharged from their work in the US military are still considered for protection visas. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

Chronology

“We’ve been planning for some time,” Defense Department spokesman John Kirby said Thursday of an evacuation, which defense officials had publicly confirmed in previous weeks.

The White House is now coordinating the details, but it did not provide an expected timeline when asked.

“We have already started the process. Those who have helped us will not be left behind,” President Biden told reporters on Thursday.

Supporters have called for the allied movement to begin as soon as possible, well before the US military leaves in early September.

And, they say, timing is also important after Afghans are resettled, as processing their special visas typically takes an average of three years.

“I hope there’s a lot of thought and thought going into how to make sure these people can come to the United States, to a place where they have enduring status and the ability to build their lives as soon as possible,” IRAP’s Fisher mentioned.

Advocacy groups and lawmakers plan to hold a rally in front of the White House on July 1 to call for a speedy and inclusive evacuation.

Louisa R. Loomis