Photo: FAO

By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS

A group of 95 former senior U.S. diplomats and military officers presented letters to leading members of President Joe Biden’s cabinet on Monday, May 10, calling for the administration to do more to provide visas to Afghans who worked with U.S. forces during the United States’ longest war.

The letters were addressed to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, with copies to key members of the U.S. Congress.

The letters, which were seen by Pulse News Mexico, raise serious concerns over a number of potential consequences that the authors said could arise as a result of the Biden administration’s scheduled withdrawal from Afghanistan on Sept. 11, including the possibility of a full-scale civil war, the Taliban’s return to power and continued reprisals against Afghans associated with the U.S. presence.

The group of statesmen, which included both former ambassadors and generals who had served in Afghanistan over the course of the last 20 years, especially expressed grave concern for “the fate of the many thousands of Afghans who devoted their lives to working with U.S. personnel in support of America’s policy objectives and the
values we espoused in Afghanistan.”

“While we come from different backgrounds and hold diverse perspectives on the president’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan, we are united in the belief that the United States must act urgently in the face of the upcoming withdrawal to be able to protect those who did so much to protect us,” the letters read.

“Our concerns are well-founded. According to No One Left Behind and Brown University’s Costs of War Project research, for example, there have been over 300 incidents documented since 2014 of former Afghan interpreters who were targeted and killed by the Taliban for their collaboration with U.S. forces. We are
also all well aware of the waves of assassinations that have targeted many who worked closely with the U.S. in recent months.”

The letters went on to say that the signatories “fully support continued American diplomacy to encourage a negotiated path to peace and continued U.S. funding for development and security assistance to Afghanistan.”

“However, we should not assume that an empowered Taliban leadership will view those Afghans who worked with (the United States) any kindlier in the future than they have in the past,” the letters warned.

“We need to be prepared to act as needed to care for those who supported and trusted us. In that regard, we welcome your public pledge recently to ensure that the administration has the resources in place to implement the program quickly.”

To that end, the authors urged that two secretaries to work with the White House and Congress to implement “appropriate measures” to protect former employees of the U.S. government in Afghanistan and to direct their staffs “to coordinate on taking immediate action to address the impending crisis.”

In particular, the authors recommended that the U.S. government expedite the processing and issuing of some 15,000 available visas to eligible Afghan applicants.

They pointed out that, currently, more than 18,000 Afghans, including former interpreters and others, are awaiting visa adjudication.

“Our goal should be to clear the backlog before our forces depart,” the letters said.

The letters likewise recommended that the Biden administration raise existing quotas on admittance on an emergency basis once the United States withdraws from Afghanistan to address the potential surge in demand, and to “take emergency steps to create an admissions pathway for additional Afghans who will be especially vulnerable in the post-withdrawal period.”

Finally, the letters called on Blinken and Austin to coordinate with the United States’ international partners — including NATO — to assess and attend “the potential humanitarian implications of a withdrawal.”

“Regrettably, U.S. history is replete with instances where we failed to understand or prepare to mitigate the terrible consequences that might confront those of our national partners who stood beside us and believed in us when the going was tough. We have the ability now to avoid a similar fate for our Afghan partners and their families,” the letters concluded.

“We have a moral obligation to do better this time.”

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