The Army Ranger Creed reads: I will never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy.
I lived by these words. That includes the day a suicide bomber hit and killed four men in my patrol in Asadabad, Afghanistan: Sergeant Major Kevin J. Griffin, Major Thomas E. Kennedy, Major Walter D. Gray, and USAID Foreign Service Officer Mr. Ragaei Abdelfattah. I think about them every day.
The blast knocked me out. I woke up as my medic strapped a tourniquet to my leg and turned to my Afghan interpreter to assist with bandages. Patrol after patrol, year after year, for twenty years, our Afghan interpreters have stood by our side in harm’s way. Now we have a choice to stand by them.
Taliban militants and terrorists have long targeted our interpreters, including their wives and children. By the time the U.S. withdraws from Afghanistan in September 2021, there will be little defense left for these loyal allies.
Another one of my Afghan interpreters reached out to me last week. He made it out of Afghanistan but his wife and kids are trapped and targeted. “The situation is getting worse day by day in Afghanistan. I am worried for my wife and kids,” he wrote, “Please help.”
More than 17,000 Afghans who worked with U.S. forces, not to mention their family members, are still waiting for a decision from the U.S. Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program. The process is mired in a maddening bureaucracy. Many have waited for years after going through security checks with practically every U.S. government agency imaginable, often at their own expense for health screenings and other requirements. The situation has only become more dire of late with the U.S. Embassy in Kabul halting visa applicant interviews because of an escalating COVID-19 outbreak in Afghanistan.
Every soldier I have spoken with who served in Afghanistan supports granting asylum for loyal Afghan interpreters who have taken all the necessary security steps and are seeking this emergency asylum. Not only is granting asylum the right thing to do, it also benefits the U.S. by accepting talented and hardworking people, many of whom have already put it all on the line for our country.
Members of the For Country Caucus in the U.S. House are leading the charge, including Democratic Representatives Jason Crow, Jared Golden, and Seth Moulton, and Republicans Don Bacon, Adam Kinzinger, Peter Meijer, and Michael Waltz. These veterans have formed a task force and called on the White House, State Department, and Defense Department to immediately create a plan that can be executed before the final withdrawal of U.S. forces this September. Senator Jeanne Shaheen and U.S. Army veterans Senator Joni Ernst and Senator Jack Reed are forming a bipartisan coalition in the Senate.
“My concern is very simple,” Representative Crow said, “And that is if we pull out and don’t protect our Afghan partners, many of them will be killed.”
Earlier this year, The Atlantic reported that Taliban militants hunted down and killed “Mohammad,” an interpreter who worked with U.S. forces for a decade and then spent nearly another decade trying to get through the SIV process with his wife and kids. Mohammad’s family just learned they finally have been approved for humanitarian parole. They are scheduled to be resettled in Texas shortly. My hope is we will hear many more stories of brave Afghan families, including that of my own interpreter, who will be granted asylum and can begin the next chapter of their lives in peace and shared prosperity.
This will only happen if the U.S. steps up and protects the interpreters and families under threat. Our history points us to solutions. The Ford Administration evacuated over 130,000 Vietnamese to Guam at the end of the Vietnam War. The Clinton Administration did the same for Iraqi Kurds during Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Whether through an emergency evacuation, an expedited SIV process, an expansion of other refugee and humanitarian programs, or a combination of all of these, the Biden administration should urgently make a plan and execute it.
I am blessed to be a first-generation American and U.S. Army veteran who served with patriots, some of whom made the ultimate sacrifice. Our Afghan interpreters are patriots, too. Now is the time to open our arms and stand by them, their wives, and their children.