After criticism for its slowness, the Biden administration details its plans to evacuate thousands of Afghans who worked as translators for the United States during their 20-year war in Afghanistan.
The performers, whose lives are threatened by a rapid advance by the Taliban following the US military withdrawal, will be transported to the United States or other countries.
An initial contingent of 750 Afghans, most of whom worked as interpreters for the US Army, plus about 1,800 of their relatives, will be transported to Fort Lee, an army post in Virginia, pending the issuance of special visas that will allow them to live and work in the United States. They have already passed a rigorous security check, according to American officials.
A second group of 4,000 people who worked as translators, along with an undisclosed number of their relatives, will be transported to a third country, possibly Qatar, to await their treatment.
The issuance of these visas has been a final and controversial sticking point in recent months as the Biden administration withdrew its troops from Afghanistan with a September 11 deadline without making arrangements for those most at risk. because of their work with the Americans. Thousands of people said they would likely be killed if they had to wait for visa processing inside Afghanistan.
“We are working, as we said, as quickly as possible to deal with so many of these [special visa] candidates as efficiently as possible, ”State Department spokesman Ned Price said at a press briefing on Wednesday. “We’ve increased our resources, we’ve increased our staff to help us deal with this. … This is the first of many steps. “
U.S. officials, citing security concerns, withheld most of the details of the effort on behalf of translators until this week, as criticism mounted from Congress, former military officers, diplomats and advocates. Afghans.
Hundreds of thousands more Afghans – activists, journalists and human rights defenders – also risk death, torture or imprisonment as the Taliban increasingly takes over the country. There are already reports of Taliban commanders reverting to the same abusive actions to subvert and punish women and others that the religious extremist group practiced when it ruled in the 1990s – a time when women were not allowed to show their faces. face, to talk goes to school.
This week, organizations working on behalf of journalists and women’s rights activists also asked Congress for additional visas to rescue some of their members.
But a senior administration official, repeatedly questioned during a briefing Wednesday about efforts for other vulnerable groups in Afghanistan, could not provide answers. Many progressives in Afghanistan believed in a nearly two-decade U.S.-sponsored effort to promote human rights, equal opportunities for women, open political discourse, and religious tolerance – all likely to be crushed if the Taliban take control of the country.
“We are looking at other options to give them safe options outside of Afghanistan,” the official said, speaking anonymously in accordance with State Department protocol.
Although the administration is now making more efforts to expedite special visas, the process is still torturous. Officials said Wednesday that Afghan candidates will have to travel to the capital Kabul. That alone is a potentially fatal journey through territory contested by the Taliban.
“We don’t have the capacity to provide transportation for them,” the official said.
US officials estimate that there are around 50,000 Afghan translators looking for a way out of the country, and 300 have been killed while waiting for the long visa process.
“In the 19 years we have been there, thousands of Afghans have helped us in many ways, which was essential to our efforts in Afghanistan,” said Representative Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) during a press conference call. advocate for additional visas for Afghans. “We owe it to them and we owe it to our own moral standards when we say don’t leave anyone behind, that we don’t leave them either.”
The House is due to vote Thursday on lifting the cap on the number of visas for Afghan interpreters.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.