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U.S. must provide for its military interpreters | READER COMMENTARY

An Afghan national army soldier sits beside Lt. Abdul Qahar, ANA, Capt. Adam MacAllister, commander, Company C, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, Capt. Savins Girts, Observation Mentor Liasion Team, Capt. Visnakous Juris, OMLT, Lt. Brandon Loomis, 3-61, Interpreter Sultan Mahmoodtanha, and two Asymmetric Warfare Group workers as they speak with the two Nishagam Village elders and the head of the district center in Konar province, Afghanistan in 2009. (Evan Marcy/handout/Baltimore Sun).
An Afghan national army soldier sits beside Lt. Abdul Qahar, ANA, Capt. Adam MacAllister, commander, Company C, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, Capt. Savins Girts, Observation Mentor Liasion Team, Capt. Visnakous Juris, OMLT, Lt. Brandon Loomis, 3-61, Interpreter Sultan Mahmoodtanha, and two Asymmetric Warfare Group workers as they speak with the two Nishagam Village elders and the head of the district center in Konar province, Afghanistan in 2009. (Evan Marcy/handout/Baltimore Sun). (Spc. Evan Marcy / Handout)

In light of the recently announced departure of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, there should be considerable concern regarding the fate of the Afghan and Iraqi interpreters who served alongside U.S. troops, contractors and diplomats. Various Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) programs have been established since 2006 to assist in safely resettling eligible applicants in the United States. However, a new strategy is needed to swiftly ensure the safety of these individuals and their families once U.S. forces depart the region (”Afghans Fleeing Home Are Filling the Lowliest Jobs in Istanbul,” May 6).

For the 20 years — the period that the U.S. military has been in Afghanistan — thousands of Afghan allies who have offered lifesaving assistance and repeatedly put their lives in danger to serve alongside the U.S. troops and other government officials, have benefited from the SIV program. By the end of Fiscal Year 2019, the U.S. government had offered over 89,000 special immigrant status through the three SIV programs to Iraqi and Afghan interpreters and their immediate family members.

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Recently, the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, authorized 4,000 additional SIVs for Afghan principal applicants as of December 27, 2020. These visas will go a long way in ensuring that more Afghanis who assisted the U.S. government in any way remain safe especially now that the U.S. military is leaving the country. Conversely, this act came after the COVID-19 pandemic had stalled the processing of interpreters’ visa applications — visa interviews had not been conducted since March 2020. Recovering from the effects of this halt in a period when all the officials are busy packing will not be a walk in the park. The number of stalled Afghans’ SIV applications as of September 2019 was 19,000, a number that has increased exponentially since, as estimated by The Washington Post.

Considering the persistent threats that these interpreters are receiving from the Taliban and the Islamic State for their collaboration with the United States, veterans and refugee organizations such No One Left Behind are working tirelessly to ensure that the U.S. government follows through on its commitment to them. These organizations and other stakeholders have applied strategic advocacy, fundraising and zealous casework to ensure that these individuals are protected and rewarded accordingly. The U.S. government should use its authority to issue visas to Afghan nationals under section 602(b) of the amended Afghan Allies Protection Act of 2009, to fast track the process.

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Keeping our promise to Afghans who risked life and limb in the battlefield is not just an issue of moral obligation, it’s one of national security that serves the future interests of our military. These individuals have demonstrated bravery, commitment to America’s military and sacrificed their safety. I can’t think of any other attributes that we can seek from an individual before welcoming them to the United States.

Howard Manuel, Washington, D.C.

The writer is a member of the board of directors of No One Left Behind.

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