Veterans groups, congressmen and refugee organizations are increasingly pressuring the Biden administration to more rapidly organize a large-scale evacuation of tens of thousands of Afghans whose lives are at risk for helping the U.S. government before American soldiers withdraw from the country in September, NBC News reported on Monday.
"We're very concerned about the seeming lack of urgency on the part of the administration to protect vulnerable Afghans in light of the anticipated withdrawal," said Adam Bates of the nonprofit International Refugee Assistance Project. "In terms of concrete plans, the information that we have gotten from them is very sparse."
The administration has not signaled any plans for an evacuation in public statements, and officials have not given details about how the government will ensure the safety of Afghans who risked their lives working for the U.S.
A State Department spokesman declined to "discuss internal deliberations" but said it is working to respond "as promptly as possible" to the situation.
Republican Rep. Michael Waltz, who served in Afghanistan, told NBC News that the panic and fear in the voices of Afghans he has spoken to “is so palpable," as the Taliban has recently increased its threats and attacks.
Although Waltz said Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin have told him they are taking the safety of Afghan partners seriously, the congressmen emphasized that "there are a number of avenues that the administration could take, but I'm just not seeing any movement."
Congress in 2009 set up the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program. to provide U.S. visas to Afghans who had been employed by the U.S. government, but the program has a backlog years long, with more than 17,000 applications still being reviewed.
A federal court ruled in 2019 that the U.S. government had failed to abide by a law requiring it to process applications within nine months.
Bates and other experts insist that at this pace it would take more than four years to process the backlog of SIV applicants.
Advocates are pushing for evacuating thousands of Afghans to the U.S. territory of Guam or other safe locations, where U.S. officials could then vet them and review paperwork for possible resettlement.
Democratic Rep. Jason Crow, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, stressed that "My concern is very simple. And that is if we pull out and don't protect our Afghan partners, many of them will be killed."
In a letter to the administration last month, Crow and 15 other lawmakers, including Waltz, said the U.S. "must provide a path to safety for those who loyally worked alongside U.S. troops, diplomats, and contractors, and work with our international partners to provide options for Afghans who would face a credible fear of persecution if the Taliban return to power."
Almost three weeks later, the White House has yet to respond, said Crow, who insisted that saving its Afghan partners is not only a moral obligation but a national security interest to avoid showing the world that the U.S. abandons its allies, NBC reported.
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