As the Sept. 11 deadline for American troops to fully withdraw from Afghanistan nears, veterans' groups are criticizing the Biden administration, saying it has yet to come up with a plan to evacuate thousands of Afghan interpreters whose lives would be endangered if they are left behind.
President Joe Biden announced the September deadline last April, but there are still no firm plans on doing anything about the backlog of 18,000 interpreters who have applied for U.S. visas through a special program of the U.S. State Department, The Washington Free Beacon reported.
The Afghan interpreters aid U.S. soldiers with language and cultural barriers, and could face retribution if they stay behind after American troops leave.
At least 300 interpreters have been killed since 2016, James Miervaldis, an Afghanistan U.S. Army veteran and chairman of the No One Left Behind advocacy group for veterans and interpreters, told the Free Beacon.
"Not a peep [from the White House]. Nothing," Miervaldis said. "Everyone’s pretty much in the dark. ... We are very unclear what their plans are for this backlog."
The visa program began in 2006 and has approved about 16,000 applicants. To make the deadline, it would have to approve more visas in the next three months than it has in the last 15 years, the Free Beacon noted.
Last week, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley said plans are being made to evacuate interpreters and other Afghan allies before the withdrawal deadline.
But the White House told Fox News, "we have no plans for evacuations at this time, making it sound as if the visa program was their only avenue out of the country.
Understaffing has been one issue critics have pointed to in creating the backlog. The Free Beacon reported in 2015 that one interpreter, Sakhidad Afghan, was tortured and killed as he waited four years for a visa.
Miervaldis said advocates are not waiting on the government to move and are exploring other options.
"My understanding is plans in the Pentagon don’t just happen overnight. There’s a multi-month process and review, so while we appreciate the [Department of Defense] putting plans together, it’s almost too late," he said.
They are asking the State Department to make plans with third-party countries with U.S. military bases, including Kuwait or the United Arab Emirates, to keep the translators while they await word on whether their applications are approved.
"There’s no need to keep them in Afghanistan to do the paperwork," Miervaldis said. He said no word from the State Department has come on any progress on that idea.
The White House had not responded to Newsmax's request for comment Tuesday.
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