Afghans who helped the United States are now afraid to be left behind


Kabul, Afghanistan (AP) —He worked with US soldiers in hundreds of patrols and dozens of battles in eastern Afghanistan, winning enthusiastic testimonials and certificates from US platoon leaders.

Still, Ayazdin Giral was turned down when he applied for one of the rare special visas that would allow him to move to the United States with his family. Now, as U.S. and NATO troops prepare to leave the country, thousands of other people who helped him and the war effort say they are stuck in the face of the prospect of Taliban retaliation. I’m afraid.

“We are not safe,” said six 41-year-old fathers about Afghan civilians who worked in the United States or NATO. “The Taliban calls us and says,’Your brother-in-law is about to leave the country, and we will kill you all.'”

The fate of interpreters after the withdrawal of the army surrounds the withdrawal, including the potential for a resurgence of terrorist threats and the reversal of women’s fragile interests after the turmoil of the Kabul-based warlords and Taliban competition. It is one of the uncertainties. Of American military involvement.

Interpreters and other civilians who worked for the U.S. government or NATO obtained what is called a special immigrant visa (SIV) under a program created in 2009 and modeled on a similar program for Iraqis. I can do it.

Both SIV programs have long been plagued by complaints about the long and complex application process of security inspections, which has been further complicated by pandemic security measures.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters last month that the United States is committed to helping interpreters and other Afghan civilians who have helped the war effort, often at great personal risk. Told. The Biden administration has also begun reviewing the SIV program, investigating the delays and capabilities of applicants to challenge the refusal. In addition, fraud prevention measures will be added.

In the reviews, former interpreters, who usually try to hide their identities and keep them unobtrusive, are becoming more and more public about what they fear about what will happen if the Taliban return to power.

“They will definitely kill us,” Mohammad Shoaib Warizada, a former U.S. Army interpreter, said in an interview after participating in a protest in Kabul.

At least 300 interpreters have been killed in Afghanistan since 2016, and the Taliban have revealed that they will continue to be targeted, co-founding No One Left Behind, an organization that defends them on behalf of them. Said Matt Zeller. He also served as an army officer in the country.

“The Taliban consider them literally Islamic enemies,” said Zeller, who is now a Fellow of the Truman National Security Project. “They have no mercy.”

Congressmen and former military personnel also urged the US government to expedite the application process. This currently usually takes more than 3 years. State Department spokesman Ned Price said on May 10 that the US Embassy in Kabul had temporarily increased staff to assist in visa processing.

In December, Congress added 4,000 visas, bringing the total number of Afghans who can come with their immediate family to 26,500, about half of the allotted amount already in use and about 18,000 applications pending. I am.

Critics and refugee advocates have said that if Afghanistan becomes more confused, the need for relocation could increase dramatically. As it is, competing warlords funded and empowered by the U.S. and NATO forces are inadequately trained and inadequately equipped Afghan security, primarily funded by U.S. taxpayers. It threatens the future with the resurrected Taliban, which was able to make substantial territorial profits for the troops.

“I commend the Biden administration for reviewing the process, but if they are willing to rethink the whole thing, they are not really going to start helping the most deprived Afghans,” political mankind. Said scholar Noah Coburn. The study focuses on Afghanistan.

Coburn estimates that there could be as many as 300,000 Afghan civilians working in the United States or NATO in the last two decades.

“There is a wide range of Afghans that would not be tolerated under the Taliban’s notion of what society should be,” said Adam Bates, policy adviser to the International Refugee Assistance Project.

These fears are heightened by the recent targeted killings of journalists, other civilians, and civil servants. Afghan Islamic State affiliates claim several responsibilities while the Taliban and the government blame each other.

Biden raised its national limit on refugee entry to 62,500 this month, weeks after facing a bipartisan blowback due to a delay in replacing the record low ceiling set by its predecessor Donald Trump. I did.

The United States has no plans to move civilians in bulk, at least for now. “We are processing SIV in Kabul and there are no plans to evacuate at this time,” said a senior government official.

The White House is in the early stages of discussing reviews with Congress, and if changes to the SIV program are needed, “process the application as quickly and efficiently as possible while ensuring and protecting the program’s integrity.” We will work with lawmakers to do so, “said National Security,” and discussed internal deliberations on condition of anonymity.

Former interpreters have parliamentary support, partly because the former US military guarantees them.

For example, Warizada submitted a letter of support from the Army Sergeant who oversaw him on dozens of patrols, including one injured by a Taliban shooting. “I can’t remember a linguist who was more devoted to his country and the cause of the coalition,” the sergeant wrote.

Warizada was initially granted a visa, but was subsequently revoked, telling him that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Department had “harmful information you may not know” in a letter filed with the Associated Press. I told you. Mr Warizada has appealed the decision and said he had not received a response.

Hilal, who translated from Dari and Pashto to English for the Army from June 2009 to December 2012, was dismissed by contract and said he did not meet the requirements for “faithful and valuable service” in the United States. The company that hired him after three and a half years of work, which was rejected by the embassy.

Given the danger he faced, it was a stinging reaction. “Why did they give me this medal if I wasn’t loyal and good service for the U.S. military?” He said in Kabul, which a former interpreter used to meet journalists. In an AP interview at the office, he stated that he had given the award.

It’s unclear why he was fired by Mission Essential, a US-based contractor. Giral said there was a conflict with his boss that began with a controversy over work assignments. According to the company, it did not discuss current or former employees and declined to comment.

But no matter what happens in the end, his November 2019 support letter from the platoon commander is a great complement to the “stellar” service, which is “comparable to that of most deployed service members.” Was there.

Hilal was on his side with hundreds of patrols and dozens of fires, monitoring enemy radio traffic and interpreting during encounters with locals, Army Major Thomas Goodman said in a letter. Said in.

“He was reliable and performed brilliantly,” Goodman wrote. “Even in the shootouts that lasted for hours, he never lost his nerves, and I could always count that he was by my side.”

It happened that AP journalists were embedded in the unit for some time during a fierce battle in eastern Afghanistan, showing images of Hilal and Goodman surrounded by villagers when the U.S. military competed with the Taliban for people’s help. I captured it.

Goodman said he supported his recommendation, but declined to comment further.

Coburn, who interviewed more than 150 special immigrant visa recipients and applicants for a recently published program study, said Hilal’s refusal reflected a rigorous evaluation process. “There are no subtle differences in the definition of service,” he said. “You either served or did not serve.”

The Special Immigrant Visa Program allows applicants to make one appeal and many are successful. According to the State Department, nearly 80% of the 243 Afghans who appealed in the first quarter of 2021 were approved after providing additional information. Giral says his appeal has been dismissed.

Bates of the International Refugee Assistance Project said something should be taken into account in the fact that there are US Army officers who want assistance. “Even if he doesn’t qualify for the SIV program, this clearly seems to be someone in need of protection,” he said.

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Fox reported from Washington. The Associated Press author Julie Watson of San Diego and Ronda Schaffner of New York contributed to this report.

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