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MPI on Rescuing Afghan Allies (July 27, 2021)

July 27, 2021 (2 min read)

Muzaffar Chishti, Julia Gelatt, MPI, July 27, 2021

"Confronting the withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan by the end of August, the U.S. government at the eleventh hour is taking steps to address the fate of Afghans whose assistance during two decades of war has put their lives and those of their families at risk. President Joe Biden in July announced a plan dubbed Operation Allies Refuge to evacuate from the country the Afghans whose visa applications have been stuck in a years-long limbo. And the House, in a rare overwhelmingly bipartisan vote, on July 22 voted to increase the number of Special Immigrant Visas (SIV), a special category of visas created by Congress, to accommodate the arrivals. These actions came just weeks before the U.S. military ends operations in Afghanistan that began shortly after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks orchestrated by al Qaeda, which used the country as its base of operations.

Many Afghans who provided interpretation, security, cultural advice, intelligence, and other services to the U.S.-led military coalition have faced reprisal from Taliban insurgents. More than 300 Afghan interpreters or relatives have been killed because of their U.S. ties, according to the nonprofit organization No One Left Behind. New reports emerged last week of one interpreter being beheaded by the Taliban after they captured him at a checkpoint.

Efforts to bring these Afghans to the United States have been longstanding. For 15 years, the SIV has offered Afghans with a demonstrated record of assisting the U.S. government a path to U.S. permanent residence. Through June, nearly 77,000 Afghans had immigrated to the United States on these visas.

But since its creation, the SIV program has been hamstrung by processing delays and backlogs. An estimated 18,000 Afghan allies and 53,000 family members remained in the processing backlog earlier this year. The average application takes over two years to complete.

The first flights under Operation Allies Rescue, scheduled for the end of July, were due to bring about 2,500 Afghans who had already undergone security screenings to the Army’s Fort Lee in Virginia, for final processing. Another group of Afghans in earlier stages of the process are likely to be flown to other countries to finish their applications, before possibly being resettled in the United States. Qatar and Kuwait are reportedly likely to accept some Afghan nationals; Guam, Kazakhstan, the United Arab Emirates, and Uzbekistan are possible additional locations, although details had not been announced at this writing."