Biden must widen his net to get more American allies out of Afghanistan, now

Former U.S. service members are working frantically across the nation to get the people who helped their war efforts out of Afghanistan before the expected reign of terror by the Taliban includes hunting down those who fought or worked against the group for nearly 20 years.

The sad reality is that America pulled anchor and disembarked with such speed and chaos, that many of those in Afghanistan who bought into what the U.S. sold — freedom, democracy, and equality — are now worse off than before our invasion 20 years ago. They have targets on their backs and a re-empowered enemy.

While those who served the U.S. directly as translators or other employees of the military are eligible to apply for U.S. visas, it is unclear if many will be able to get out now that the Taliban has seized control of Kabul and is blocking access to the airport. Taliban leaders directly said Tuesday they would not let Afghanistan citizens leave, and there are reports of passports for dual citizens being seized near the airport.

And It is becoming increasingly clear that the Special Immigrant Visas being used to bring over interpreters and others who served the U.S. Army will leave out a huge number of people who are deserving and worthy of our protection.

A retired U.S. Marine from Colorado is advocating behind the scenes for a man who worked at a base in Helmand Province for more than four years and stepped in to assist as an interpreter when none were available. The man was described as a “fixture” on the base who “assisted the U.S. government and ISAF at every opportunity.” The Marine wishes to remain anonymous so he doesn’t jeopardize the safety of the Afghan man who also will not be named for his own protection.

“He assisted us because he cared,” wrote the Marine in a letter appealing for a Priority 2 visa from Afghanistan.

And yet, because he was a contracted employee and not directly employed, his life and the life of his wife and young son are now in danger. Unless rules are changed, it’s unclear if he’ll be able to escape. His case is extremely well documented as is the fact that he served as a security guard for the Netherlands Embassy for several years. The Netherlands is taking very few refugees from Afghanistan and only recently announced it would stop deporting those with failed asylum cases back to the war-torn country.

Given this hopelessness, it is no wonder that Zaki Anwari, a 17-year-old player on Afghanistan’s national youth soccer team, clung to a U.S. transport plane for as long as he could before he fell to his death at the Kabul airport. People who have no hope do desperate things.

President Joe Biden must pull out all the stops to help those fleeing the Taliban because of their service to America find safe passage as refugees.

Sen. John Hickenlooper’s staff has been provided information about the Afghan man and the State Department could approve him as part of the Priority 2 Refugee Program, but part of the problem is that to participate in that program, a refugee would have to find his or her way out of Afghanistan on their own.

“While we welcomed the expansion of the eligibility requirements for Special Immigrant Visas and the creation of the Priority 2 category in the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, we must also protect those women who might fall through the cracks of the U.S. government’s response,” wrote Hickenlooper and Sen. Michael Bennet in a letter signed by 44 other senators. “Particularly for women who are currently targets — even hunted by Taliban fighters who are going house-to-house with their names — the path to protection and safety under the Priority 2 designation is not accessible. While we understand there is little processing capacity at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, for these women to access a third country for processing is almost or completely impossible with all borders crossings now closed or controlled by the Taliban.”

Biden has said the U.S. will leave the Kabul airport by the Aug. 31 deadline, which will close the last remaining door on asylum seekers. We urge Biden to reconsider this hardline and to explore all other options — negotiations with the Taliban, joint refugee rescue operations with allies, and pre-screening of asylum seekers at the Kabul airport.

There are risks involved with bringing asylum seekers to the U.S. to fully process their applications — in part the fleeing of Afghanistan itself makes someone even more of a target for the Taliban if their case were to be denied. There is also the risk of inadvertently bringing in some who harbor intense hatred for America and could carry out terrorist attacks on our home soil. That is no small consideration.

But the man we are writing about has an extremely well-documented case, that includes photocopies of his old ID cards for access to U.S. bases and an American service member who is willing to vouch for him. The Marine even offered to open his home to the Afghan refugee and his family were they to make it to America.

There are probably countless similar individuals in Afghanistan praying for a miracle and looking to Biden to deliver.

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