Saturday 22nd of June 2024

Helping The Afghan Allies America Left Behind
Luke Coffey
Region : Afghanistan,
Issue : Security, Politics,
In February 2020, President Donald Trump agreed to a deal with the Taliban that would have seen the phased withdrawal of United States forces from Afghanistan by May 2021. This agreement served as the starting point that eventually led to the Afghan government’s collapse and the Taliban’s return to power. In January 2021, President Joe Biden entered office. Instead of canceling the flawed agreement with the Taliban—something that was in his power to do—he merely delayed America’s withdrawal date from May to September. By July, almost all US and international forces had left. On August 15, the Taliban took Kabul. By September 11, 2021, the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the Taliban controlled more of Afghanistan than it did on September 11, 2001.
During the chaotic retreat, the US left an estimated $7 billion in military equipment in Afghanistan, most of which has now fallen into the hands of the Taliban or ended up on the black market around the region. However, this hefty price tag pales in comparison to the moral cost of leaving behind tens of thousands of Afghan allies who sacrificed so much for the United States over 20 years.
In the weeks leading up to the final withdrawal, the US and its international partners attempted to evacuate Afghans who helped the international coalition over the years. By any objective measurement, this effort was a failure. The evidence of this failure was clear for the world to see during the final chaotic weeks at Kabul International Airport.

It is estimated that the United States evacuated only 124,000 Afghan allies out of the country, of whom around 90,000 have since made it to the US. Of these, only 21,000 have been issued a special immigration visa (SIV), which provides much-needed clarity on their legal status and right to remain and work in the United States. Most of the remaining evacuated Afghans in the US are here under a process known as humanitarian parole. According to the State Department’s inspector general, Diana Shaw, another 152,000 SIV applicants remain in Afghanistan today.
In addition, it is estimated that tens of thousands of Afghans either qualify for or are in the process of applying for US Refugee Admissions Program Priority-1 (P1) or Afghan Priority-2 Program (P2) visas. In addition to those Afghans who qualify for an SIV or P1/P2 visa, there are tens of thousands of others who directly or indirectly supported the US but who have no realistic way out of the country. They remain vulnerable to Taliban retribution and often face it. This group includes the following:
• An estimated 20,000–30,000 Afghan commandos. The United Nations Mission in Afghanistan has alleged that there are more than 400 cases of extrajudicial killing or detention of former Afghan National Defense and Security Forces in just the first six months of Taliban rule. It has also been reported that Russia is trying to recruit former Afghan commandos to fight in Ukraine.
• Thousands of lawyers, judges, and other magistrates. According to a UN report from January 2023, “Lawyers, judges, prosecutors, and other actors involved with the legal system in Afghanistan face grave risks to their safety” due to the Taliban’s takeover.
• Several thousand journalists. Within a year of the Taliban takeover, 60 percent of the nearly 12,000 Afghan journalists had ceased operating in the nation. Three Afghan journalists have been killed in 2023 alone, and many more have been detained.
The rapid and chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021 leaves American policymakers with challenges today. There are three main problems for policymakers seeking to help Afghans who worked with the US over the years.
First, there is no clear path for Afghan allies evacuated to the United States to legally remain and work here. So far, Congress has failed to pass the legislation to create such a path. The State Department, in coordination with the Department of Homeland Security, has been unable or unwilling to devote the required resources to speed up the SIV process in a meaningful and responsible way. According to the Association of Wartime Allies, it will take 31 years to process the SIV applications at the current rate. In June 2023, the Biden administration used executive authority to extend humanitarian parole for two years for Afghans evacuated to the US who have not been issued an SIV. However, the use of executive authority in this context is merely a short-term solution to a long-term problem.
Second, there are potentially hundreds of thousands of Afghans remaining in Afghanistan (or in neighboring countries) who qualify for SIV or P1/P2 visas—but there is no concrete or resourced strategy in place for bringing them to the United States.
Finally, there is very little discussion or debate, either in the US government or in the policy community, about what the US should do to help Afghans who fall outside the criteria of SIV or P1/P2 visa status but have been a part of Afghan society since 2001 and remain suspectable to Taliban retribution. Examples include Afghan commandos, lawyers and judges, and journalists.

How Helping Afghans Serves American Interests
The failure to evacuate so many Afghan allies is a stain on America’s national honor, and the legal uncertainty over immigration status facing Afghans who reached the US is a disgrace. It is time for Congress to act. Given the unprecedented chaos at America’s southern border, it might be tempting to play politics with the Afghan resettlement issue and include it within the larger immigration debate in the US. But this choice would not only constitute a lazy approach to the very serious immigration debate in the US; it would also do a disservice to America’s national interests.
There are 10 reasons why American interests are served by helping Afghans still stranded in Afghanistan and offering those already in the US a legal pathway to remain. These are divided into normative, practical, and strategic reasons.

Normative Reasons
Between 2001 and 2021, hundreds of thousands of Afghans served alongside US military and civilian personnel in Afghanistan—often at great personal risk. In 2014, the International Refugee Assistance Project estimated that an Afghan interpreter was being killed every 36 hours. According to a report jointly published by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project and Afghan Peace Watch, there were “over 1,000 incidents of violence targeting civilians by the Taliban between the fall of Kabul on 15 August 2021 and 30 June 2023, accounting for 62 percent of all attacks on civilians in the country.”
There are two main normative reasons why Americans should care about evacuating eligible Afghans and providing a pathway for lawful permanent resident status in the United States.
1. Doing right by Afghan allies is a matter of national honor. The way America treats people who helped it, especially when they are in peril, says a lot about its values as a nation. Helping the Afghans who helped America is morally the right thing to do.
2. America should live up to the commitments it has made. On August 20, 2021, President Biden announced, “We’re going to do everything, everything that we can, to provide safe evacuation for our Afghan allies, partners, and Afghans who might be targeted because of their association with the United States. . . . The United States stands by the commitment it made to these people.” Leading up to the withdrawal, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, said, “We must remain faithful to those Afghans who risked their lives to help the United States troops and personnel.” He added, “We must do what is necessary to ensure their protection and if necessary, get them out of the country.” America made a commitment to evacuate Afghans who helped it and should live up to this commitment.

Practical Reasons
There are three practical reasons why legislation is needed to create a timely and legal pathway allowing Afghans already settled in the US to remain here. These reasons have implications for the US economy and national security.
1. Afghans evacuated to America could play a role in improving the US economy and filling key shortages in the labor market. A report by Upwardly Global and Evacuate Our Allies published in March 2023 estimates that the potential annual earnings of Afghan newcomers to the US at $1.71 billion. This sum could generate $227 million in federal tax revenue annually. According to the report, more than 10,000 Afghans evacuated to the US are thought to have at least a college education. It is estimated that 28.5 percent of these have master’s degrees, and that 5.8 percent have advanced medical training. Considering that health care is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the US economy, this influx of skilled medical professionals could be particularly beneficial. In simple terms,delaying the passage of relevant legislation potentially denies the US economy a needed boost.
2. Adjusting the legal status of Afghans in the US using legislation could save the US taxpayer tens of millions of dollars. Asylum adjudication of more than 36,000 Afghan cases would cost the US government more than $64 million, compared to around half that cost for adjusting the status of this population under a legislative measure such as the Afghan Adjustment Act 2023. In simple terms,delaying the passage of relevant legislation is a bad deal for the US taxpayer.
3. Legislation providing a pathway to lawful permanent resident status could also improve security vetting of Afghans admitted to the US on a humanitarian parole status. Current drafts of proposed legislation in the US Senate and House of Representatives arguably entail stricter vetting requirements than those included under humanitarian parole after the Vietnam War and the Gulf War, for example. Passing the legislation in question will allow in-depth vetting to take place. Ultimately, this makes America safer.In simple terms,delaying the passage of relevant legislation undermines US national security.
Strategic Reasons
It is safe to assume that Afghanistan, and the broader regions of Central and South Asia, will remain a focus of US foreign policy and counterterrorism operations for the foreseeable future. Thinking otherwise is hopelessly naive. Therefore, policymakers should take long-term needs into account and think creatively when it comes to the treatment of Afghan evacuees.
In this context, there are five strategic reasons why it is beneficial for the US to ensure that all Afghans who were promised a way out of Taliban-ruled Afghanistan getout.
1. Afghans brought to America form a talent pool of linguists, cultural experts, and proven patriots whose service America might someday need again. During its 20-year military presence in Afghanistan, America relied on Afghan-Americans and local Afghans to fulfill key specialized tasks like interpreting. It was recently announced that the Defense Language Institute will stop teaching Pashto, one of Afghanistan’s national languages, in November 2023. In the event that there is a future shortfall of trained linguists, the US would benefit from having a pool of Afghans who have interpreting skills and a track record of service to America.
2. Helping Afghans who helped the US sends a message to future local and indigenous partners. Throughout the history of warfare, militaries have cooperated with local forces. There is no reason to suspect that future conflicts will be any different. But working with any foreign force creates risks for local forces and their families. In future conflicts, local and indigenous partners will be more willing to work with the US if they believe that the promises made to them will be kept. Conversely, the failure to help those Afghans who helped the US could lessen America’s military effectiveness in the future.
3. Afghans brought to America could play an important role in a post-Taliban Afghanistan. In the years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, members of the Afghan-American diaspora played an important role in helping to rebuild Afghanistan. The current Taliban government is fragmented and unlikely to rule over the whole country in the future. Offering refuge and safety in the US to educated, professionally trained Afghan allies—who would normally be persecuted under Taliban rule—makes America a stronger nation in the short term and supports individuals who could play a future role in building a post-Taliban Afghanistan.
4. Afghans brought to America could provide indirect humanitarian aid in the form of remittances to Afghanistan. At theirheight in 2019, personal remittances sent to Afghanistan totaled 4.4 percent of the country’s GDP. In December 2021, despite ongoing economic sanctions against the Taliban, the Treasury Department issued a general license authorizing banking transactions that allowed Afghans in the US to send remittances back home. With more Afghans earning money in the United States and sending remittances back to Afghanistan, less taxpayer money might have to be spent on aid.
5. Bringing Afghans who served alongside the US to America will deny adversaries the ability to recruit mercenaries. It has been widely reported in the press that Russian private military companies have attempted to recruit former Afghan commandos to join their ranks. The infamous Wagner Group, which is very influential across sub-Saharan Africa and recently fought in Ukraine, has reportedly already recruited former Afghan soldiers. If Afghans who served alongside American forces are brought to the United States and given economic opportunities, America’s adversaries lose this potential recruiting pool. This step also protects America’s military strategies, since many of these Afghan forces were trained by the US military.
Doing right by Afghan allies fulfills America’s moral obligation, serves the material interests of US citizens, and furthers Washington’s strategic interests in the region and beyond. The longer the Biden administration and Congress wait, the more dire the situation becomes for the brave Afghans who stood with America for two decades. It is too late to rectify all the harm caused by America’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan. But evacuating Afghan allies still stranded under Taliban oppression and offering peace of mind and stability to those already in the US would be a step in the right direction.
About the author: Luke Coffey is a Senior Fellow at the Hudson

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