WASHINGTON, DC — As the U.S. quickly approaches the formal withdrawal date from Afghanistan, Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA), Afghan allies who served with U.S. forces, and veterans of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq gathered on Capitol Hill to unveil a detailed evacuation plan. The plan, available at EvacuateOurAllies.org, outlines the historical precedent, legal rationale, and logistical considerations to evacuate the more than 17,000 Afghan allies and their families to Guam where they can wait for their applications for U.S. protection to be processed in safety.
“Veterans across America have joined our calls in Congress to evacuate our Afghan allies, and today, the administration is heeding that call. We have fewer than 80 days until our formal withdrawal, but it takes 800 to process a Special Immigrant Visa. That is why an evacuation is necessary—now,” said Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA). “The plan I put forward today with Human Rights First provides detailed options for the administration. At yesterday’s hearing, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs made this clear when he said that ‘we have a moral imperative to take care of those who served along our side.’ We also have a moral imperative to future generations of American troops who need to recruit their own partners; we won’t find future allies if we turn our backs on today’s. Now, the administration needs to brief a detailed operational plan, appoint an operational commander, and guarantee we will complete the mission. It’s time to honor our American promise.”
“Throughout our history, we have evacuated hundreds of thousands of our allies from multiple active combat zones. In 1975 we evacuated 130,000 Vietnamese. In 1996, we evacuated nearly 7,000 Iraqis. Similarly, in 1999 we brought out 20,000 Kosovars,” said Chris Purdy, director of Veterans for American Ideals, a project of Human Rights First. “The time for a similar operation is upon us again. We must evacuate our allies and we must evacuate them now.
“The signal from the White House is a major and encouraging step in keeping our word to our Afghan allies,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, President and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. “This move is a testament to the advocacy of our allies and the veterans, human rights groups, and legislators supporting the call for a dignified withdrawal from Afghanistan. In terms of what comes next, there needs to be a precise plan spearheaded by a designated operational commander. This will be a massive interagency undertaking on a tight timeframe, so we need to see swift and coordinated action.”
Many of America’s Afghan partners are eligible for the Special Immigrant Visa, but the U.S. government’s inability to process the visas in a timely manner poses a direct risk to the safety of the Afghans waiting for them and their families. The average processing time per visa is 800 days. There are less than 80 days until the American military is scheduled to fully withdraw from the country. Improvements to the visa process are not sufficient to keep Afghan allies safe. With the time remaining, an evacuation is the only option that can save lives.
“The special immigrant visa program is fundamentally broken. It is a nine-month process that takes up to ten years to complete. This is not now and has never been acceptable,” said Kristen Babicki who served in the U.S. Air Force with deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan where she worked as a medic. “The only reasonable and logical course of action from here on out is to immediately evacuate our Afghan allies to Guam. Guam has indicated that they will welcome our Afghan allies with open arms to offer safe haven while their visa process is completed.”
“My SIV application was not moving fast enough to keep me safe. I ended up fleeing Afghanistan for my life and was later granted asylum in the United States,” said Samey Honaryar, an Afghan who worked as an interpreter with U.S. forces. “This was back in 2012, I didn’t know that nine years later, Afghan allies like me would still be waiting for their visas to be processed. There is no more time, they need to be evacuated now.”
As President Biden meets with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, this group of veterans and the Afghans who served beside them wait to see if the president’s words will result in action to begin an evacuation.