Legion calls for immediate evacuation of Afghan allies

With less than 100 days remaining before the Sept. 11 deadline for U.S. troops to withdraw from Afghanistan, The American Legion demands that the U.S. government act now to extract Afghan interpreters who assisted U.S. troops during the Global War on Terrorism. Failure to do so puts the lives of these translators and their families in serious jeopardy as they face death threats from ISIS, the Taliban, Al Qaeda and others because of their service to the United States.

American Legion National Security Commission Chairman Steve Brennan joined U.S. Reps. Mike Waltz, R-Fla., and Jason Crow, D-Colo., both combat veterans of the war in Afghanistan, in an urgent plea for the White House to “green light” immediate evacuation of all Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants. About 18,000 such Afghans await visa decisions while their lives and those of their families are in danger. Both lawmakers said they likely would not have been at Wednesday’s press conference if not for support from Afghan interpreters. Major media outlets covered the conference in front of the U.S. Capitol.

Since the 9-11 terror attacks, the United States has employed thousands of local Afghan translators to help U.S. forces during the war. In exchange for their help, the United States promised a pathway to U.S. citizenship for Afghan interpreters and their families. Not honoring this promise creates an enormous national security issue for future military operations.

"Our wartime allies saved countless American lives despite grave dangers to themselves and their families," American Legion National Commander James W. "Bill" Oxford said. "It would be a moral failure to withdraw our troops and leave behind the brave Afghan interpreters who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with U.S. troops through multiple operations.”

Congress passed the Afghan Allies Protection Act of 2009. The act provides special immigrant visas to Afghans who worked for at least one year as translators or interpreters, or who were employed by, or on behalf of, the U.S. government in Afghanistan. The visa allows these wartime allies to resettle in the United States. To qualify, visa applicants must demonstrate that their lives were threatened because of their work in support of a U.S. mission. As of April 2021, there are approximately 18,000 Afghan interpreters in limbo under the SIV program due to bureaucratic red tape and limited spots.

"The current SIV process will not work, as it takes an average of 800+ days, and we have less than 100," Brennan said. "The American Legion strongly encourages the U.S. government to prioritize the protection of our allies and their families by creating and implementing an immediate plan to extract these heroes. Not honoring our promises creates an enormous national security risk in the future because other countries will be unwilling to help us.

"This is not a new issue. The United States has conducted evacuations before at a far greater scale. In 1975, the United States evacuated approximately 130,000 Vietnamese refugees after the fall of Saigon. Most of these refugees were held temporarily in Guam before being transported to the continental United States to finish visa processing. Again in 1996, the United States evacuated thousands of Kurds at the end of the Iraqi Kurdish Civil War, also temporarily holding them in Guam.

“Despite those efforts, thousands were still left behind and killed in Vietnam and Iraq. "We have experience with this type of evacuation in times of crisis," Brennan added. "The current environment in Afghanistan clearly merits similar action but with even better results."