Visas for Afghan Interpreters Reveal Failing Security
Policy + Politics

Visas for Afghan Interpreters Reveal Failing Security

REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

A new bill in Congress raises the prospect that more Afghan interpreters who worked alongside American troops will be able to move to the U.S., fulfilling a promise made to thousands who risked their lives and that of their families.

But the legislation also underscores the kind of security situation U.S. troops are leaving behind in Afghanistan after a dozen years there, one in which civilians are intimidated or even killed for working with coalition forces, aid organizations and journalists.

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The four-page bill, sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and introduced this week, would expand for one year a special immigrant visa program for interpreters and their immediate family members. It also would expand the initiative to those who worked with U.S. development organizations and American media outlets, as well as authorize an additional 3,000 visas, raising the cap to 10,500. The current initiative expires on Sept. 30.

“We have a responsibility to fulfill our obligation to the thousands of civilians who risked their lives and that of their families to help our country during a time of war,” Shaheen, a member of the Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees, said in a statement. “Even as we conclude our mission in Afghanistan and face tough issues at home, we have a clear responsibility to make good on American promises to our Afghan allies who are now living in fear of retribution because they believed in our mission enough to risk their lives for it.”

The measure has strong bipartisan support, with at least seven Democratic and nine Republican cosponsors from lawmakers such as Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) is sponsoring companion legislation in the House.

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Interpreters and their family members have faced retaliation from the Taliban, from kidnapping siblings to executing parents, according to accounts from some Afghans who worked with U.S. forces. Insurgents in Iraq were accused of perpetrating similar crimes, prompting the U.S. to initiate a special visa program for Iraqi interpreters.

Visa eligibility only applies to Afghans who worked for more than a year after the U.S. invasion began in October 2001. Since then, more than 2,000 U.S. service members have been killed in Afghanistan, with thousands more Afghan security forces killed.

The Taliban last week issued a statement promising “backbreaking martyrdom strikes” this spring as coalition forces draw down their military presence in Afghanistan, according to NBC News.

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