- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 4, 2013

Thousands of Afghan interpreters whose visa applications are stuck in bureaucratic backlogs at the State Department are terrified that they will be Taliban targets when most U.S. troops withdraw from Afghanistan next year.

Taliban insurgents consider the interpreters, who have helped U.S. and coalition forces, as traitors or lackeys of the “puppet” Afghan government in Kabul.

Over the past five years, about 19 percent of the visas allotted to Afghan aides and their relatives have been issued — about 1,420 out of 7,500 available. Thousands more Afghans wait for visas, some for years. At this rate, they will be left behind long after U.S. combat forces are gone, analysts say.

PHOTOS: Tied up for years in U.S. red tape, Afghan aides are Taliban targets

A 27-year-old interpreter who asked not to be identified for safety reasons said he survived two attempts on his life.

The first time, he was returning to a coalition base from leave and told his taxi driver not to stop for any reason. Along the way, he noticed a car following them. About 6 miles from the base, gunfire spewed from the car before it sped off.

“I saw the dust blowing as bullets hit the ground,” he said.

The second time, he had accepted a day laborer’s repeated invitations for dinner at his home. At the last minute, he was called to help coalition medics and missed the dinner. The next day, the laborer didn’t show up.

Another worker told him, “Did you hear? He had ties with the insurgents and Taliban. He had planned your assassination at his home.”

The interpreter applied for a visa in February 2012 and was interviewed at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul in April this year. Now, he is waiting.

A fellow interpreter who has worked for soldiers and airmen for four years has been waiting for more than two years.

The 25-year-old interpreter, whose wife is pregnant with their second daughter, said he applied in March 2011, was interviewed in July 2012, and hasn’t heard anything about his application since then.

“It is an honor for me to serve with the U.S. armed forces, because these people left their families behind to help Afghanistan,” he said. “But when you’re working with coalition forces, insurgents and Taliban forces see you working with them and have killed too many interpreters and Afghan national workers.”

‘No sense of urgency’

Lawyers at the nonprofit Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project work to secure visas for several hundred Afghan and Iraqi interpreters at a time. They say the approval process is complicated and lengthy, and spans several government agencies, but that applications are getting mired at the initial approval stage under the State Department.

“Over and over again, that’s where we saw people waiting for 18 months, two years,” said Katie Reisner, national policy director for the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project, which has helped bring more than 1,800 Iraqis and Afghans to the U.S. in the past five years.

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