As U.S. military operations in Afghanistan wind down, the Obama administration must take care not to leave friends in the lurch. Thousands of Afghan interpreters who have assisted U.S. troops ably and honorably are special targets of the Taliban, and they're desperately seeking visas to come to the United States.
The end of U.S. combat operations are scheduled for late next year; time is running short. President Obama must rescue Afghan interpreters whose visa applications are stuck in the fudge at the State Department, requiring up to two years for processing and approval. One 27-year-old interpreter, who has survived two attempts on his life, tells The Washington Times he applied for a visa in February 2012, and didn't get an interview at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul until April of this year, and he's still waiting. Another, who applied in March 2011, hasn't heard anything, either. These visa applications must not be treated as work to be done at a bureaucrat's convenience.
Up to 7,000 Afghans are stuck in that backlog, says Kirk W. Johnson, author of "To Be a Friend is Fatal: The Fight to Save the Iraqis America Left Behind," scheduled for publication this fall. "The problem is the White House," Mr. Johnson says. "If President Obama said, 'OK, enough. Get our interpreters out,' do you really think the consular officer at the embassy in Kabul is going to say, 'Well, sorry, sir. This is going to take us two years to do this.'?"
Mr. Obama must also tell Afghan coalition-partner nations to step up to provide refuge for many of these interpreters, particularly those hired by the NATO coalition, who are ineligible for U.S. visas as prescribed in the Afghan Allies Protection Act. That program, established by Congress in 2009, authorizes 1,500 visas per year for Afghans and their families.
"These are not the pooh-bahs and the warlords with condos in Dubai," says Marc Chretien, a former State Department official who was an adviser to Marine Gen. John R. Allen when he was the coalition commander in Afghanistan. "They're in their 20s. They speak English. They work hard. They will succeed in our country."
For those Afghan interpreters, regarded by the Taliban as traitors or lackeys of the corrupt "puppet" government of Hamid Karzai in Kabul, a repeat of the fall of Saigon in 1975 is easy to foresee. The images of terrified Vietnamese employes of Americans on the roof of the U.S. Embassy there, trying desperately to board the last U.S. helicopter out as the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong overran Saigon, are indelibly etched in bitter memory.
Since the Supreme Court struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, the Obama administration has hurried to ensure the State Department expedites the processing of visa applications of foreign homosexual "spouses" of Americans, none of whom is at risk of life or limb. While the process is necessarily lengthy and complicated, those who have done our military good service are more deserving of priority attention. The president's boot applied to the right place would get it done.
The Washington Times