While President Obama seeks to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees into the country, the FBI director laments an inadequate vetting process. While GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump calls for a ban on all Muslim immigrants, others label him Islamaphobic even as Americans worry about unabated movement of undocumented migrants and potential jihadists flooding the country through a porous border.
Americans are concerned about admitting enemies into the country, but our government isn’t even honoring its prior promises to brave interpreters who risked death and torture while loyally serving the U.S. military during our long war in Afghanistan.
Beheadings, kidnappings, car bombs and the re-emergence of the Taliban and the rise of the Islamic State are the realities these brave men and their families face as a direct result of their trust in us. As we draw down our forces, we are abandoning them to a cruel future they face because they trusted our word. These men who literally gave voice to our military operations in Afghanistan now sit voiceless awaiting America to fulfill its broken promises to them. As their security deteriorates, they patiently wait for notification from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul that their Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) is finally approved.
In 2012, I met such an Afghan. He had the courage to do what many Americans never have done: serve the United States in uniform, which he did for six years from 2008 to 2014, separated from his wife and two children. For seven months, I commanded a company of more than 150 paratroopers partnering with 340 Afghan Security Forces in a town of 10,000 people that had averaged at least one daily act of violence by the enemy. We experienced a steep learning curve and I needed a trusted ally in making life-or-death decisions in our fight against the Taliban.
Affectionately called “Dave,” this Afghan was my primary linguist and cultural adviser. His job placed him next to me. In the face of improvised explosive devices, hand grenades and small arms fire, Dave fearlessly and faithfully helped us accomplish our mission. He was by my side for every expended round and authorized fire mission. He translated messages in three different languages. He laughed with me during down times and cried with me at memorials.
To say he had my back would be an understatement. I trusted him with my life. I’m not the only one who trusted Dave. Over the years, he had the opportunity to personally brief Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman, as well as Defense Secretary Robert Gates. To me, he was a priceless asset; to our government he was but an employee paid a salary of $750 a month.
To Dave’s surprise, during the drawdown of combat operations last summer, we didn’t renew his contract. We used him until we no longer needed him, then revoked his base access, and cut him loose as a discarded American asset in a hostile land. Dave moved his family to a remote area in an attempt to keep them safe, but the death threats followed him. He and his family live in fear because he served our cause. Like the thousands of vehicles chopped up and left as scrap, Dave is now but an abandoned remnant of America’s longest war.
Dave received my endorsement for U.S. citizenship in June 2012. While presidential candidates bicker over our immigration policies, Dave patiently waits in a war zone. The fighting in Afghanistan continues, and now the Islamic State occupies parts of the country. Every time I see another execution video I think about Dave.
Over the past three years, I have repeatedly emailed the U.S. Embassy in Kabul inquiring about his immigration packet. By Aug. 18, 2013, he had completed and passed his security screening, interview and family medical screening. For the past 28 months there has been nothing left to do but wait. Since June 2014, his packet status on the Embassy website reads: “Your visa case is currently undergoing necessary administrative processing.” We are told that this processing can take several weeks, but he has been waiting 19 months.
Dave’s story is bad enough, but the sad fact is that he is not alone. In 2009, Congress approved the SIV program in Afghanistan for linguists like Dave serving our national security interests. Yet thousands of SIV packets remain clogged in the State Department’s system while Dave and too many others like him remain exposed in a war zone.
Throughout my military career, I have found myself in situations fighting for others who cannot fight for themselves, but Dave’s fate remains in the hands of bureaucrats who just don’t seem to care about his very real service to this country. Dave and other loyal partners of our military remain victims of broken American promises and are all too likely to become victims of the same vengeful enemies they helped Americans combat.
They deserve better.
• Michael Kelvington is a major in the U.S. Army and a graduate student at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. His views are his own, and do not represent those of the U.S. Army or Department of Defense.