Kabul: The Biden administration is working with the Congress to offer more visas to Afghan nationals who risk being targeted by the re-emergent Taliban for assisting US forces during the two-decade war there. The legislative push comes as officials rush to evacuate thousands of Afghans to neighboring countries before the withdrawal of US forces is completed next month.
Representative Jason Crow, a Colorado Democrat, said that he has collaborated with administration officials on his bill to raise the special immigrant visa cap by 8,000 visas and remove some application requirements. The State Department has issued 26,500 of these visas since 2014. The House is slated to take up the bipartisan legislation, which has 113 cosponsors, this week and Crow said he hopes the Senate will act soon after it passes. “There’s not a reason I can see why they wouldn’t want to take this up expeditiously and get it done before the August work period begins so we can send it to the president’s desk and he can sign it and we can start making it happen,” said Crow, a former Army Ranger who served in Afghanistan.
Crow’s legislation is part of a sustained effort among lawmakers, particularly veterans of America’s longest war, to help evacuate interpreters, teachers, truck drivers and other Afghans who helped the coalition war effort over the last two decades. The upcoming House debate follows weeks of news conferences and intense behind-the-scenes lobbying efforts to get the administration to act quickly.
“We are outright talking lives here,” Crow said. “Every day, every week that passes will cost people their lives in Afghanistan.” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the U.S. government has had a “range of discussions” with third countries to take Afghan applicants while their requests are being processed and will reveal where some evacuees will go when it won’t affect their safety. The White House plans to start flying people who worked with U.S. forces out of Afghanistan later this month to protect them from the Taliban, which is rapidly gaining territory in the country.
The flights will be to neighboring countries and will be for interested and eligible Afghan nationals and their families who are already in the application pipeline for the Special Immigrant Visa program, a process that can take several years. The administration has asked three Central Asian nations — Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan — to temporarily house the Afghans.
In addition, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul will continue to process visa applicants after troops leave the country, and officials will devote additional resources to process those applications, according to a person familiar with the US State Department’s plans. The government has already sped up processing time by surging resources there, the person said. A small contingent of American troops will stay to guard the embassy.
Also even in Britain, in scathing criticism of the UK Ministry of Defence, former Major General Charlie Herbert has said that more had to be given sanctuary – and quickly – as those who risked their lives beside UK troops are on ‘borrowed time’ and face death threats. Commenting on the UK’s decision to pull out of the country after 20 years, along with the US, he said, “Leaving Afghanistan without a political settlement is ill-judged, but leaving without our former interpreters and locally employed staff is immoral.” He said the UK Ministry of Defence must not leave behind the “remarkable Afghan locals who served us so brilliantly, and often with such sacrifice”.
Alll this comes even as violence continues. In fact, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliates the Afghan Independent Journalists’ Association (AIJA) and the Afghanistan’s National Journalists Union (ANJU) condemned the killing of Indian journalist Danish Siddiqui in Kandahar and urged for support for media in the deteriorating climate in Afghanistan as US troops withdraw and fighting between the Afghan army and Taliban militants intensifies.
Danish Siddiqui, an Indian photojournalist with Reuters news agency, was killed in crossfire while covering a fierce battle between Afghan security forces and Taliban militants in Kandahar province on Friday, July 16. The International Federation of Journalists said that it remains gravely concerned about the wellbeing of local journalists amid a rise in threats and attacks on local media outlets as well as journalist reporting for international media.
On July 14, the AIJFA reported that Fazlullah Erfan, the editor-in-chief of Gag-e-Islah radio programs, was seriously injured in an explosion targeting a police vehicle in Jalalabad. The AIJA reported to the IFJ that most journalists left the city during the fighting. AIJA last week also reported Taliban threats to at least eight media outlets including Badghis National Radio and Television, Private TV Obur, Radio Hanzaleh, Radio Simim, Ghazali Radio, Radio Nariman, and Baghis Voice Radio. IFJ has received a number of appeals for assistance to flee the country as freelance journalists report their lives being in increasing danger and employers failing to act.
Thirty-three journalists were killed in Afghanistan between 2018 and 2021, the United Nations said in a report this year. The AIJA said, “We condemn the killing of journalist Danish Siddiqui and express condolence to the family members of Siddiqui and the entire media community. The AIJA is deeply concerned to the killing and injuries on civilians, especially media personnel and calls on the warring parties to prevent explosions and clashes in civilian areas.”
The ANJU said, “Unfortunately the environment for media and journalists in different part of Afghanistan is getting worse day by day. Therefore, local and International media should do their best to protect their journalists and staffers.”
The IFJ General Secretary, Anthony Bellanger, said, “The IFJ is gravely concerned at the situation in Afghanistan for media workers right now and expresses deepest condolences to Danish Siddiqui’s family at this terrible time. We call on both the Taliban and the military to respect and ensure the safety of media reporting on the ground.”