Kabul: The top two lawmakers on the Senate Intelligence Committee are calling on the Biden administration to take swift action to ensure the safety of Afghans who aided US intelligence agencies during the 20-year war — noting the current “increasingly precarious security situation in Afghanistan.”
In a letter sent to US President Biden, Senate Intelligence Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Vice Chairman Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) cautioned that Afghan partners face an increased threat from the Taliban, and called for actions to be taken, such as authorizing special immigrant visas to ensure protections. “As your administration conducts its withdrawal of military personnel from Afghanistan, we ask that you ensure the safety and security of Afghans who have worked closely with our intelligence agencies and partners. For two decades, thousands of Afghans have risked their lives to work with intelligence professionals from the United States and other NATO countries to fight terrorist groups,” they wrote.
“Their efforts contributed to the decimation of Al Qaeda and its ability to attack the U.S. homeland. Given the increasingly precarious security situation in Afghanistan and the Taliban’s direct targeting of Afghan partners to the United States, we ask that you pursue a set of options to keep these Afghans safe, including approving Special Immigrant Visas, evacuations to a third country, and/or priority admission under the U.S. Refugee Admissions program.”
The lawmakers noted there are currently limited options for Afghan partners to obtain Special Immigrant Visas, adding that the lengthy process may not provide adequate time to protect the US allies. They argued that expediting and providing additional resources is critical in ensuring they remain safe and secure, amid “the rapid deterioration in security.”
Warner and Rubio warned that failing to provide support could be detrimental and potentially damaging to US foreign relations. The Biden administration said earlier this week it plans to evacuate Afghanistan citizens who aided US troops, announcing it would launch “Operation Allies Refuge.”
However, Jalina Porter, Principal deputy spokesperson, US State Department, said that their immediate focus is on eligible and interested Afghan nationals and their families, including women and minorities who are vulnerable and at risk – who have supported the United States and our partners in Afghanistan and are in the SIV application pipeline. “There are approximately 20,000 Afghan principal applicants at some stage of the SIV process, and as of July of 2021, approximately 50 percent of these applicants are at the initial stage of the process and are pending applicant application. Of that 20,000, approximately 10,000 of these applicants would need to take some action before the U.S. Government can begin processing their case,” Porter said.
On the deteriorating situation, Porter said, “We will always call for peace and an end to the violence that plagues Afghanistan. We have urged both sides to engage in serious negotiations when it comes to a just and durable peace settlement. A just and durable peace settlement is the only way forward in Afghanistan.”
In fact, Canadian Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino also said that Ottawa is working on a plan to help dozens of Afghans who are facing Taliban arrest or worse for having worked with Canada, but he stopped short of saying when that plan will become reality. The Canadian federal government is under mounting pressure to help dozens of former interpreters, translators and cultural advisers who aided the Canadian military and development efforts during the war in Afghanistan. Mendicino, in response to a reporter’s question while announcing a new refugee program to help people threatened for defending human rights, acknowledged the “tremendous urgency” of the situation in Afghanistan. Also, Sweden is halting all deportations to Afghanistan, stopping the expulsion of some 7,000 people, over the deteriorating security situation in the country. “The decision is effective immediately and will be in force until further notice,” Carl Bexelius, head of legal affairs at the Swedish Migration Agency said in a statement. The Swedish agency said it would continue to monitor the situation and would later evaluate on whether to reconsider denied asylum requests.
All this comes amid another development as per DPA International news agency that NATO has quietly wound down its military mission in Afghanistan after almost two decades as fears of civil war in the country grow. Any foreign troops still in the country – like those from the United States and Turkey – are solely under the control of their national chains of command, DPA learned from several diplomatic and military sources.
NATO spokesperson Piers Cazalet said on Friday however that the mission was still operational, and would only be officially terminated in the coming months with the approval of the alliance members. Washington always had troops stationed in the country that weren’t part of the NATO mission. Doing so allowed them to offer military support to Afghan security forces that wouldn’t have been possible within the remit of the non-combat NATO mandate.
Besides US troops, a number of Turkish, Norwegian and British personnel remain in Afghanistan. Turkey is to be responsible for security at Kabul Airport and Norway continues to run a field hospital there for the time being. Both are deemed crucial for ensuring foreign embassies and international representatives can stay in the country.
In other news, Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that he believes Afghan forces can secure the country as the U.S. withdraws, but success will depend on whether they have the will to put up a fierce fight against the Taliban. In an interview with the Associated Press, Pompeo said he is confident Afghan forces can repel the Taliban, but it’s “a matter of will.”