“Those who supported us are being left to die”

Ryan Crocker, former US Ambassador to Afghanistan

Foreign affairs columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer Trudy Rubin’s recent OpEd, “Afghans who aided U.S. need our help, and fast”, is a resounding call for the Biden Administration to pull out all the stops to provide refugee status for several thousand Afghans who have risked their lives and those of their families to help our military during our nation’s twenty-year war against Al Qaeda, ISIS and the Taliban forces in Afghanistan. 

Quoting from her article, these brave individuals have served as “Military interpreters, aid workers, female activists, human-rights workers …“ and provided valuable and otherwise unattainable intelligence to help ensure the safety of our troops, provide support for their mission and facilitate the liberation of women and young girls seeking an education, dignity and human rights within their own country.

It would seem to be a “no-brainer” to follow the precedent set during the evacuation of Saigon in 1975 when as many as 120,000 Vietnamese nationals who had helped our forces were evacuated to the United States.

So, why the hold up?

American “red tape” in the vetting of some 18,000 applicants and their immediate families before the promised visas can be issued.  Meanwhile, the staffing of embassy and other personnel tasked with processing their requests is woefully insufficient to make even a modest dent between now and the announced pullout date of September 11, 2021. 

After our military’s departure, the fate of those thousands left behind is likely to be a blood bath at the hands of the Taliban who have no intention of living up to any of the promises made to American negotiators!

Such a legacy poses future national security risks when similar promises of protection and American visas made to locals willing to assist U.S. military forces and civilian personnel will lack any measure of credibility and be perceived as sacrificial lambs to the shifting whims of American domestic politics.

However, there is a potential and elegant solution.  In January 2002, part of the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base was converted into a prison for “enemy combatants” rounded up in the wake of the 9-11 attacks.  Thought should be given to converting part of the 45 square mile base into temporary housing for Afghan refugees until their applications can be vetted, visas issued and transportation to the U.S. provided. 

In parallel, perhaps another international embarrassment could be addressed, finally closing the controversial detention facility and moving the remaining forty prisoners to secure prisons in the United States where they can be tried and, if found guilty, incarcerated for life; saving hundreds of millions of dollars annually to keep the prison open in the process.

 As a nation, we continually try to “export” the fundamentals of freedom, truth and due process around the globe, words all too many of our politicians use when posturing in front of the cameras but fail to support in the halls of Congress; both for partisan political reasons or to appease primary voters back home at the expense of their vows to “support and defend the constitution of the United States”. 

Before it is too late, perhaps we should heed the words of Winston Churchill, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they've tried everything else.