Thousands of Afghans who risked their lives to help the U.S. troops and who face uncertainty after President Joe Biden announced the US would withdraw troops by September 11 might be saved with the potential evacuation with Pentagon in the early stages of its planning, CNN reports.
Although there’s no formal request for a contingency plan by the White House, Capitol Hill and outside groups are pressuring the administration to safely remove Afghan collaborators before U.S. troops’ withdrawal that could be completed in July.
The sense of urgency is also increased by the uptake in Taliban violence against Afghan security forces and civilians in recent weeks.
Republican Rep. Michael Waltz, a former Green Beret who saw combat in Afghanistan, said at a House Armed Services Committee hearing that the US need to get these people out, claiming the U.S partners face a death sentence when the U.S. leaves.
Apart the evacuation as one option being examined, there’s also a push to speed up the issuing of special immigrant visas for about 18,000 people, who are still awaiting approval according to the State Department.
But considering the processing for each approved applicant has taken more than 500 days in recent years, there are concerns it will not be possible to process them all before troops leave.
Gen. Kenneth McKenzie said at a Pentagon briefing last month that the special immigrant visa program is probably the best route to make that happen. According to Mckenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, Pentagon could assist in getting Afghans out of harm’s way, especially considering there’s significant bipartisan political pressure.
Rep. Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, emphasized during a hearing on Afghanistan last week that the U.S. cannot allow Afghanistan to be another Saigon, noting that it could cause irreparable damage to the U.S. national security if their allies and partners don’t trust them to keep their word.
The Pentagon is also aware that time is of the essence with David Helvey, the acting assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific affairs, saying at the Senate Armed Services Committee last week that the U.S. has moral obligation to help those that have helped them over the past 20 years in Afghanistan.