Two lawmakers who served in Afghanistan warned a Pentagon official Wednesday that the Afghans affiliated with the U.S. government would be hunted by the Taliban unless the Biden administration organized an emergency evacuation for them before pulling out American troops in four months.
“We need to get these people out,” Republican Rep. Michael Waltz, a former Green Beret who fought in Afghanistan, said at a House Armed Services Committee hearing. He said U.S. partners are facing a “death sentence” when the U.S. withdraws.
Waltz and other lawmakers expressed frustration at the hearing with David Helvey, the acting Assistant Defense Secretary for the Indo-Pacific, about the Biden administration’s plans for tens of thousands of U.S. partners who face retribution from the Taliban for their involvement with the U.S. and other Western organizations.
Helvey said the Pentagon would be able to evacuate the U.S. partners if it were requested, but lawmakers wanted to know what steps were required to make it happen.
“We need to evacuate them out,” Waltz said. “What’s preventing you from doing that?”
Helvey said the administration hoped to see the Taliban and Afghan government reach a peace agreement to end the conflict. “We’re focusing on a peaceful outcome in Afghanistan,” he said.
Peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government have been stalled. Waltz said the U.S. must act quickly to save the lives of Afghan partners by flying them out to a U.S. military base or territory outside the country where their paperwork could be reviewed.
“These people who stood with us are being hunted down as we speak,” Waltz said.
“We are working with our inter-agency partners to look at the resources and mechanisms to support these folks,” Helvey said.
In 2009, Congress set up the Special Immigrant Visa, or SIV, program to help give visas to Afghan interpreters and others who faced retribution from the Taliban for their involvement with the U.S. The program is extremely backlogged. More than 17,000 Afghans have applied, and their paperwork is still under review.
“We do have a special responsibility to support and protect those who supported and protected us for the past 20 years,” Helvey said. He suggested that Congress should give more resources to the SIV program as a way to help Afghans who worked with the United States.
On Monday, multiple veterans organizations set a letter to President Biden calling for an evacuation of Afghan partners to U.S. territory.