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Rep Seth Moulton, D-Mass., spoke at a rally on Friday to demand presidential action for American’s Afghan allies, such as interpreters who took great risks to help American troops and now are being left behind as U.S. military forces withdraw from the country.
Standing in Lafayette Square in front the White House, Moulton, a former Marine officer with multiple combat tours, said, “I want to thank veterans all across America, veterans of different political parties and different wars, who are coming together today and reminding Americans that we have a promise to uphold.”
The rally came one week after the New York Times reported that the Biden administration was notifying lawmakers that the U.S. would soon begin relocating thousands of Afghan allies to third countries while they await processing for their special immigrant visas. However, congressional members on both sides of the aisle have yet to receive details.
According to Moulton, the solution is simple: evacuate our allies now. “I’m asking the administration for three things right now. One, adopt our plan or come up with a better one… Second, we need a commander. We need someone who is charge of this and accountable for getting it done, and third we need a promise… I don’t want to hear two months from now we’ve run out of time… We cannot leave anyone behind,” the congressman said in an interview with Fox News.
The special immigrant visa program was created with the National Defense Authorization Act of 2006, and was designed to provide expedited visa processing for Afghans and Iraqis who worked as interpreters and translators for U.S. forces. For 2021, only 50 visas are authorized, while more than 17,000 eligible Afghans remain in the country.
Even before the U.S. withdrawal, the long wait for a visa was often fatal. Cress Clippard, a former Marine officer and Afghanistan veteran who now volunteers with Combined Arms – a group that helps resettle Afghans and Iraqis who worked with U.S. forces – recently secured the evacuation of the family of a slain interpreter. Pulled from his car at a Taliban checkpoint, the former interpreter was executed in front of his young son as revenge for his service to the American military. “(He) had served more than 10 years with U.S. forces in Afghanistan, (but) was erroneously denied his visa,” Clippard told Fox News.
“We had to get that family out of there,” said Clippard. “Their oldest adult son had a threat from the Taliban… and we knew it was so urgent that we simply got them out of Afghanistan, and we were able to get them here to Houston, Texas, through a program called Humanitarian Parole, but it’s more of a Band-Aid solution.”
Rep. Peter Meijer, R-Mich., also says he understands the danger these interpreters face, and has been pressing for executive action. Having served as both an Army intelligence officer in Iraq and as a civilian conflict analyst with an international NGO in Afghanistan, Meijer told Fox News that these host nation allies were crucial to U.S. forces.
“I’ve been on both sides of the blast wall in both of our largest post-9/11 conflicts… we have an obligation to those who risked their lives on our behalf… we cannot leave them behind to certain death. And you see this in Congress, there are veterans who appreciate and understand the commitment that was made… often times with the promise that there would be a visa waiting for them if we left… if they were in harm’s way, we would take care of them the way they took care of us.”
“President Biden is the commander in chief, he needs to order the Department of Defense… to execute on this… this is not something that Congress can order, this lies at the feet of the president,” Meijer told Fox.
Meijer sees an inconsistency between how economic refugees are handled at the southern border and how the administration is managing Afghans who fought the Taliban and Al Qaeda alongside the U.S. military. “President Biden got rid of the remain in Mexico policy – because apparently for economic migrants that was inhumane – but he’s insisting on a remain in Afghanistan policy for the interpreters who we already know and we’ve already vetted.”
The rally was co-sponsored by With Honor, an organization “dedicated to promoting and advancing principled veteran leadership in elected public service,” according to its website. The organization’s co-founder and CEO, Rye Barcott, is a Marine veteran with service in Iraq. He told Fox News that this issue is an excellent example of how veteran leadership in Congress can help get things done. “We support over 25 veterans who are part of the For Country Caucus in the House, and they have made this issue of protecting our Afghan allies a top legislative priority.”
For all these veterans – Moulton, Clippard, Meijer and Barcott – this is both a matter of honor and national security.
“If we break those promises, if we betray those and abandon those who served alongside us, people are going to remember that,” Meijer said. “Not only those Afghans we betray, but also, in any potential future conflict, we are going to be looked at as a country that doesn’t keep our promises, that will cut and run, that will turn our backs on our allies, that will, frankly, be a country that can’t be trusted. I think that will be incredibly detrimental to our national security in the long term.”
Moulton added, “There’s a moral imperative to future generations of American servicemen and women, that we show them that they will be able to make this promise on the ground in some other country someday, and people won’t look back to Afghanistan and say we broke that promise.”