- Afghan activists and former US national security officials want President Biden to help vulnerable Afghans.
- More than 18,000 Afghans who worked with the US are waiting for their visa applications to be processed.
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Afghan activists and former US national security officials are asking President Joe Biden to make a concerted effort to help thousands of vulnerable people, including those who worked with the American military, flee Afghanistan ahead of a planned US withdrawal this September.
The fear is that the US-backed Afghan government could collapse following the removal of US ground troops - and that, even short of this, Taliban forces will be in a position to execute those it deems traitors to the nation.
"The situation in Afghanistan is truly saddening and many Afghans in the diaspora, like myself, are losing sleep thinking about the future of the country," Adeena Niazi, executive director of the Afghan Women's Organization Refugee and Immigrant Services, said.
The International Refugee Assistance Project has asked President Biden to consider mass airlifts of vulnerable Afghans, akin to what US forces did during the fall of Saigon. With time limited - security vetting can take six months to more than a year - the group said the US should consider relocating Afghan refugees to a US military base, such as the one in Guam, and conduct background checks there.
In a letter sent Wednesday, a group of former US national security officials urged the Biden administration to come up with a plan for evacuating 18,000 Afghans who have worked with the US and are still waiting for the Special Immigrant Visa applications to be processed. It echoed the call for relocating this population while it waits.
"Those applicants and their families live in constant danger and fear, which will only intensify as American troops withdraw from Afghanistan, and they are left fully exposed to violent retaliation," the group wrote. "In the worst case, they will be killed."
According to a report from CNN on Wednesday, the US Department of Defense is indeed looking at how it can evacuate thousands of Afghans who worked for it over the last two decades. Officials, however, told the outlet that there has been no formal request for such a contingency plan from the White House.
But as it withdraws, the US should consider more than just its direct allies, Niazi argued. More than 35 million people live in Afghanistan - and many, particularly women, face the prospect of repression, at best, should militants pushing an austere form of Islam take power, as they did in the 1990s following the Soviet Union's withdrawal and the collapse of another US-backed state.
"The US government along with its international allies should make every effort to not forget about other civilians and vulnerable Afghans who will be reliving the wars of the past," she said.
Within Afghanistan itself, more than 4 million people have already been internally displaced, that number "increasing daily due to ongoing conflict," according to Samira Hamidi, deputy regional director for South Asia at Amnesty International. That conflict continued through 2020 despite peace talks between the US and the Taliban, according to data from the United Nations: while overall civilian casualties fell 15%, including more than 3,000 dead, there was a 45% increase in targeted killings.
Nillab Pazhwak, co-founder of the Afghan-American Women's Association, is herself a refugee, leaving Afghanistan as a student before ultimately resettling in Virginia. It "scares us," she said in an interview, of the prospect of history repeating. "Immediately, when we talk of September, we feel like, 'What if the same thing will happen, and the central government is not able to hold control and the Taliban will return?'"
Pazhwak supports the calls to evacuate as many vulnerable Afghans as would like to leave too. But her fear is that helping some leave will be seen as absolving US officials for their part in what happens to the many left behind. And who, really, is not vulnerable?
"Should we take the cream of the society out now? What will happen to the rest of the people?" she asked. "There's 35 million of us. We should not forget about all of them.