House votes to evacuate Afghan helpers

House votes to evacuate Afghan helpers
(AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

I suppose the good news from this headline is that somebody in the House of Representatives finally noticed that our military is pulling out of Afghanistan. More to the point, they figured out that we are on the verge of abandoning thousands of translators and other helpers who are already being hunted down like animals by the Taliban in retaliation for daring to assist the Americans or the government we helped install in Kabul. With that in mind, one Florida Republican and Vietnam war veteran took to the floor and implored his colleagues to not allow this withdrawal to turn into a replay of the fall of Saigon. Thankfully, the members agreed and all but 18 of them (all Republicans!) voted to authorize an additional 8,000 visas to get those people out of the country. Of course, authorizing the visas and physically getting the helpers to a safe location are two very different things. (Associated Press)

The House voted overwhelmingly Thursday to allow in thousands more of the Afghans who worked alongside Americans in the Afghanistan war, citing the urgency of protecting those on-the-ground allies from Taliban retaliation as the U.S. military withdrawal enters its final weeks.

Florida Republican and Vietnam war veteran Rep. Neal Dunn evoked the scenes of the U.S. military withdrawal from Vietnam, which left many Vietnamese who’d worked with American forces fearing — and sometimes meeting — death and detention.

“We cannot do this again. We must not do this again. We must bring back … all the people who were so important to us in combat,” Neal said, urging fellow lawmakers to vote for the bill. “Please do not abandon friends of America again.”

I’ve been tearing my hair out about this problem for months. The fact that the House is only now voting on the issue only five weeks before the anticipated exit of our final troops (except for those inside the green zone embassy in Kabul) is a disgrace. These plans needed to be in place before Joe Biden even announced an official exit date. We’ve known for years that this day was coming and only a blind person couldn’t foresee that the Taliban would be dismantling the government and murdering everyone who was seen as helping the American “occupiers.”

Of course, we really didn’t need to wait for congressional action. Joe Biden has been tinkering with changes to our immigration policies via executive orders and pronouncements from the Department of Justice ever since he took office. He could have expanded the number of visas on an emergency basis at any time, and this clearly qualifies as an emergency.

Some of the helpers have been launching demonstrations and press conferences as they wait for relief. A common theme among them is a request to send them to Guam or some other allied nation to wait if they can’t be processed for transfer to the United States. It’s a sensible plan and one that Biden should have been working on from his first day in office. I’m confident that Egypt or Saudi Arabia would have taken significant numbers of them and provided them with a secure place to stay while their background checks are completed. For that matter, we could have dumped a bunch of them in Gitmo since it’s already almost empty. Anything would be better than leaving them to their fate at the hands of the Taliban.

Meanwhile, the Taliban says the Afghan president must go if there is going to be any sort of peaceful transition.

The Taliban say they don’t want to monopolize power, but they insist there won’t be peace in Afghanistan until there is a new negotiated government in Kabul and President Ashraf Ghani is removed.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Taliban spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, who is also a member of the group’s negotiating team, laid out the insurgents’ stance on what should come next in a country on the precipice.

The Taliban has definitely polished its public relations game over the past twenty years, but I’m not buying this malarkey for a moment. Their talk about “a negotiated government acceptable to all sides” sounds great for a sound bite, but you know they have no intention of sharing power with anyone who was seen as cooperating with the Americans and our allies. They’re going to install the same brutal Islamic regime that was in place when we arrived. That will be the end of education for girls and any semblance of human rights.

But that was probably how this was always going to end. For the moment, the best we can hope for is the safe exit of our own people and, if at all possible, the same option for those who risked their lives by helping us.

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David Strom 6:01 PM on March 29, 2023