The US must do the right thing for Afghan interpreters

The US must do the right thing for Afghan interpreters
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The U.S. military mission in Afghanistan is coming to an end with one critical bit of urgent business to take care of: the thousands of Afghan citizens who aided our effort over 20 years of combat. We must not go home until we take critical steps to protect the interpreters and others who went into combat alongside American troops whose lives could be at risk if they don’t receive expedited assistance to leave their country.  

War can feel esoteric to the average American who doesn’t give much thought to what has happened and what is now happening in Afghanistan. Most Americans don’t personally know someone serving in the armed forces and give barely a thought to what war truly means for military members and those who support them.   

Nonetheless, we are confronted today with a foreign policy issue that every American can understand and appreciate: We must help those who helped us by granting expedited Special Immigrant Visas to Afghan citizens who helped our troops. This is the right thing to do. 

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The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, moved our nation and our allies to unprecedented swift action in the United Nations. NATO enacted Article V of its charter, regarding common defense, for the first time in its existence. Other nations rallied to address the heinous act committed by al Qaeda. Special operations forces infiltrated Afghanistan and linked up with members of the Afghan Northern Alliance and other resistance movements to root out terrorism and topple the Taliban regime that permitted this group to operate for years with impunity.  

While there is disagreement about the decision to remove U.S. forces from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, 2021, there can’t be any disagreement about how we treat those who have sacrificed for this nation, including our own troops, civilians and contractors and those who served alongside us.  

Serving in the military is one of the most honorable things a citizen can do. War changes everyone who touches it. One of the positive things about combat is the relationships developed among those who fight and serve together.  

People fight for their friends and counterparts, and combat brings people together in a way that is hard to explain. American military members have built amazing personal and professional relationships with our Afghan counterparts, but their relationships with Afghan interpreters have been unmatched. The interpreters went into combat and risked their lives, and many died. What most people do not appreciate is the risk they incurred to their families, who were often targeted by the Taliban, al Qaeda and the Islamic State.   

We need to do more than just express our gratitude. The Special Immigrant Visa program for Afghans must be accelerated to ensure that those who have served this nation are not left behind. Efforts are under way for changes that would take effect in fiscal 2022, but that isn’t fast enough as U.S. forces leave Afghanistan this summer. When we leave, we no longer can support those interpreters who have sacrificed so much, and we endanger them and their families.  

The time to act is now to help those who supported us in Afghanistan and as a symbol of U.S. policy to those who might stand beside us in the future. Congress and the Biden administration must act quickly and decisively to ensure the safety of our Afghan friends.  

Retired Army Gen. Carter Ham and retired Army Col. Stuart Bradin each served 38 years in the military, with multiple combat tours. Ham is president and CEO of the Association of the United States Army. Bradin is president and CEO of the Global SOF Foundation