In 2012 I provided technical assistance to support the health and livelihoods of villagers in Afghanistan’s Central Highlands. The Afghan colleagues who helped me were essential to those efforts. Now, in an overnight resurgence of the Taliban’s control, Afghans who supported the U.S. mission and other targeted groups find themselves in peril of brutal retribution by the Taliban. It’s our responsibility to immediately deliver Afghanistan’s most vulnerable to the U.S. and other safe havens before it’s too late.


Hundreds of people run alongside a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport plane as it moves down an airport runway in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Monday. Thousands of Afghans rushed onto the tarmac of the airport, some so desperate to escape the Taliban capture of their country that they held on to the jet as it took off and plunged to death. Verified UGC via Associated Press

President Biden’s April announcement to withdraw forces from Afghanistan sent a shiver of foreboding through Afghans, who rightly predicted that the pullout would result in the Taliban’s re-ascendance. The fear ran especially deep not only among Afghans who supported the role of the U.S., but also among ethnic minorities such as the Hazara, who have experienced well-documented persecution at the hands of the Taliban.

In May, the Taliban began regaining control of key territories in Afghanistan. By July, their advance caused the displacement of nearly 400,000 Afghans seeking refuge. In the past week, the inexplicably fast handover of provincial centers and territory by government forces and militias prompted panicked citizens to converge on Kabul or leave the country, an option that may no longer be available.

To protect Afghans who supported U.S. interests, the State Department initiated a Special Immigrant Visa program for those who performed services for the military and other government programs. Unfortunately, the restrictive criteria of the SIV program left tens of thousands of Afghans who supported the U.S. mission without a path to safety. In response, the U.S. announced a Priority 2 immigration designation, meant to help Afghans who had less time in service or provided nonmilitary support.

Neither program will provide relief for most Afghans who are eligible. Simply put, the U.S. is not getting people out of harm’s way anywhere near quickly enough. Particularly disturbing is that Priority 2 status requires Afghans to seek safe havens on their own, despite the lack of safe pathways to host countries or financial or diplomatic support from the U.S. Furthermore, Priority 2 requests are not processed until Afghans have fled to these countries, and estimated processing times range from one year to far longer.

Time is running out. In the runup to the invasion of Kabul, the Taliban issued assurances of benign treatment to all citizens, a claim that only the naïve, or those unaware of this group’s brutal history, can take seriously. I won’t forget my Afghan colleague’s breaking voice last night as he detailed Taliban atrocities perpetrated upon fleeing Hazara. Nor can I disregard his report of the Taliban’s efficiency, with each new territory gained, in finding and abducting those who collaborated with Western organizations.

It’s not too late for U.S. leaders to marshal a response that truly acknowledges America’s moral obligation to our Afghan comrades by promptly delivering them to safety. To achieve that, both the Special Immigrant Visa and Priority 2 designation programs require immediate adjustments reflecting the on-the-ground situation. Eligibility requirements must be relaxed so we can protect those most vulnerable to reprisals and terrorist atrocities by the Taliban and other insurgent groups. This group includes those who supported the U.S. role, but also minorities, civil society advocates and professionals who’ve already been targeted by the Taliban.

Immediate evacuation of these Afghans to safe havens is essential to avoiding the kinds of atrocities we’ve seen elsewhere when leadership failed. It will require a well-coordinated effort of mammoth proportions, but not one that’s unprecedented. Heartbreaking inequities of the 1975 Saigon evacuation aside, let’s not forget that in a single 24-hour period, U.S. aircraft transported roughly 7,000 U.S. military personnel and South Vietnamese to safety. In last week’s New Yorker, Kirk Wallace Johnson reminds us of what can be achieved when he writes, “President Ford ignored public opinion and ordered a massive resettlement, telling the country that ‘to do less would have added moral shame to humiliation.’ ” Within a few months of Ford’s order, 130,000 Vietnamese were resettled to the United States.

Let’s encourage our leaders to summon the resolve to jointly act on America’s moral obligation so we can deliver the most vulnerable Afghans from danger. It requires swift, decisive action and is limited only by our nation’s imagination and will to make it happen.

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