As the United States approaches the Sept. 11 deadline for pulling American troops from Afghanistan, advocates increasingly warn that some 18,000 locals who helped U.S.-led forces will be hunted down by vengeful Taliban.
"These people will have a bullseye and a target on their back from the moment we leave the country," Rep. Michael McCaul said Monday at a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
In the past six years, the Texas Republican said, 300 Afghans have been killed in retribution for working with U.S. forces. "If we abandon them, we are signing their death warrants."
The partner-Afghans for 20 years have worked alongside American-led forces, acting as cultural liaisons, interpreters, or in other capacities. In the process, they earned the admiration and gratitude of uniformed troops.
"In many cases, they served as translators accompanying our troops into combat at great personal risk; many were injured, and some were killed," wrote Gen. Scott Miller, the four-star Army officer who commands the mission in Afghanistan, in a 2019 letter to a key U.S. senator.
As the final force-drawdown passed the halfway point this month, though, Afghans hoping to escape Taliban retribution by leaving the country find themselves mired in a visa backlog.
"The clock is ticking, and the Taliban are on the march," McCaul said in his Monday opening statement. "The time for platitudes and vague promises are over. We need action, and we need it yesterday."
The interpreters fear for their lives, one advocate told Just the News.
"The applicants are scared," said James Miervaldis, an Army veteran who is chairman of No One Left Behind, an advocacy group, and worked for years to bring his own Afghan interpreter to America. "They do not feel safe."
The fear is well grounded, Miervalidis said, noting, "Two interpreters are killed per month."
Earlier this week, the Taliban issued a statement saying they will forgive those who helped NATO forces, as long as they repent. But Afghans say they are not assured.
"They are tracking us," Omid Mahmoodi, who worked as an interpreter for American forces, told the AFP news agency. "The Taliban will not pardon us. They will kill us, and they will behead us."
Those sentiments are echoed by Afghans who send messages to friends in America.
"The responses we are getting is, 'We don't believe this' from the Taliban," said Miervaldis, who noted that he hears often from Afghans who want to leave their country before it is too late for them and their families.
The issue was raised on Monday by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, when Secretary of State Antony Blinken appeared before lawmakers.
"We are looking very actively at every possible contingency to make sure that we can accommodate and care for those who are seeking — who have helped us and are seeking to leave," said Blinken, who added that there is a backlog of applications for special visas.
Pressed by McCaul, Blinken said that the U.S. is looking at ways to address the situation, including the possibility of sending translators to temporarily stay in a third country.
"We're considering every option," Blinken said.
Blinken seemed unconvinced that chaos would immediately engulf Afghanistan following the U.S. withdrawal.
"Whatever happens in Afghanistan, if there is a significant deterioration in security — that could well happen, we've discussed this before — I don't think it's going to be something that happens from a Friday to a Monday," he said. "So, I wouldn't necessarily equate the departure of our forces in July, August, or by early September with some kind of immediate deterioration in the situation."
The Taliban, though, have pressed forward through Afghanistan, and have launched a series of successful attacks on government forces. As of last week, the insurgents had captured seven districts since last month, when the U.S.-led forces began leaving the country.
With scant months remaining before the final exit deadline, the situation for interpreters grows more crucial by the day, Miervaldis said.
"We're very happy with more resourcing being done on this," he said. "We encourage them to go further. Process all these Afghans by September. With18,000 cases in queue, we're looking for more urgency."