“How could this be, what came of my service?”
Hundreds of veterans and service-affiliated personnel have drafted a letter to members of Congress and the Biden administration calling for action in the continued efforts of evacuating and resettling Afghan allies.
The letter — which was sponsored by #AfghanEvac, a non-partisan, all-volunteer coalition of more than 100 organizations and service-affiliated personnel — addressed President Joe Biden, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-K.Y., directly, outlining their requests for aid.
“As the United States government continues to navigate the conclusion of its military mission in Afghanistan, we the undersigned, having seen firsthand the heartbreaking uncertainties that our Afghan allies, American citizens, lawful permanent residents, and their families face in their attempts to flee life-threatening circumstances, submit the following letter urging our country’s leadership to act,” the letter reads.
“The withdrawal of the American presence from Afghanistan has prompted unprecedented action by a coalition of veterans, active duty military, frontline civilians, non-profit, private sector, academic, and other entirely volunteer organizations working hand-in-hand with willing partners within the Departments of State and Defense to assist in the evacuation and resettlement of the aforementioned individuals.”
Kicking off the requests made throughout the letter were those made to the Biden Administration.
The letter requests that the Biden administration formally appoints “an interagency leader with tasking authority, oversight responsibility, and a dedicated staff to develop and implement a multi-year, actionable plan for evacuating our Afghan allies, including qualified P1/P2 referrals, and bringing them to safety,” no later than Feb. 22, 2022.
The coalition also called on Congress to help Biden achieve their goals, acknowledging that the effort to help refugees would be bilateral.
Including in the coalition’s requests for Congress is the passing of the Afghan Adjustment Act, ensuring evacuees have a “full pathway to citizenship.”
Funds were also requested for the State Department and other U.S. agencies like USAID to help with this process. Furthermore, #AfghanEvac wants specific changes made to the Special Immigrant Visas eligibility criteria to include Afghan Special Operations Forces (and graduates of ASOSE courses) and the family of those otherwise eligible, mirroring the process for Iraqi applicants.
In the same breath, they also requested that the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) appropriates funds for mental health and moral injuries suffered veterans and others who participated in the 20-year war and the ensuing evacuations.
“As you well know,” the letter states as an explanation for that specific request, “there was a related surge in requests for assistance at the Veterans crisis phone line in the days following our withdrawal and the ongoing mental health impact on Veterans and Afghans alike cannot be overstated.”
Requests were also made that the State Department facilitate the approval and immigration of allied Afghan refugees by approving virtual visa interviews and medical waivers in addition to providing support in the processing of Special Immigrant Visas.
Also suggested was that the Defense Department create and maintain “lily pads” in multiple countries that would allow evacuees to be safely and comfortably processed in their journey to the U.S.
Any current plans to close existing safe havens for evacuees should be stopped, the letter reads. Instead, the coalition wants an expansion of those locations to facilitate the resettlement process.
Of the 286 original signatories were 168 veterans and 77 frontline civilians, with some signing as individuals and others representing groups such as Afghan Refugee Relief and Aid, US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, Task Force Pineapple, Human First Coalition and Truman National Security Project.
Rachel is a Marine Corps veteran, Penn State alumna and Master’s candidate at New York University for Business and Economic Reporting.