18,000 pro-US Afghans want American visas before US pullout

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Washington

US lawmakers pleaded Tuesday for the evacuation of thousands of allies in Afghanistan, fearing a bloodbath as America ends its longest war, but the administration brushed off fears the Kabul government would quickly crumble.

Some 18,000 Afghan interpreters, commandos and others who backed US forces are waiting for decisions on visas to emigrate to the United States, a backlog that lawmakers say could take more than two years.

“We cannot allow Kabul to be another Saigon,” Representative Mike McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said at a hearing, referring to the chaotic helicopter lifts of people as US-allied South Vietnam fell in 1975.

McCaul showed a text message from a US Special Forces soldier about an Afghan colleague fearful the Taliban will kill him after September, the deadline set by President Joe Biden for withdrawal.

“I’m concerned that his prediction — many predictions — will come through and these people will be slaughtered by the Taliban,” he said.

He said that the United States should consider airlifting Afghans with pending applications to a third country, such as Bahrain, Kuwait or the United Arab Emirates, for visa processing.

Representative Brian Mast put the threat bluntly: “None of us want to see one of those individuals that have worked with us have their head cut off on the internet.”

Zalmay Khalilzad, the US negotiator on Afghanistan, promised that the State Department would expedite visas but also warned against presuming “the inevitability of a worst-case outcome.”

“We don´t want to signal panic and the departure of all educated Afghans by worst-casing and undermining the morale of the Afghan security forces,” Khalilzad said.

“So this is a delicate, complicated balance,” he said. “I personally believe that predictions that Afghan forces will collapse right away are not right.”

Through a program launched more than a decade ago, the United States has authorized 26,500 immigration visas for Afghans who worked with the United States but more than 10,000 slots are unfulfilled.—Agencies

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