What America Owes the Afghans We Left Behind

Members of the Taliban control people waiting to get visas at the Iranian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, October 4, 2021. (Jorge Silva/Reuters)

Our inaction signs the death warrants on those we pledged to protect. As a veteran with special-ops and intelligence experience, I have seen the evidence.

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Our inaction signs the death warrants on those we pledged to protect. As a veteran with extensive special-ops and intelligence experience, I have seen the evidence.

I am an Afghan-born American who served in the United States military with distinction for more than two decades. Because of my service to our great country, my family and others like them are in extreme danger in Afghanistan.

America’s abrupt abandonment of Afghanistan and our allies there is inhumane. Tens of thousands of Afghans who aided our War on Terror mission are waiting for us to uphold our promise to protect them and provide safe admission to America. I watched the horrors on television last August as the government fell. That is when frantic messages began pouring in. Thousands of families are now waiting while in hiding, constantly moving around to avoid being captured and executed. This looming threat of execution is new to them, as it is a direct result of our destabilizing and poorly planned exit from the country. Their lives are running up against a ticking clock of inaction. Every day they remain in Afghanistan puts their lives in danger.

If our government does not get serious about a course correction to the humanitarian crisis we caused, thousands more will die. And the blood of allies who put their faith in us will forever stain our reputation and standing in the world.

This cause is both personal and professional to me. My father immigrated to America on a scholarship. I lived in multiple countries as a child and graduated high school in the U.S. I remember seeing on television a military-recruitment commercial that changed my life. The ad inspired me to pursue a career to defend a country that offered me the freedom that cannot be found anywhere else. One of the proudest moments of my life was raising my right hand at the age of 18 as I was sworn in. After finishing my bachelor’s and master’s degree, as a senior noncommissioned officer I received my commission.

My professional life changed after the 9/11 terror attacks. With unique and suddenly in-demand language skills, I transitioned from a desk job in personnel to working in intelligence and special operations with no training. My deployments involved combat-reconnaissance missions against al-Qaeda. Official decorations and evaluations credit my wartime service with saving thousands of lives. Since then, I have continued to share my unique knowledge and experiences as a Defense Department expert on Afghan language and culture, teaching active-duty special forces deploying into combat.

In the military, we live by a strict code of honor. Our word is our bond. Which is why so many who wear or have worn service uniforms are in disbelief that the government would abandon Afghan allies who put their lives on the line for us. Since we left, the people of Afghanistan have suffered a terrible fate, especially women and children. Those who assisted America are being captured, tortured, starved, and killed. The economy has collapsed. More than 5 million people are facing “severe food insecurity,” which puts many at risk of death by starvation in the months to come. This is the way the world is today, but not how it has to be tomorrow.

The first way to correct course is to change the way the country thinks and talks about the situation. As the horrors have faded from the focus of mass-media coverage, it has become easier for many to act as if the nightmare has happened — in the past tense. The reality is that horrors are still happening, every hour of every day, and will continue to worsen if we fail to act.

Second, our government must work more cooperatively with nonprofit groups, run mostly by American war veterans, who have dedicated immeasurable time, energy, and resources to protect our friends. An inexcusable example of government interference was brought to light by Jesse Jensen, a former Army Ranger who leads Task Force Argo, an evacuation effort. Jensen accused the State Department of undercutting his group’s work by grounding flights that he had arranged.

Third, we must eliminate bureaucratic prohibitions such as the humanitarianparole administrative fees of $575 per person. Imposing costs on those whose lives are in imminent danger is immoral. Passports are now mandated for everyone above age three. This policy change has severely disenfranchised women and children. It costs $600 per passport, and the passport offices are not accessible to most. Last week there was a suicide bomb at the main office in Kabul.

Fourth, legislatively, Congress can pass the Afghan Adjustment Act, which would provide meaningful access to our immigration system to those we have left behind, as well as their families. Additionally, our government must find a way to get aid to the Afghans before it is too late. Nonprofits have lists of thousands of Afghans they are trying to keep alive, and they are running out of resources. Our government should reach out to these organizations, such as Operation Sacred Promise and Project Exodus Relief, and provide them much needed resources.

Fifth, logistically, we must work to increase “lily pad” locations to provide faster passage for evacuees. Thousands of evacuees — including minor children separated from parents who are in the U.S. — are stuck in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. We are America. I have seen firsthand what capabilities we have; however, we choose not to use them while people are dying by the minute.

Sixth, service-member families should be treated equally to applicants for special-immigrant visas. Currently, families of service members get P-1 referrals from the Pentagon. However, P-1s can take up to 18 months for evacuation. By then, how many will still be alive? Also, our government must take into consideration how family structures work in Afghanistan. Most of us grew up in a large mud hut with uncles, siblings, and cousins. We consider them all to be siblings, as do those who are hunting them down because of their relationship with us.

Seventh, Covid has taught us that much can be accomplished online. Because of the chaos in Afghanistan, visa interviews should be done virtually.

I love our country and everything it stands for. My family and I, both in Afghanistan and in the U.S., made great sacrifices to keep America safe and to prevent a second 9/11. Like so many others, we have worked to give a better life to the people of Afghanistan, especially women and children. We have no choice but to act decisively to end the humanitarian catastrophe triggered by the hasty exit of our armed forces. If we work together, we can save lives and make the world a better place. If our government deflects responsibility, our inaction will act as a signature on the death warrants for those whom we pledged to protect.

Annie Tiger is an Afghan-born veteran of the U.S. military who served multiple combat deployments in the Middle East. She is a highly decorated officer whose service includes over a decade with U.S. special operations and the intelligence community. The name “Annie Tiger” is a pseudonym.
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