The US House of Representatives was on Tuesday night poised to vote on a Bill to speed up the visa application process for Afghan citizens who helped US troops during the 19-year war, as America prepares to withdraw from the country.
There are concerns for the safety of thousands of Afghans who served as translators, drivers or co-operated in other ways with American troops as the Taliban make territorial gains in the country.
The legislation was sponsored by Colorado congressman Jason Crow, a former army ranger who served in Afghanistan. While he supports the Biden administration’s decision to withdraw from the country, he has said that “we must do so in a way that keeps our promises to our allies, protects the women and children of Afghanistan, and ensures a safer and more secure world”.
The Bill is one of a package of measures that Congress has been pushing in order to ensure fair treatment for American allies in Afghanistan who now fear retribution. Currently, applications for special immigrant visas can take several years.
Afghan president Ashraf Ghani with US president Joe Biden in the Oval Office in Washington last Friday. Photograph: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images
House Resolution 3385, which was expected to be passed on Tuesday night, would waive the requirement for applicants to undergo a medical examination for consideration for the programme – significantly cutting the wait time.
A separate Bill to be brought before the House would remove further application hurdles, allowing all Afghans who have helped the American military to be eligible for the special visas.
Mr Biden, who hosted Afghan president Ashraf Ghani at the White House on Friday, has said that “those who helped us are not going to be left behind” and has mooted the possibility of transferring Afghans to a third country such as Guam to await processing by the state department.
Speaking in the Oval Office on Friday alongside Mr Ghani, Mr Biden insisted that the partnership between Afghanistan and the United States “is not ending – it’s going to be sustained”, adding that the US would continue to providing economic and political support to the country.
But he said that Afghans would have to “decide their own future”. The US has been consistently unhappy with infighting and discord within the Afghan government itself, and successive administrations have expressed frustration with Mr Ghani’s leadership.
Mr Biden announced his decision in April to pull out the remaining US troops from Afghanistan by September, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on US soil. He was building on a peace deal signed by President Donald Trump in February 2020 which stipulated that the US would reduce its troop presence in exchange for a ceasefire by the Taliban and a pledge to work with the Afghan government.
But there are growing fears of instability in the country as the US begins its withdrawal, as the Taliban make significant gains across the country. The Wall Street Journal reported last week the findings of a new US intelligence assessment which predicts that the Afghan government could fall within six months of the American military departing.
The top US military commander in the country, General Austin Miller, warned on Tuesday the country could be facing a civil war as the Afghan government struggles to maintain control in the face of the Taliban’s ascendancy.
The Taliban, which have been carrying out targeted killings since last autumn, have taken over several districts in recent weeks.
Asked on Tuesday about the fresh warning from Gen Miller, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that Mr Biden will stick to his timeline for withdrawal, noting that it is “consistent with his view over the last 20 years about the war”.
She also noted that, if America did not withdraw its troops as per the timeline set out by the Trump administration, “US men and women would be facing fire on the ground”.
“And that was not something, as the commander-in-chief, that he felt was acceptable,” she said.