Congress is preparing to approve visas for an additional 4,000 Afghan interpreters who aided the U.S. fight against jihadist terror. But thousands more remain in danger in Afghanistan, where the Taliban dominates much of the countryside and regards those who aided the Coalition war effort as "collaborators."
About 12,000 Afghan translators have applied for a U.S. visa under a program set up by Congress to help interpreters who aided the American military during the war.
As the Obama Administration has sought to wind down the U.S. military role in Afghanistan, the push to approve applications has grown. According to the State Department, just 37 Afghans were approved for visas in 2010 and 2011. That number jumped to nearly 700 in fiscal year 2013 and close to 3,500 in fiscal year 2014, The Washington Times reported.
But it can take a long period of time to approve the visas, and a backlog has resulted. The State Department originally requested a total of 8,000 visas for the translators through the end of 2016. Congress appears likely to approve 4,000 — the number included in the annual defense policy bill that is expected to win passage on Capitol Hill this week.
"We're grateful for the 4,000 that were allocated," said Katie Reisner, policy director of the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) — a private group that provides assistance to individual Afghan and Iraqi translators
who worked with U.S. soldiers during the recent military campaigns in both countries.
"It probably will not be sufficient to cover the current backlog or sufficient to cover the prospective need, but it's absolutely enough to get the program running full-throttle again," Reisner said.
Illinois Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger said he would fight to ensure that no translator who aided U.S. forces in Afghanistan is left in harm’s way.
"The need for visas is still greater than this allowance [of 4,000 visas], so I will continue to work with my colleagues to increase that number in the future to ensure we don't leave any allies behind to be hunted down by the Taliban," Kinzinger said.
Close to 3,500 translators or other U.S. allies came to the United States in fiscal year 2014, Reisner said. When immediate family members are included, more than 9,000 Afghans received visas through the program during that year, she told The Times.
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