The House voted overwhelmingly Thursday to allow in thousands more of the Afghans who worked alongside Americans in the Afghanistan war, citing the urgency of protecting those on-the-ground allies from Taliban retaliation as the US military withdrawal enters its final weeks.
Florida Republican and Vietnam war veteran Representative Neal Dunn evoked scenes of the US military withdrawal from Vietnam, which left many Vietnamese who’d worked with American forces fearing — and sometimes meeting — death and detention.
“We cannot do this again. We must not do this again. We must bring back … all the people who were so important to us in combat,” Neal said, urging fellow lawmakers to vote for the bill. “Please do not abandon friends of America again.”
The bill, by Representative Jason Crow, a Colorado Democrat and former Army Ranger who fought in Afghanistan, allows 8,000 more visas for translators and others who worked with US troops and civilians in Afghanistan. It also eases some requirements for the visas.
Currently, 26,500 of the special Afghan visas are allocated.
The House passed the new measure, 407-16, sending it to the Senate. All of the no votes were from Republicans.
President Biden decreed an end to the US military role in Afghanistan by Sept. 11. That will close a military effort that early on succeeded in its main goal of crushing the Afghanistan-based Al Qaeda plotters of the 2001 attacks on the United States, but struggled to quell Afghanistan’s former Taliban rulers and stabilize a Kabul-based elected government.
The Pentagon says the US withdrawal is 95 percent finished and will be completed by Aug. 31.
The US military launched several airstrikes this week in support of Afghan government forces, including in the strategically important province of Kandahar, officials said Thursday.
The strikes demonstrate US intentions to continue supporting Afghan forces with combat aircraft based outside the country, at least until the scheduled conclusion of the withdrawal.
The United States has a variety of combat aircraft based in the Middle East within range of Afghanistan, including warplanes aboard an aircraft carrier in the region and fighters and bombers in the Persian Gulf area.
Asked by a reporter about news reports of a Navy FA-18 airstrike in the Kandahar area, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby did not confirm specifics, including the type of aircraft or location, but said, “In the last several days we have acted, through airstrikes, to support the ANDSF,” using an acronym for the Afghan national defense and security forces. “But I won’t get into technical details of those strikes.”
These are the first known US airstrikes in Afghanistan since General Scott Miller, who had been the top US commander in the country, relinquished his command and left the country last week. The authority to launch airstrikes against the Taliban has since been in the hands of General Frank McKenzie, the commander of US Central Command, who oversees military involvement in the greater Middle East.
The last weeks of withdrawal leave the Taliban apparently holding “strategic momentum” in the fight for control of Afghanistan as they claim more rural territory and put increasing pressure on key cities, Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Wednesday.
About 70,000 Afghans have settled in the United States on the special visas since 2008, Tracey Jacobson, director of the administration’s Afghanistan task force, said Wednesday.
Currently, the Biden administration plans to start flying 750 of the Afghans furthest along in the visa processing from Kabul to the United States next week, along with their immediate families, Jacobson said.