© 2021 WKSU
Public Radio News for Northeast Ohio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Afghan Translators Fear Retribution If They Aren't Relocated Before U.S. Withdraws

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

As U.S. troops pull out of Afghanistan, thousands of local interpreters may be at risk. There are growing calls on Capitol Hill to help those Afghans come to the U.S., and the Pentagon is coming up with options to evacuate them. This was one of many topics raised at a budget hearing today with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: The ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Michael McCaul, is sounding the alarm. The U.S. pullout could be completed as early as July, but thousands of Afghans who took the risk to work with U.S. troops are still waiting for visas or haven't even started the lengthy process.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MICHAEL MCCAUL: So that means that these people have a bull's eye and a target on their back from the moment we leave the country. According to No One Left Behind, there have been 300 targeted killings of these people since 2014. And if we abandon them, we are signing their death warrants.

KELEMEN: Secretary of State Antony Blinken says he's trying to speed up the visa process and clear the backlog. There are about 18,000 Afghans who have indicated they want to move to the U.S. for safety.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANTONY BLINKEN: We are looking very actively at every possible contingency to make sure that we can accommodate and care for those who have helped us and are seeking to leave.

KELEMEN: But he's playing down fears that these Afghans could be killed if they aren't evacuated soon. He says while U.S. troops are leaving, the embassy plans to stay open.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BLINKEN: We're not withdrawing. We're staying. The embassy is staying. Our programs are staying. We're working to make sure that other partners stay. We're building all of that up. And whatever happens in Afghanistan, if there is a significant deterioration in security, I don't think it's going to be something that happens from a Friday to a Monday.

KELEMEN: Congressman McCaul says he was frustrated that Blinken didn't respond directly to his question about evacuating Afghans to a third country while they await their visas. Another Republican, Army veteran Peter Meijer, reminded the secretary that the U.S. evacuated workers to Guam at the end of the Vietnam War.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PETER MEIJER: Within a matter of weeks, over 100,000 folks were able to get settled, processed and prepared.

KELEMEN: Now the Michigan congressman says the U.S. needs to do right by its allies in Afghanistan. The top U.S. general in charge of the region says the military has the capability to evacuate Afghans if the Biden administration gives the order.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF AME'S "POSITIVLAND") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.