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Urgent CNSI Letter to President Biden: Evacuate our Afghan Allies

May 26, 2021

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May 26, 2021

President Joseph R. Biden
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

As officials who have served previous presidents in national security positions, we urge your administration to swiftly devise an evacuation strategy for the Afghan nationals and their family members who have risked their lives to serve alongside U.S. forces in Afghanistan ahead of the September 2021 troop withdrawal deadline. We believe that failure to address this critical issue will not only imperil our allies in Afghanistan, but will also negatively affect the United States’ national security posture and international credibility in the future.

Since the beginning of the United States’ military involvement in Afghanistan in 2001, our troops have partnered with, and relied on, Afghan nationals who serve as interpreters, translators, advisors, security personnel, and embassy staff. In those roles, Afghan nationals have risked their lives daily, for almost 20 years, for the United States government. Because of their relationship with the United States, these civilians live under threat of violence or retaliation from actors such as the Taliban and al Qaeda.

In 2009, the life-saving Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program was enacted to safely resettle our vulnerable allies and their immediate families in the United States in recognition of their service. Owing to backlogs in security vetting and processing, approximately 18,000 Afghan SIV applicants are currently awaiting processing. Those applicants and their families live in constant danger and fear, which will only intensify as American troops withdraw from Afghanistan, and they are left fully exposed to violent retaliation. In the worst case, they will be killed.

We ask that the Biden administration move with urgency to: (1) devise a plan to evacuate the 18,000 Afghan SIV applicants, their family members, and any additional Afghan allies who would be eligible for humanitarian protection in the United States to a safe location while their applications are processed, as was done for Vietnamese, Kurdish, Iraqi, and Kosovar civilians in previous conflicts; (2) allocate the resources and funding necessary to safely and efficiently process Afghan SIV applications to address the existing backlog; and (3) establish protocols for remote processing of Afghan SIV applications after the troop withdrawal.

We also urge the Biden Administration to identify the number of anticipated SIVs needed to protect our Afghan partners, and work with Congress to authorize these additional visas before the September withdrawal deadline. While it is bureaucratically impossible to process all of the applications by the withdrawal deadline – most eligible Afghans will need to be relocated to a safe location while they are being processed for resettlement – establishing congressional intent that the United States aims to resettle as many Afghan allies as possible would send an important signal prior to the withdrawal.

We acknowledge this will be a complicated undertaking, requiring extensive resources and bureaucratic coordination in a challenging environment. But time is limited. We believe it is a moral imperative to move as quickly as possible to protect the lives of the Afghan nationals who have sacrificed alongside our American servicemembers and government officials. We urge your administration to take action expeditiously and have evacuation plans underway no later than July 4, 2021.

We also believe that failure to address this developing situation will compromise our national security. We must send a clear message to the world that the United States stands with its allies. If we are unable or unwilling to ensure the safety of our vulnerable Afghan partners, then we might discourage others from cooperating with U.S. government now or in the future. That result could endanger American servicemembers and diplomats currently on the ground elsewhere or even damage our ability to execute our global diplomatic and military strategy where we rely on local relationships for the success of our missions.

Moreover, failure to protect Afghans who risked their lives for the United States would be an abdication of American leadership. Failing to act would reflect poorly on the United States and would likely equip adversary states with a narrative to undermine U.S. partnerships and alliances. It could also empower terrorist and insurgent groups seeking to radicalize or exploit vulnerable or disillusioned potential partners in the future. Conversely, by providing refuge to our Afghan allies, we would not only set a powerful example for our friends and adversaries, but we would also encourage other countries to do the same.

With the September 11 deadline looming, we must act with urgency and make plans to protect the Afghan civilians who risked their lives alongside their United States ally. It is not only our moral obligation, but a national security imperative.

Sincerely,

Rick “Ozzie” Nelson
Former Director, Office of Combatting Terrorism
National Security Council Staff, President George W. Bush
Former U.S. Navy, Afghanistan Veteran

Elizabeth Neumann
Former Assistant Secretary of Counterterrorism and Threat Prevention
U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Stewart Verdery Jr.
Former Assistant Secretary for Border and Transportation Security Policy and Planning
U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Douglas Baker
Former Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Border Security and Transportation Security,  President George W. Bush

Valerie S. Boyd
Former Assistant Secretary for International Affairs
U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Barbara Comstock
Former Member of Congress
Virginia’s 10th Congressional District

Elaine Dezenski
Former Assistant Secretary for Policy Development
U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Marc Frey
Former Chief of Staff
Office of Policy Development
U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Don Kent
Former Assistant Secretary, Office of Legislative Affairs.
U.S. Department of Homeland Security

James M. Loy
Retired Admiral and Former Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard
Former Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security
U.S. Department of Homeland Security

John Mitnick
Former General Counsel
U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Michael Neifach
Former Principal Legal Advisor
Immigration and Customs Enforcement
U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Michael Petrucelli
Former Deputy Director and Acting Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Paul Rosenzweig
Former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy
U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Joe Whitley
Former General Counsel
U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Jim Williams
Former Director
US-VISIT Program
U.S. Department of Homeland Security

 

CC: Vice President Kamala Harris
Secretary Lloyd Austin, Department of Defense
Secretary Antony Blinken, Department of State
Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Department of Homeland Security
Secretary Denis McDonough, Veterans Affairs