State Department spokesman John Kirby was confronted by a reporter on Tuesday over the administration’s treatment of Afghan military interpreters, many who have been waiting years for U.S. visas while under threat from the Taliban.
Thousands of Afghan translators who worked for the U.S. military—often in combat alongside American soldiers—have been stuck on prolonged waiting lists for U.S. visas under a special program for threatened interpreters.
Although a nine-month review deadline for new applicants was recently established, there is still a backlog of translators who previously applied and have been stuck in limbo for years.
Josh Rushing, co-host of Al Jazeera’s Fault Lines, raised the issue during the State Department briefing on Tuesday:
QUESTION: — what do say to them? What do you say to the families for the guys who are getting murdered now while waiting over three years?
MR KIRBY: Look, obviously, I can’t speak to each case. And I – again, we’re mindful of the danger they have taken on and the danger that they face now —
QUESTION: They feel like they’ve been left behind, though.
MR KIRBY: I understand that, and I can assure you that that’s not the case. We hold them very close, as their families – and their families, and for those that have unfortunately been harmed or killed, certainly our thoughts and condolences go out to them and to their families, absolutely. I can just tell you that we’re focused on this very keenly, but again, we also have an obligation to follow U.S. law. And so we’re going to have to do that. But I can tell you we’ll – inside the bounds of the law, we’ll do everything we can to try to help these individuals who have given so much of their own service to our country.
The Washington Free Beacon reported last summer on the murder of Sakhidad Afghan, a 26-year-old translator for the U.S. Marines and Air Force who was hunted down and killed by the Taliban while waiting nearly four years for a U.S. visa.
Rushing, who recently met with Afghan’s family, asked Kirby about the case:
QUESTION: In fact, we were with someone named Sakhidad Afghan—we were with his family because he was murdered by the Taliban while waiting for his visa to be administratively processed. It’s still being administratively processed today and it’s been in the system for over three years. When someone like that is killed, does the U.S. take some sort of responsibility when they’re beyond that nine-month period for leaving these guys where the threat is?
KIRBY: Well, first of all, let me say that we’re grateful for the assistance and service that these interpreters have given. You’ve seen that up front. I know you have not just in Afghanistan but in Iraq as well. I’ve certainly seen it up close and personal, and it’s a vital service and we’re grateful for it. And it requires more than just translation skills. As you know, it requires moral and physical courage as well. So we’re very grateful for that and we’re mindful of the concerns that some of them have about getting these visas, and we’re mindful of our obligations to them in kind.
Rushing also said another interpreter was killed in Kandahar earlier this week. Kirby said he was not yet familiar with the case.