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Meyer and West: The United States’ Disservice to Afghan Translators

Sgt. Dakota Meyer / AP
• September 16, 2013 8:40 am

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Medal of Honor recipient and U.S. Marine Cpl. Dakota Meyer and former Assistant Secretary of Defense Bing West penned an opinion piece in the Washington Post criticizing the U.S. government's disservice to Afghan translators.

They called for "forceful management" by the State Department and improvement of visa programs in Iraq and Afghanistan to assist those who put their lives on the line for American soldiers. Thousands of combat veterans are watching, they warned.

They opened with the story of "Fazel," who saved American lives during a Taliban ambush in eastern Afghanistan:

Since that fight, the Taliban has been determined to kill Fazel, who has served with U.S. units for five years and has received 15 certificates and letters of commendation attesting to his work record. Shortly after the ambush, Fazel applied for a visa to the United States.

Since he applied, the State Department has issued almost 2 million visas to immigrants. The visa section at State was repeatedly informed that the Taliban was hunting Fazel. But for four years, there was no movement. Last month, Fox News reported the neglect, and Gen. Joseph Dunford, the senior commander in Afghanistan, insisted that Fazel receive a visa "as soon as possible." A few days ago, an overjoyed Fazel got his visa.

On the one hand, they wrote, this was a happy ending to a nearly five-year odyssey, but they argued it was also ridiculous that a four-star general had to personally intervene to resolve the case of someone who had demonstrated clear loyalty to the United States:

What’s happening is a failure to keep faith with those who fought beside us. The State Department has defied Congress by denying visas to thousands of interpreters who, like Fazel, fight alongside our soldiers. Congress has authorized 1,500 visas per year for Afghans who have assisted us; the State Department annually approves about 200. In a letter to President Obama, more than a dozen members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, complained that in the past five years, State has issued only 12 percent of the available visas. An analogous program for Iraq has been similarly stalemated.

To qualify for a visa, Afghan interpreters must provide recommendations from U.S. officers and be interviewed and approved by the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. The next step is the bottleneck: If approved there, the application must be reviewed by security committees in Washington. These panels have no incentive to say yes and a huge incentive to say no in order to avoid blame for any future incident. For example, two Iraqi refugees living in Kentucky were arrested in 2010 for shipping weapons to Al-Qaeda in Iraq. But the refugees in Kentucky had not laid their lives on the line for American soldiers; they weren’t recommended by U.S. officers who had served alongside them.

The Washington Free Beacon first reported on the plight of Meyer's translator "Hafez" on Aug. 7, who still awaits a visa while under threat from the Taliban.

"He stood next to me, by my side pretty much the entire time [during the Battle of Ganjgal]," Meyer, 25. "He helped me carry my guys out."

Published under: Congress, Joseph Dunford, Middle East