Petraeus: ‘Moral Obligation’ to Allow Iraqi, Afghan Translators Into U.S.

Former CIA head commends Mattis for working on exemptions from Trump immigration order

A U.S. Army sergeant and an Afghan interpreter
A U.S. Army sergeant and an Afghan interpreter / AP

Retired Gen. David Petraeus said Friday that the United States has a "moral obligation" to provide local translators who have aided the U.S. military abroad a path to the United States.

"There is an implicit moral obligation to those who share risk," Petraeus, a former CIA director, said at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. on Friday afternoon. "It's very important for the future as well."

Petraeus made the remarks on the Special Immigrant Visa program for local translators in Iraq and Afghanistan who have aided the U.S. military amidst backlash over President Donald Trump's executive order on immigration.

The order, unveiled last week, bars immigrants from seven Muslim-majority nations from entering the United States for at least 90 days. It immediately sparked outrage and confusion, particularly over whether it applied to individuals with green cards or special immigrant visas.

The Department of Homeland Security said Tuesday that translators and interpreters who hold special immigrant visas would be exempt from the ban. The Pentagon welcomed that development on Thursday.

"We are pleased that the U.S. government has determined it is in the national interest to allow Iraqi special immigrant visa holders to continue to travel to the United States," Pentagon spokesman Jeff Davis told reporters on Thursday, according to Stars and Stripes.

Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly has clarified that green card holders are exempt from the executive order.

The Pentagon has been compiling a list of translators and others who have provided tangible support to the U.S. military to be recommended for exemption from the executive order. Petraeus, who was considered by Trump to be secretary of state, commended Defense Secretary James Mattis for this on Friday.

"It was great to see Secretary Mattis immediately working on exemptions for this," Petraeus said, describing other clarifications of the executive order as "useful."

The countries affected by the executive order are Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen, all of which were subject to special immigration restrictions by the Obama administration. White House aides have indicated that the list of countries could be expanded.

Petraeus said during testimony before the House Committee on Armed Services this week that the executive order was keeping a senior Iraqi military official from meeting in person with officials from the U.S. Central Command regarding operations against ISIS. The retired Army general did not challenge the need for Trump's order.

Petraeus said Friday that any potential impact the order had on U.S. security would depend on how it was clarified in the future and how swiftly clarifications were made.

Congress extended the State Department's Special Immigrant Visa program and allocated 1,500 additional visas in fiscal year 2017 defense policy legislation passed in December. Some advocates have said that the number of visas is insufficient.