House lawmakers voted overwhelmingly Thursday to allow in thousands more of the Afghans who worked alongside Americans in the Afghanistan war, citing the urgency of protecting those on-the-ground allies from Taliban retaliation as the U.S. military withdrawal enters its final weeks.
Florida Republican and Vietnam war veteran Rep. Neal Dunn evoked the scenes of the U.S. military withdrawal from Vietnam, which left many Vietnamese who'd worked with American forces fearing — and sometimes meeting — death and detention.
"We cannot do this again. We must not do this again. We must bring back … all the people who were so important to us in combat," Neal said, urging fellow lawmakers to vote for the measure. "Please do not abandon friends of America again."
House members passed it 407-16, sending it to the Senate. The bill, by Rep. Jason Crow, a Colorado Democrat and former Army Ranger who fought in Afghanistan, allows 8,000 more visas for translators and others who worked with American troops and civilians in Afghanistan. It also eases some requirements for the visas.
Currently, 26,500 of the special Afghan visas are allocated.
President Joe Biden decreed an end to the U.S. military role in Afghanistan by Sept. 11, concluding a U.S. military effort that early on succeeded in its main goal of crushing the Afghanistan-based al-Qaida plotters of the 2001 attacks on the United States, but struggled to quell Afghanistan's former Taliban rulers and stabilize a Kabul-based elected government.
The Pentagon says the U.S. withdrawal is 95% finished and will be completed by Aug. 31.
The last weeks of withdrawal leave the Taliban apparently holding "strategic momentum" in the fight for control of Afghanistan as they put increasing pressure on key cities, Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Wednesday.
The Biden administration says there are 20,000 applicants so far, half of whom have not completed initial stages of review for the visas. The United States is also allowing former Afghan employees to bring in close family members.