The Taliban have urged Afghans who worked for departing U.S. and NATO militaries in Afghanistan over the years not to “desert” their war-ravaged nation for fear of retribution by the insurgent group.
Monday’s Taliban pledge comes as thousands of Afghans employed, mostly as interpreters, by the United States and allied countries during their almost two-decade long stay in the country fear insurgent retaliation and are eager to get visas to the U.S.
“The Islamic Emirate [the Taliban] will not perturb them but calls them to return to their normal lives and if they do have expertise in any field, to serve their country,” the Taliban said in a statement sent to journalists and published on the group’s official website Monday. “They shall not be in any danger on our part.”
The United States and allied nations are expected to completely pullout their remaining troops from Afghanistan by September 11. Washington negotiated an agreement with the Taliban in February 2020 to end what has been the longest American war in history.
The U.S. military said last week it had completed nearly half of the withdrawal process.
An estimated 18,000 Afghans are awaiting word on special immigrant visas (SIV) to the U.S. amid concerns President Joe Biden’s administration might not be able to process them all in time. Biden has come under increasing pressure at home to move quickly to save lives of Afghans who risked their lives working with the American military.
The Taliban asserted in the statement that Afghans who worked for the foreign “occupation” forces were “misled” and they “should show remorse” for their past actions, saying they amounted to “treason” against Islam and Afghanistan.
“We viewed them as our foes when they were directly standing in the ranks of our enemies, but when they abandon enemy ranks and opt to live as ordinary Afghans in their homeland, they will not face any issues,” the statement said.
However, it added, if the Afghans in question are using retribution “as an excuse to bolster their fake asylum case then that is their own problem” and not that of the Taliban.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said last Thursday the U.S. has “a special commitment and a special responsibility to these brave Afghans.”
“We are always seeking ways to improve the SIV process while ensuring the integrity of the program and safeguarding our national security and affording opportunities to these Afghans,” Price explained to reporters.
He added that the administration has approved a temporary increase in consular staffing at the U.S. embassy in Kabul to conduct interviews and to process visa applications, allowing the diplomatic mission to address cases that were delayed due to COVID-19 staffing reductions and related closures.
Price said the administration has also requested funding for an additional 8,000 Special Immigrant Visas from Congress.
U.S. efforts to seek a negotiated settlement to the conflict between the Taliban and the Afghan government have so far met little success nor have deadly battlefield hostilities between the two Afghan adversaries eased.
The insurgents, who control or hotly contest more than half of Afghan territory, have captured at least 12 districts since the international forces began withdrawing from Afghanistan on May 1. The conflict has killed hundreds of combatants on both sides and many Afghan civilians.
Islamic State militants also have stepped up bombings and other attacks against civilians who have borne the brunt of years of fighting.
The U.S. peace envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, who negotiated and signed the deal with the Taliban, met with Afghan government leaders and other politicians in Kabul on Sunday to discuss bilateral cooperation after foreign troops leave the country.
Khalilzad told Afghan President Ashraf Ghani that Washington will annually provide $3.3 billion to Kabul over the next two years to support Afghan forces fighting the Taliban, according to an Afghan government spokesman.
Mohammad Amiri said that more U.S. facilities and equipment, including aircraft to strengthen the Afghan air force, will be among the main topics of bilateral talks in coming days.
Foreign air support has until now played a crucial rule in assisting local forces to keep the insurgents from threatening urban centers. There are fears that the absence of U.S. military support in post-withdrawal Afghanistan may enable the Taliban to regain power, though Afghan leaders dismiss those concerns.