A man holds a certificate acknowledging his work for Americans Tuesday as hundreds of people gather outside the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan.

The BDN Editorial Board operates independently from the newsroom, and does not set policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.

It feels to us like the war in Afghanistan lasted forever and is ending in an instant. The war has stretched nearly 20 years and still, somehow, there doesn’t seem to be enough time to evacuate Americans and our allies. That includes many of the interpreters, drivers and others who stood alongside U.S. forces, as well as the Afghans such as women leaders and religious minorities who could face perilous futures under returned Taliban rule.

Afghanistan has vexed presidential administrations and world superpowers for decades, and that is just in recent history. During a week when a lot of people seem to have quickly become experts in military strategy and the Middle East, we start with a recognition that there is a lot we don’t know.

But we do know it is possible to believe at the same time that the U.S. should have gotten out of Afghanistan long ago, and that what we’ve seen early this week at the airport in Kabul is horrifyingly unacceptable. We also know that bureaucracy cannot and must not stand in the way of getting as many more Afghan partners and refugees as possible out of that country, as quickly as possible.

On Monday, U.S. officials said at least seven people were killed in the chaos at Kabul’s international airport, where thousands of Afghans desperately rushed to the tarmac. Some reportedly held on to the side of a U.S. military jet as it took off, and were seen falling from the sky to their deaths in video footage that is almost indescribable. Words like chilling or horrific don’t really capture it.

This desperation must be met by action from the Biden administration. And fast. It didn’t start this war, but the administration has responsibility for how it ends and how it ends for the Afghans who have helped us for two decades.

Tens of thousands of Afghans have been resettled in the U.S. since the war began. According to a Reuters report last Friday, however, only about 1,200 Afghans had been evacuated out of 21,000 currently in the application process for the Special Immigrant Visa program. In remarks at the White House Monday, President Joe Biden said that 2,000 Afghans have now been moved to the U.S. under Operation Allies Refuge, an effort his administration launched earlier this year to relocate the visa applicants.

“I know there are concerns about why we did not begin evacuating Afghans — civilians sooner. Part of the answer is some of the Afghans did not want to leave earlier, still hopeful for their country,” Biden said Monday afternoon. “And part of it was because the Afghan government and its supporters discouraged us from organizing a mass exodus to avoid triggering, as they said, a ‘crisis of confidence.’”

That sounds more like blame shifting rather than an explanation, frankly. The priority needs to be evacuations, not excuses. Plans to house thousands more Afghan refugees at U.S. military bases need to come to fruition quickly.  

When we read the reports of issues with visa paperwork complicating efforts to evacuate Afghans who helped U.S. forces, we shared the sentiment of those who have already said: get them out of there, and then deal with the paperwork.

The imperative of resettling vulnerable Afghans didn’t materialize overnight. Many people, including members of Maine’s congressional delegation, have been talking for months or longer about what the U.S. leaving Afghanistan would mean for the Afghan people.

Sen. Susan Collins said in May that the planned withdrawal “threatens the progress that has been made for Afghan women and girls since Taliban rule ended in 2001.” Sen. Angus King said in June that “time is running out to fulfill America’s duty to our friends.” Rep. Chellie Pingree said in June that “we must bring Afghan partners to safety — there is no time to wait.” Rep. Jared Golden, who served in Afghanistan as a Marine, was part of a bipartisan group of lawmakers who wrote to Biden in June ​​and said that “we must evacuate our Afghan friends and allies immediately.”

As we point a finger at the Biden administration in this moment, we also point a finger at ourselves for not amplifying these calls to action sooner. But we hope the window for action has not completely passed.

Some things are too late in Afghanistan. At least for the moment, with the U.S. sending more troops to help secure evacuations at the Kabul airport and reports of an agreement that the Taliban won’t interfere with evacuations, it does not appear too late to get more of our Afghan partners out. It’s time to act before the moment passes.

Avatar photo

The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...