In this Monday, Aug. 16, 2021, file photo U.S. soldiers stand guard along the perimeter at the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. Credit: Shekib Rahmani / AP

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Brian deLutio of Scarborough is a retired U.S. Navy lieutenant commander.

As a retired Navy pilot who flew missions over Afghanistan after 9/11, I am ashamed of the U.S.’s indifferent treatment of our allies left behind.

After 20 years of active duty and reserve service as a Navy pilot, I retired in 2015 having logged more than 2,500 hours and flown more than 80 combat missions in the EA-6B Prowler electronic attack jet from aircraft carriers and land bases. I participated in Operations Southern Watch and Iraqi Freedom in the skies of Iraq.

But what I was always most proud of were my missions from the USS Roosevelt in Operation Enduring Freedom over Afghanistan in the months following the 9/11 attacks. That feeling of pride changed last year. I now feel a level of shame due to the United States’ indifferent treatment of our Afghan allies after the withdrawal from Afghanistan.

While I’m no longer the same 17-year-old idealist who reported to the Naval Academy over 30 years ago, I still believe there are some ideals that are sacrosanct. One of those is taking proper care of our allies — not leaving them behind to be tortured, killed, or die of starvation. I fear for future service members tasked with winning over local partners when our country has so openly broken its promises in Afghanistan. Our national security is at stake as a result.

At this Sept. 11 anniversary, many veterans of the wars that followed feel the same guilt that I do rather than pride in their service. In fact, many of those servicemen and women who were on the ground working shoulder to shoulder with our Afghan allies have feelings of shame that run much deeper than those of a guy who spent his time in the air, far removed from the harsh realities of up-close warfare. They have a very personal connection to those who served beside them.

When the U.S. departed Afghanistan last year, it left behind thousands of Afghan partners to face retribution by the Taliban for the very help they provided to the U.S. They are eligible to come to the U.S. through the Special Immigrant Visa program, but the State Department is not processing their applications in a timely manner. As they wait, some are being tracked down and killed.

I’ve been helping Afghans navigate the cumbersome SIV application process. Their stories are heartbreaking. They are imprisoned in their homes in a country on the verge of economic collapse and struggling to feed their children. They worry that every day may be their last. These are people who risked their lives to help Americans. They were promised safety and a better future, but they have been abandoned.

We, as a nation, will be judged by future generations — and future partners — on our response to their plight. Right now, we are failing in our response. But something can be done.

Veterans are seeking congressional action to try to remedy this threat to our national security through passage of the bipartisan Afghan Adjustment Act (AAA). The AAA would establish an inter-agency task force to streamline the relocation of our Afghan partners and expand visa eligibility for Afghans who served alongside U.S. forces. It is endorsed by many veterans’ organizations including the American Legion, the VFW and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

Please join me in calling on Sen. Susan Collins and Sen. Angus King to co-sponsor and help pass the Afghan Adjustment Act. The United States has a moral obligation to save our allies we left behind.