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More than two years ago, this country watched horrified as Americans and our allies scrambled to get out of Afghanistan. Thirteen U.S. servicemembers were killed in a suicide bombing. Crowds surrounded the airport in Kabul. Distraught Afghan people chased and even tried clinging to departing U.S aircraft.
Many things were true at once amid the chaos. We all were witnessing the gutting results of decades of U.S. policy failures in Afghanistan and the Middle East. Previous administrations in Washington bore some responsibility for the long road that led us there, and despite periodic defensiveness from the current administration, President Joe Biden and his team remain responsible for the haphazard way America carried out its necessary withdrawal after 20 years in Afghanistan.
As we wrote at the time, it was possible to recognize that the U.S. should have left Afghanistan long before 2021 while also knowing that the early withdrawal scenes at the airport in Kabul were “horrifyingly unacceptable” amid both historic blunders and miraculous missions.
“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,” the BDN editorial board wrote on August 17 of 2021.
Eventually, more than 120,000 Americans, Afghans and others were evacuated from the Kabul airport during this airlift. Around 80,000 Afghans have been resettled in the U.S. as part of Operation Allies Welcome, but most still do not have a legal pathway to remain in the U.S.
In addition, too many were left behind, subject to the always extreme and increasingly repressive whims of the re-empowered Taliban — especially Afghan women and girls. And too many who did make it here remain in an unacceptable legal limbo. We failed many of those Afghan partners and people two years ago, and we continue to fail many of them today.
This should be unacceptable across Washington, D.C. and across political affiliations. There is something Congress can do about it.
The Afghan Adjustment Act, reintroduced this year after an earlier version unfortunately languished in the previous Congress, would provide Afghans seeking refuge a process for permanent legal residency after additional vetting and would also update and expand the resettlement program specifically for Afghan partners who worked with the U.S. These changes would help both Afghans who have already been evacuated along with those who helped us but were left behind.
Even in a divided Congress, supporting the Afghans who supported us and those fleeing persecution should be a concept that unites people across Capitol Hill. The bill has bipartisan support in both the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, but that has not yet translated into action.
“It’s a microcosm. It’s a very straightforward thing that the U.S. can do to follow through on a promise it made to Afghans,” Afghan-American Foundation board chair Joseph Azam told Vox. “And so far, the government’s demonstrated a manifest inability to deliver on that promise. Which is kind of the story of Afghanistan for the U.S.”
Congress has much to do as it returns from its August recess, yes. But the Afghan Adjustment Act needs to be on its to-do list as well.
A group of veterans organizations wrote to Congress earlier this year, imploring them to support this legislation.
“We urge you to support the Afghan Adjustment Act as soon as possible. We promised to stand by our allies who, often at risk to themselves and their families, served in uniform or publicly defend women’s and democratic rights,” the group wrote in a letter to congressional leadership. The U.S. government made a similar promise; keeping it assures that the American commitments will be honored.”
Once again, we too urge Congress to keep that promise.