You would think we had learned our lesson about the need to protect Iraqi civilians who risked their lives to assist Americans during the war in Iraq. Unhappily, you would be wrong.
The insurgents targeted for assassination any Iraqis who worked for the United States forces — especially as interpreters with combat units, where their skills were invaluable. As the U.S. presence wound down, the interpreters found themselves not only unemployed but also unprotected from their would-be killers.
The obvious solution was to bring them and their families to the United States, but the process of approving their visas was so slow and complex that it barely functioned. Pressure by Congress and returning members of the U.S. military brought some improvement, but the process never really did become fast, efficient and fair.
Now, the same thing is happening in Afghanistan — only it's worse.
According to The New York Times, the Taliban have put a premium on killing Afghans who have helped the U.S. forces. They have tried three times to kill Sulaiman — The Times didn't further identify him for his own safety, such as it is — wounding him at least once. And no wonder: His job is as a "high-value combat interpreter" for U.S. special operations troops.
Once those troops leave, Sulaiman is effectively a dead man. "His best hope is one that has remained beyond his grasp despite years of effort: an American visa," says The Times.
How difficult can it be to get a visa? After 10 years and more than 300 missions with the special-ops unit, Sulaiman, 26, has certainly earned one. And for the nights of terror and his prolonged absences, so has his family.
But the State Department is offering far fewer visas — 7,500 in Afghanistan versus 25,000 in Iraq — and it has set up more restrictions. In processing and issuing visas, it has reverted to its customary glacial pace.
The need is there. Some 8,000 Afghans worked as interpreters for U.S. forces, not to mention others who worked for American news organizations and contractors.
It may be an old-fashioned concept, but we owe a debt of honor to Sulaiman and the others who helped us at great personal risk. Furthermore, it is in our own self-interest. Rewarding our faithful allies with U.S residency is a powerful inducement for locals to sign on with us, especially because we seem to be fighting more wars in nations whose languages we don't speak and whose cultures we don't understand.
If Sulaiman gets to United States, as he should, he wants to join the U.S. Army and attend Ranger School. If through bureaucratic inertia and ineptitude he is left behind to be killed by the Taliban, shame, shame on us.