PRESIDENT BIDEN’S decision to pull out of Afghanistan brings with it a task just as complex as withdrawing the troops. Thousands of Afghans served shoulder to shoulder with the United States and other NATO forces as interpreters, and in other essential functions. They are at risk of retribution from the Taliban. The United States must prepare an orderly exit for them and avoid a Saigon-like final hour.

Mr. Biden’s deadline of Sept. 11 means time is short. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, told reporters recently, “There are plans being developed very, very rapidly here, not just interpreters but a lot of other people that have worked with the United States.” He also said, “Their safety could be at risk. And we recognize that that’s a very important task, is to ensure that we remain faithful to them and that we do what’s necessary to ensure their protection and, if necessary, get them out of the country if that’s what they want to do.”

All the debate about the costs and consequences of a “forever war” must not obscure the profound obligation of the United States to protect Afghan interpreters and their families from being slaughtered by the Taliban once the troops are gone. Many of them risked their lives to serve the United States.

Congress over the years has approved special immigrant visas (SIVs) for these Afghans to come to the United States, but the program was plagued by delays and strict requirements that left applicants waiting years for approval. According to the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), approximately 18,000 Afghan interpreters and others are in the pipeline. The total SIV program cap is currently 26,500 visas, of which, as of December, 15,507 had been issued and 10,993 remained. If families are included at an estimated rate of four per visa, the total number of people needing processing could be closer to 70,000.

With so little time remaining, the refugee agency has properly suggested surging resources to the visa program to reach as many eligible people as possible before the deadline, and keeping it open after the troop departure. However, the visa program is not sufficient, by itself, to provide a path to safety for all those in need. As the IRAP has proposed, the Pentagon should be planning for a mass evacuation if necessary, perhaps to relocation sites, such as U.S. military bases in Guam or Diego Garcia, or directly to the United States.

Another possibility is to consider widespread use of parole processing into the United States. This does not confer immigration status but could be used to admit large numbers of people, who would then apply for various pathways, such as visas or asylum. The U.S. refugee program could also be expanded to cover Afghans not covered by the SIV program, such as at-risk humanitarian aid workers, activists and journalists. It’s essential to plan now, and not leave these loyal allies behind during an ignominious retreat.

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