The writer is a lawyer and served as Chief, Rule of Law, for ISAF.
The United States has abandoned our most effective and loyal friends in Afghanistan by deliberately failing to implement the Afghan Allies Protection Act. In 2011, I served as the chief adviser on rule of law for the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul (ISAF). I witnessed the heroism and steadfast courage of our Afghan employees as they resisted threats from the Taliban and from their own government. Now, as we draw down and leave them vulnerable, our government refuses to follow its own laws to save them.
The 2009 act provides up to 7,500 special immigrant visas for Afghans who worked for the United States for at least a year and who face an ongoing and serious threat to their safety. The U.S. Embassy resisted as soon as the law was passed, claiming that allowing these Afghans and their spouses and children to escape the threats to their lives would have a “deleterious impact” on the mission. The embassy also said it would require the strictest scrutiny of the applications, demanding “clear and convincing evidence” of the threat — a higher standard than that required by the law.
As a result, by mid-2011, no visas had been approved. As of today, 5,700 Afghans have applied for visas — and only 32 have been approved. To put this in context, since the start of our intervention in Afghanistan, more than 80 interpreters have been killed in combat.
During my time in Afghanistan, my duties included convincing the Afghan government to abide by its own laws. My country adviser, Abdul, provided invaluable assistance, interpreting my meetings with Afghan officials and giving me critical insight into Afghanistan’s tumultuous politics. Abdul — whom I do not identify further to lessen the risk to his life — had previously worked for USAID in one of the more dangerous rural areas of Afghanistan. As a result, one of his brothers was kidnapped for ransom by the Taliban. After Abdul moved to Kabul, he continued to face threats from both the Taliban and the Afghan government, who wanted him to reveal classified U.S. military information. He was followed around Kabul by elements of the security forces and the National Directorate of Security and received threatening phone calls from phone numbers in Iran and Pakistan.
One day, upon returning from work at ISAF, Abdul discovered a Taliban member in his house, searching for information. He called the police; they promptly arrested the intruder but then detained Abdul, his wife and his children for more than 12 hours. ISAF had to intervene to secure his release. The police allegedly took a bribe to release the Taliban member, and Abdul subsequently received dozens of death threats. In a separate incident, Abdul’s sister was detained by the Taliban, who called Abdul to try to force him to secure the release of insurgents from Afghan custody.
Abdul continues to work for the U.S. government, promoting democracy and the rule of law in Afghanistan. He and his family face death every day. More than a year ago, they applied for U.S. visas: They have not yet been approved.
I found it difficult to tell the Afghan government to obey its laws when it was clear to me that the United States was not doing the same. It is apparent that the State Department has no intention of implementing the Afghan Allies Protection Act to save Abdul, his family or the thousands of Afghans who help us every day.
This abject moral failure reflects poorly on us as a country and threatens our ability to recruit allies in the future. How will we prevent another Benghazi-style attack when no locals will work with us because we won’t protect them? How will we capitalize on the Arab Spring without locals to help us understand the local language and politics? How can we push other countries to observe the rule of law when we so clearly do not follow our own?
While I made it home safely, Abdul continues to face danger every day.