The Obama administration is letting bureaucratic delay put the lives of the thousands of Afghans who worked with American troops and diplomats at risk. A program established to substantially increase the number of visas for Afghan workers to emigrate to the United States is failing. The long waits are putting lives in jeopardy and making a mockery of America's obligation to protect these workers and their families from retribution by the Taliban. They did their part; now America has to do its part.
In early 2009, the program Afghan Allies was created to help bring more Afghans who worked to advance America's war effort to the United States along with their families. The United States set aside an extra 7,500 spaces for Afghans who worked as interpreters and in other posts. It was a recognition that this nation appreciated the service and the mortal risks taken by these workers who had to hide their connection to American-led coalition forces or risk death at the hands of the Taliban.
Since the program began, about 2,300 Afghans have applied for one of the visas, but the American Embassy in Kabul has fully reviewed only two applications, rejecting one. The excuse for this unacceptable inefficiency is a lack of embassy personnel, which has hamstrung efforts to screen applicants in a timely manner.
While that might explain why all 2,300 cases haven't yet been vetted, it doesn't come close to justifying the embassy's near-complete failure to respond to people who are facing threats against their lives. The United States has poured billions of dollars into rebuilding Afghanistan. Why is protecting the foreign nationals who served our nation being done on the cheap?
The new ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, promises to do better. But America already has communicated an ugly casualness toward the lives of Afghan civilians. It's a similar story as has played out in Iraq, where fears of letting a terrorist slip into the United States has dried up American visas there. If this is how America treats its friends, it soon won't have many left.