Romal Noori worked for the United States military for almost a decade. Now as the U.S. officially wraps up its military mission in Afghanistan … “It’s time to end America’s longest war.” … tens of thousands of Afghan interpreters and contractors like Romal fear they will be targeted by the Taliban. “Last night, too much attacks on the base. The kids, they cried. I told them there is no Taliban. Nothing is going to happen to us — don’t worry.” We spoke to Romal over the course of a month as the U.S. military completes its final drawdown. We offered to protect his identity, but he chose to go on camera to draw attention to his case. “Hello” “Hi.” “Hi.” Emboldened by the withdrawal of U.S. troops, the Taliban has taken over large swaths of the country in the past few months. The impact has reached Bagram, home to the largest American military base in Afghanistan. For most of Romal’s life, American troops have been nearby. He started working for the military when he was a teenager. In the last few years, several hundred translators and their families have been killed, according to an advocacy group for Afghan allies called No One Left Behind. To acknowledge these risks, Congress created a program called the Special Immigrant Visa or S.I.V. Romal is one of more than 20,000 Afghans who have applied, but time is running out. “The S.I.V. program is in no way going to be a fast enough program to get Afghans to safety.” Jennifer Patota works with applicants like Romal at the International Refugee Assistance Project. She says that the S.I.V. program is plagued by a severe backlog, arbitrary denials and stringent requirements that are difficult to meet. “The most difficult step of the S.I.V. application process is the first step, which is the chief of mission approval process, also known as COM approval.” To get past this first stage, S.I.V. applicants are entirely dependent on American supervisors and companies for proof of their work. “It’s very possible that people spend years trying to locate their employers that have gone out of business or locate their U.S. citizen supervisors.” It took Romal several years to get the documents ready, and that means he’s just at the beginning of a 14-step process. “The American Legion demands that the United States government act now.” For several months, veteran groups, lawmakers and advocates have been asking the White House for an emergency evacuation to get S.I.V. applicants to safety. On July 21, the State Department announced the details of an evacuation plan called Operation Allies Refuge. Currently only those who have received COM approval will be relocated. We spoke to Romal after the news came out. For now, the vast majority of S.I.V. applicants including Romal are stuck in Afghanistan until their cases move forward. The State Department has acknowledged that the S.I.V. approval process is slow, but says applicants need to go through a thorough vetting process. Top U.S. military officials say after American troops leave, a complete Taliban takeover is possible.
‘We Are Here Alone’: An Afghan Translator’s Plea for Help
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