On Sunday, President Joe Biden praised veterans groups and other outside advocates helping with the evacuation of thousands of refugees from Afghanistan as showing “the best of America” to the world.
But U.S. veterans groups scrambling to save their foreign allies made it clear over the weekend that they expect White House officials to do more to make prevent the unfolding humanitarian crisis on the other side of the world.
On Monday, a coalition of 46 veterans and military-connected organizations requested a meeting with administration officials on the steps ahead in Afghanistan and “fulfilling our commitment to our Afghan allies” by getting them out of the country.
“Failing to meet our obligations to these Afghans would not only be a national security risk — harming America’s reputation abroad and eroding the trust in our armed forces that is critical for future operations — it would also condemn veterans and survivors of the conflict in Afghanistan to a lifetime of moral injury,” the group wrote in their request to senior White House staff.
Those involved include well-known advocacy organizations such as AMVETS and Vietnam Veterans of America as well as groups with close ties to the Democratic Party (and Biden White House) like VoteVets and High Ground Veterans Advocacy.
Many of the signers have been working to aid Afghan nationals for weeks, running fund-raisers online, helping State and Defense Department officials on locating individuals in trouble, and handling paperwork issues for Afghan families forced to flee their homes.
Earlier in the weekend, in a separate letter to Congress and the White House, a coalition of 16 military and veterans organizations (some included in the Monday letter) said that the disorderly evacuation of thousands of Americans and refugees from Kabul in recent weeks suggests that “we have failed as a country to honor our commitments” to foreign allies.
“Fix this now,” the letter stated. “We are all dedicated to making the transition for these fellow warriors as seamless and welcoming as possible, and we are ready to assist the US government and these [Special Immigrant Visa] applicants and families now. Please put us to work.”
White House officials said in a 24-hour span from Aug 22 to 23, 28 U.S. military flights evacuated about 10,400 people from Kabul airport, while additional coalition aircraft evacuated nearly 6,000 more.
According to White House figures released Monday, about 42,000 people have been evacuated since the end of July. The total includes a mix of Americans working in Afghanistan and Afghan citizens seeking safety as Taliban fighters regain control of that country.
On Sunday, Biden announced plans to mobilize civilian aircraft from American airline companies to help move refugees from overseas locations outside Afghanistan to areas where they can be cared for and their immigration petitions can be better processed.
But nearly all of that work has been focused on the immediate evacuation effort, not the long-term housing and well-being of the refugees.
Saturday’s letter from the group of 18 organizations — which includes the Independence Fund, Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States and No One Left Behind, an advocacy group focused specifically on resettling foreign allies of U.S. military forces — also called for dedicated annual funding for support programs to help the displaced Afghans.
“A SIV specific general grant program to which community organizations could apply may be a good first start,” the group wrote.
The broader veterans community is also hoping to broach those kinds of topics in a meeting with senior administration officials. The group of 46 organizations said they also want to see the White House deal with the issue of “confronting those who politicize the issue of refugee resettlement and condemn those who slander our Afghan allies.”
The U.S. evacuation effort in Afghanistan is scheduled to end on Aug. 31. Biden has left open the possibility of extending that deadline, but a Taliban spokesman on Monday said they would not accept that.
On Monday afternoon, in response to questions about the veterans’ meeting request, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that administration officials “have been in in regular contact with a wide range of vets groups on Afghanistan and will continue to be, and we’re in touch with the organizers of this letter to arrange a meeting with senior White House officials.”
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.