Four years ago, a bleeding Afghan interpreter, Fazel, staggered out of an ambush in the Ganjigal Valley in eastern Afghanistan. Trapped inside the valley were four Americans. Asked to help rescue them, he said, "I have a wife and baby. But I will go back." Fazel returned to the battle, killed several Taliban fighters and carried out the bodies of the fallen Americans.
Since that fight, the Taliban has been determined to kill Fazel, who has served with U.S. units for five years and has received 15 certificates and letters of commendation attesting to his work record.
Shortly after the ambush, Fazel applied for a visa to the United States. The visa section at the State Department was repeatedly informed that the Taliban was hunting Fazel. But for four years, there was no movement. Last month, Fox News reported the neglect, and Gen. Joseph Dunford, the senior commander in Afghanistan, insisted that Fazel receive a visa "as soon as possible." A few days ago, an overjoyed Fazel got his visa.
This is a happy ending to a nearly five-year odyssey. But it is depressing that a four-star general had to personally intervene to resolve the case of someone clearly loyal to the United States. Ask any company commander returning from Afghanistan, and he can tell you about another Fazel, equally deserving of a visa.
What's happening is a failure to keep faith with those who fought beside us. The State Department has defied Congress, which has authorized 1,500 visas per year for Afghans who have assisted us; State annually approves about 200.
To qualify for a visa, Afghan interpreters must provide recommendations from U.S. officers and be interviewed and approved by the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. The next step is the bottleneck: The application must be reviewed by security committees in Washington. These panels have no incentive to say yes and a huge incentive to say no in order to avoid blame for any future incident.
Every person granted a visa poses some risk. But withholding visas for Iraqi and Afghan interpreters does not make sense; our country is discriminating against those who have proven their loyalty. Our soldiers never leave a comrade behind, but State is leaving the interpreters behind.
The National Defense Authorization Act for 2014 would extend and improve these visa programs in Iraq and Afghanistan, including strict oversight. Congress needs to pass that legislation. Because Afghan interpreters have pledged their loyalty to U.S. soldiers, they are in mortal danger as we leave. Afghanistan may end as badly as Vietnam did.
Forceful management by the State Department can fix this problem. If that is institutionally too difficult, then give the responsibility to Gen. Dunford.
Dakota Meyer, a retired Marine sergeant, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions while fighting alongside Fazel in the battle of Ganjigal. Bing West, a former assistant secretary of defense, embedded as a media correspondent with Meyer and Fazel shortly after that battle.