Former interpreters protest in Kabul to demand US visas ahead of pullout

·2-min read

KABUL (Reuters) - Dozens of Afghan former interpreters who aided American and NATO troops held a demonstration in Kabul on Friday, as panic grows that some could be left behind to face threats from the insurgent Taliban as the United States withdraws troops.

The United States on Thursday announced a plan to evacuate thousands of vulnerable Afghan interpreters before the U.S. military completes its withdrawal from Afghanistan so they can wrap up their visa applications from safety.

But many of those who attended the demonstration outside the U.S. embassy in Kabul said the government had denied their Special Immigration Visas (SIV) applications.

"We want the U.S. army and government to remove the SIV process and take us directly to the United States or to Guam because we are not safe here, day by day the Taliban threats are increasing and our lives are in danger," said Shamshad Ali, a former interpreter.

He said that he had been told that he had not worked for long enough for U.S. forces to be granted an SIV.

A U.S. Embassy in Kabul spokesperson declined to comment on Friday's protest.

U.S. President Joe Biden has said those who helped the United Staes will not be left behind, and a senior Republican lawmaker told Reuters the new plans to evacuate at-risk Afghans will include their family members for a total of as many as 50,000 people.

The decision by Biden's administration risks inflaming a sense of crisis in Afghanistan, as Biden meets Afghan President Ashraf Ghani for talks in Washington later on Friday aimed at projecting a sense of partnership despite the U.S. military exit.

Fighting between U.S.-backed Afghan forces and the Taliban has surged in recent weeks, with the militants gaining control of large amounts of territory.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday Washington was assessing whether the Taliban was serious about ending the conflict in Afghanistan, and that trying to take back the country by force was not consistent with peace efforts.

Political talks between the government and the Taliban have largely stalled, though there have been some meetings in recent weeks in Doha.

On Friday the group's deputy leader Sirajuddin Haqqani released instructions, saying the insurgency had entered a 'sensitive' phase as they took over districts around the country and there should be no "revenge" against those who surrendered and joined their ranks.

But many do not trust their assurances.

"It does not matter for the Taliban whether you have worked one month or ten years, they only kill us for cooperating, my life and the lives of my family are 100% in danger," said Hassib Ahmad Khaibar, a former interpreter.

(Reporting by Kabul bureau, Editing by William Maclean)

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