Afghan Allies Protection Act

What Is the Afghan Allies Protection Act?

Legal Assistant International Law

In July 2021, President Biden upheld the government’s decision to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan, citing that it was now time to end US involvement in Afghan affairs. He further stated that the chances of a Taliban takeover were minimal since the Afghan military was now better-equipped, better-trained, and more competent as far as war affairs go.

A week after the US withdrawal began, the Taliban launched a series of attacks across the country. Afghan forces fled or surrendered without putting up much of a fight. They were outmatched.

On August 15, 2021, the insurgents poured into the country’s capital Kabul, effectively sealing their control, 20 years after US forces ousted them. Thousands of people have lost their lives in the conflict, with millions of others displaced. Congress enacted the Afghan Allies Protection Act of 2021 in response to the insurgents-induced crisis in Afghanistan.

What is it, and what does it mean for Afghan nationals? Here’s everything you need to know.

The Invasion of Afghanistan – How It All Began

Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks on Washington and New York, where more than 3,000 people lost their lives, al-Qaeda, an Islamist militant group with Osama Bin Laden at its helm, claimed responsibility for the attack. Bin Laden, who was in Afghanistan at the time, was under Taliban protection. The insurgent group had total control over the country since 1996.

The US government demanded that they hand him over to answer for his crimes, but the Taliban refused. As a result, US troops moved in quickly and ousted the Taliban. The US government promised to restore democracy and eradicate the terrorist threat. Unfortunately, the militants slipped through the cracks, escaping capture by American troops.

NATO allies joined forces with the US in the Afghanistan war, and with their backing, a new Afghan government took over in 2004. This, however, did not stop the deadly Taliban attacks witnessed in several parts of the country.

In 2009, President Obama launched a “troop surge” to subdue the Taliban, although this initiative was short-lived.

Afghanistan Withdrawal

2014 turned out to be the bloodiest year since the Afghan War began in 2001. NATO terminated its combat mission and began to withdraw its international forces. This left the country’s security in the hands of the Afghan military. The void left behind by NATO gave momentum to the Taliban. The insurgents spread to several parts of the country and continued to seize more territory.

The US government initiated peace talks with the Taliban to find a viable long-term solution to the never-ending conflict in the region. The Afghan government took a backseat in the negotiations, and a withdrawal agreement was reached in February 2020. Nonetheless, this US-led deal did not halt the insurgent attacks. Instead, the Taliban simply decided to switch their focus, targeting civilians and Afghan security forces and carrying out targeted assassinations.

The National Defense Authorization Act

The National Defense Authorization Act of 2017, or NDAA 2017, was enacted a short while after Congress overrode President Trump’s veto, blocking US military funding, to reduce the total number of troops in Afghanistan.

The Pentagon began collaborating with the National Security Council to come up with the most effective and efficient means of withdrawing US forces from Afghanistan in a manner that protects the safety and wellbeing of US personnel. At the time of its enactment, there were between 2,500 and 3,500 troops in the war-torn country.

The Afghan Allies Protection Act of 2009

Afghan Allies Protection Act of 2009
Source: Unsplash

In 2009, Congress enacted the Afghan Allies Protection Act. The legislation was designed to expand the earlier Special Immigrant Visa program, allowing 1,500 visas every year for Afghan nationals. Any individual who provided “valuable and faithful” service to the American government and allied forces would benefit from the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa.

The visa would also be given to anyone facing imminent threat from insurgent forces as a result of being a US government employee.

To qualify for an Afghan SIV, the applicant:

  1. Should be an Afghan national
  2. Should have been employed by the US government, the Afghan government, or allied forces for at least two years between October 2001 and December 2020 (this requirement was subsequently reduced to one year in the AAPA of 2021)
  3. Should have provided “valuable and faithful” service
  4. Needs to be experiencing an imminent or ongoing threat as a result of their employment history
  5. Should qualify for admission into the United States under the provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act
  6. Should not pose a national security threat to the US

Unfortunately, the program was marred with incessant delays and faced intense criticism since Afghan SIV applicants had to wait 2-3 years on average for their applications to be processed. Congress intervened in 2013 by amending the Act, requiring the government to “improve efficiency.” The changes to the law required that background checks and all relevant screening procedures should take no longer than nine months from the date of the applicant’s submission.

The Afghan Allies Protection Act of 2021

Also known as the Shaheen-Ernst Bill, the Afghan Allies Protection Act of 2021 builds on the existing legislation. It increases the number of authorized visas by 8,000 and changes the duration of the employment criteria from two years to one year. It provides special immigration status for specific survivors of applicants who ended up getting killed while awaiting the approval of their SIV.

Some of the other changes brought by the 2021 amendment include removing the “sensitive and trusted” requirement for Resolute Support and International Security Assistance Force employment. It also postpones the mandatory medical exams until the applicant and their next of kin have safely touched down in the US.

The Bottom Line

The US withdrew from Afghanistan without putting in place the necessary infrastructure required to accommodate all Afghan nationals who urgently need refugee status. From a legal standpoint, the government has several options to explore to expand its capacity to protect Afghans in danger. It will, however, need to move fast as the situation in Afghanistan continues to worsen.

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