September 28, 2021
** Shaheen a directed the efforts of the Senate in support of strengthen the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program to protect Afghan allies **
(Washington, DC) – US Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), a senior member of the Senate Armed Forces Commission (SASC), Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and senior military officials spoke today during a SASC hearing on the conclusion of US military operations and future US policy in Afghanistan. Shaheen asked witnesses what precipitated the collapse of the Afghan national defense and security forces and Ashraf Ghani’s government, as well as the Pentagon’s next steps to rebuild relations with European allies who have partnered with the states. -United. Shaheen also asked witnesses how best to ensure Afghanistan does not once again become a haven for terrorism. In addition, Shaheen urged Secretary Austin on the need to improve processing of special Afghan immigrant visas (SIVs) for applicants and their families, many of whom have no records on their service due to poor record keeping at the Ministry of Defense or because the records were destroyed to avoid retaliation from the Taliban.
Shaheen began his questioning by asking about lessons learned in Afghanistan: “General Milley … You [previously] explicitly told the committee that in your professional opinion you did not see Saigon 1975 in Afghanistan. It seems that we did not anticipate the rapid fall of Afghanistan and Kabul and the rise of the Taliban as we have seen unfolding on television. What did we miss? … How can we prevent this from happening again?
In response, General Milley said intelligence assessments completely missed the rapid 11-day collapse of the Afghan army and government, which was expected to occur in late fall or early winter. . Among other factors, he pointed to the withdrawal of US advisers from Afghan units years earlier, which prevented an accurate assessment of the Afghan army’s will and leadership to combat the Taliban forces.
Shaheen then moved on to how to strengthen the SIV program in the future: “… A historical problem that has disappeared [on for years] had the documents that show [our partners] actually served in our military, and the DoD was cited as the main problem in obtaining these documents. How can we ensure that this does not happen again in a future project where we need our partners on the ground to serve alongside our military? … is this something the Ministry is considering and would you be ready to work with that committee or others to see if we can put in place a process that would ensure that the people who have worked with our men and women actually have the documentation they need to prove it? I know one of the challenges is that a lot of files have been destroyed. I hope there is a way to ensure that these people are able to get the documents they need to come to this country.
Secretary Austin responded that he agreed that the process is onerous and that it must be made easier for Afghan allies to demonstrate their service to US forces. He highlighted DOD’s efforts to seek ways to streamline the SIV application process and pledged to work with SASC and the Senator’s office on this effort.
Senator Shaheen historically in partnership with Senator John McCain (R-AZ) on efforts to protect Afghans who risked their lives to support U.S. diplomatic efforts abroad by bolstering the Afghan SIV program. She continues to lead bipartisan efforts in Congress to re-authorize additional Afghan SIVs. The president promulgated key provisions of the Afghan Allies Protection Act, a bill led by Shaheen and Senator Ernst, as part of the spending legislation. Their legislation helps protect Afghan civilians who risked their lives to support the US mission in Afghanistan.