Don’t Fail America’s Allies: The Plight of Afghans Left Behind
President Joe Biden failed America’s allies — and my family — in 1975. He should not repeat his mistake in 2021.
My mother was a Vietnamese national who risked her life working for the U.S. naval attaché in Saigon. My father was a South Vietnamese army officer. In April of 1975, as communist forces closed in on Saigon, the fate of my family and tens of thousands of other Vietnamese allies hung in the balance as President Gerald Ford and congressional leaders debated.
Today, America faces a similar challenge as the Taliban control the capital of Afghanistan, the United States evacuates its embassy, and the lives of America’s Afghan allies and their families hang in the balance.
Back then Ford showed remarkable leadership by appealing to the American people on television, despite popular opinion against the evacuation. Lacking a mandate from Congress, the president used executive authority to rescue 130,000 Vietnamese allies in a single month, relocating them to Guam. My family and I were among those liberated.
Ford faced marked opposition from key members of Congress, including then-Sen. Joe Biden. On April 23, the same day my family boarded a U.S. Air Force C-141 Starlifter for Guam, Biden took to the Senate floor and stated, “The United States has no obligation to evacuate [one], or 100,001, South Vietnamese.”
Had Biden prevailed in his view that day, I and 130,000 other Vietnamese who had worked hard for the United States — and their families — would have suffered the fate that befell those not rescued: reeducation camps, torture, and death. I would have likely grown up an orphan in communist Vietnam instead of an immigrant in a free America.
Biden seemed to soften his view because in May 1975, he supported legislation to bring Vietnamese allies to the United States. In 2020, he went as far to express his explicit support for this cause in an op-ed published in a Vietnamese newspaper.
After coming to the United States, we lived with a sponsor family before settling into a home in Tumwater, Washington. Growing up, I learned about my family’s exodus and felt a deep sense of gratitude and obligation to the United States and to the men and women who served in Vietnam. In order to repay that debt, I attended West Point, followed by five years on active duty. I continued my service as a lawyer, eventually working in the White House as an associate counsel to President George W. Bush. When I left the White House, I recommissioned as a U.S. Army captain and served in Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom with a U.S. Army special forces company.
In Afghanistan, my fellow soldiers and I placed our lives in the hands of Afghan interpreters, analysts, and other Afghan allies daily. In turn they risked their lives for us. Like the communists in Vietnam, the Taliban in Afghanistan hold a dim view of those Afghans who worked alongside Americans. Several Afghan allies were killed during my time in Afghanistan by Taliban forces. I vividly remember one who told us that helping Americans would cost him his life.
Days later he was found killed, the cell phone he used to communicate with our company shoved in his mouth.
Just weeks ago, I was contacted by one of my Afghan allies, Jabar, who now resides in Kabul with his family. Jabar and thousands of others were startled by Biden’s decision to formally withdraw from Afghanistan no later than Sept. 11 of this year. While the United States has a system in place to process special immigrant visa applicants like Jabar, it is simply broken. Current estimates place the backlog at more than 18,000 applicants along with over 53,000 dependents.
And now, it is too late. With Kabul under Taliban control, America’s Afghan allies are out of time.
I fear every day for the safety of Jabar and his family. I cannot help but see in them my own family’s uncertain fate 46 years ago.
Once again history has put Biden in a position where he needs to decide where he stands. On July 14, his administration announced that it would airlift Afghan allies and their families through Operation Allies Refuge. However, announcing an airlift is not the same as completing one. To date, only 1,200 of the estimated 18,000 eligible Afghan allies and their families have been airlifted to safety. Tens of thousands of Afghan allies and their families still face persecution, torture, or death.
Biden and his administration can and need to do better. My family and I were rescued from communist forces in 1975 because Ford provided the leadership and resources to overcome the tremendous bureaucratic and logistical hurdles involved in evacuating 130,000 Vietnamese allies within weeks. Biden has failed to do the same in 2021.
What Biden should do is, using existing authorities, immediately designate America’s Afghan allies and their families as parolees. These parolees should then be marshalled at Kabul under the protection of rapidly deployed U.S. forces, before evacuation to a location outside Afghanistan for care and processing. The full and vast capabilities of the U.S. Air Force supplemented by contractor aircraft should be used to complete this urgent airlift. The administration can then determine, in coordination with Congress, which individuals will be resettled in the United States and implement a plan to do so properly. Finally, Biden should immediately and clearly state his public support for this effort and back his words by empowering the secretary of state and secretary of defense to take all actions necessary for the United States to fulfill its moral obligation to its Afghan allies.
There is still time to save Jabar, his family, and the tens of thousands of Afghan allies like them who risked their lives alongside soldiers like myself.
But the window to act is almost gone.
France Hoang commissioned twice as a U.S. Army officer, served as an associate White House counsel to President George W. Bush, and is the co-founder and chief strategy officer of boodleAI and a partner at the law firm of FH+H.