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WASHINGTON — Two Army veterans who serve on the House Armed Services Committee delivered a stark message Wednesday to President Joe Biden: act now to evacuate thousands of Afghan interpreters and their families who worked with U.S. personnel or there will be consequences.

“If [President Joe Biden] doesn’t act, and he doesn’t get these people out, blood will be on his hands and on his administration’s hands. And I for one will very publicly and very loudly hold him accountable for that,” Rep. Michael Waltz, R-Fla., said during a news conference outside the Capitol.

Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., joined Waltz and members of the American Legion to ramp up calls for Biden to help roughly 18,000 Afghans whose visa applications remain stalled by moving them to Guam or another friendly country.

“People need to know that the American handshake matters. That we will stand by them through thick and thin,” said Crow, a former Army Ranger who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The news conference comes as members of the House and Senate, advocacy groups and veterans have been mounting pressure on the Biden administration to protect U.S. allies under the threat of death by the Taliban as the Pentagon accelerates the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan after nearly 20 years of war.

Under scrutiny from lawmakers, Defense Department officials have testified at recent Capitol Hill hearings on Afghanistan that they would support helping translators and their families get to the United States.

Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin have said they are developing “contingency plans” to conduct an evacuation if they are ordered to do so. State Department officials have agreed to that too, yet, the final approval must be made by the White House, Crow said.

And the clock is ticking, said Waltz, a former Green Beret who served combat tours in Afghanistan and other parts of Africa and the Middle East. The withdrawal from Afghanistan is set to be complete sooner than Sept. 11, the deadline that Biden had set in April for the remaining 2,500 U.S. forces to leave the country.

“We’re closing our only air base in just a few weeks… we have a moral and national security obligation to get these people out. Evacuate them now,” the lawmaker said.

Guam Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero wrote in a letter this month to Biden that the administration there will assist in carrying out the U.S. government’s evacuation plans.

The State Department-run Special Immigrant Visa program has been plagued by delays since it was created in 2009 to provide a pathway for Afghan interpreters, contractors, and other personnel to reach the U.S. safely and eventually gain citizenship.

The lawmakers said they will introduce a package of bills Thursday called the “Allies Act” that would increase the cap on the number of slots and make other fixes to the program to expedite the process.

The legislative package comes after the pair of lawmakers introduced a bill in late May that would allow applicants to the program to forgo a medical examination, which can cost thousands of dollars.

When Biden was a senator, he voted against evacuating Vietnamese allies out of their country during the final days of the Vietnam War in 1975, Waltz said.

“Had he had his way, we would not have gotten those people out,” he said.

The lawmaker said that during his last combat tour in Afghanistan his executive officer was a Vietnamese-American who was evacuated out at the time as a young child.

“How many great American contributions won’t we have if President Biden doesn’t act?” Waltz asked.

Cammarata.Sarah@stripes.com

@sarahjcamm


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