American military bases are scrambling to immediately shelter thousands of Afghan refugees who are expected to arrive shortly.
The Pentagon claims it already has the “capacity” to accommodate up to “several thousand.”
“[We] want to be prepared for the potential of tens of thousands,” spokesman John Kirby said according to Fox News. “[Forts] Bliss and McCoy have the capability right now–and what is advantageous is, with a little bit of work, they could increase their capacity in very short order.”
🚨NEW, thread: Pentagon confirms to me the Department of Defense is preparing to house thousands of Afghan refugees on American military installations, immediately including Fort McCoy in Wisconsin and Fort Bliss in Texas.— Jacqui Heinrich (@JacquiHeinrich) August 16, 2021
The remarks came just weeks after President Joe Biden promised there would be no heartbreaking images of hundreds of Afghan asylum seekers trying to flee Taliban fighters.
U.S. forces temporarily suspended flights from Hamid Karzai International Airport for several hours, after hundreds of Afghan asylum seekers flooded the terminal building, stairway, and runway in Kabul. U.S. troops fired two warning shots into the air and were fired on themselves.
Many of them were so desperate to leave they clung onto U.S. Air Force military transport planes with their arms and legs, even after take off. At least three stowaways plunged dozens of feet to their death while another was found dead in the landing gear well.
The disturbing scenes drew eery parallels with the 1975 fall of Saigon. U.S. Congress quickly approved a program at the time to accept and care for those escaping Vietnam’s communist regime.
In April 1975, the United States realized the South Vietnamese government cannot cope with the North Vietnamese onslaught for long. Then GOP President Gerald Ford’s administration pleaded with Congress to help evacuate Americans and Vietnamese friends whose lives would be jeopardized, if the communists captured them. The White House at the time cautiously voiced alarm out of fear this would psychologically hinder South Vietnamese forces.
Ford’s proposal was treated with suspicion at a meeting with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 14. Most attendees were apprehensive about Ford’s proposal to link evacuation preparations to a $700 million military aid request to the South Vietnamese government. The administration said the funds would help stabilize the nation long enough for evacuees to be safely returned.
Others were more concerned about bringing Vietnamese refugees to America. One senator even recommended sending them to Borneo. To his credit, Ford insisted the United States should take them in.
“Let me comment on where they would go: we opened our door to the Hungarians … [and] our tradition is to welcome the oppressed,” the 38th president said in a declassified memorandum. “I do not think these [Vietnamese] people should be treated any differently from any other people–the Hungarians, Cubans, Jews from the Soviet Union.”
Congress was still not interested, at least when it came to U.S. soldiers battling the North Vietnamese once again. One day after Saigon fell the House completely rejected the Vietnam Humanitarian Assistance and Evacuation Act, which would have allocated $150 million for evacuation plans and given Ford the green light to order military action to defend the refugees. The Senate had enacted the Vietnam Contingency Act weeks before but it never reached the House floor for a vote.
Congress managed to adopt the Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act less than a month later. More than $450 million (almost $2.3 billion in 2021 currency) was set aside tohelp integrate 130,000 South Vietnamese refugees after being evacuated. These refugees were transported to Guam before the attorney general gave them “parole” to lawfully enter the U.S. mainland. The Refugee Act of 1980 changed the refugee admission process to its present form.
As it became obvious the situation in South Vietnam was deteriorating, and hundreds of thousands of refugees fled by boat to neighboring countries, the U.S. resettlement program was expanded many times. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter (D) quadrupled the number of refugees arriving in the United States from Indochina, bringing the total to 14,000 a month. By 1990, the United States had welcomed over 1 million Vietnamese immigrants.
As the United States discusses whether or not to welcome Afghans fleeing the Taliban’s re-establishment, it is worth remembering the 1975 refugee legislation was unpopular at the time. However, American hearts quickly changed after seeing images of Vietnamese civilians swarming helicopters.
For decades, millions of Afghans have been dispersed across Central Asia. Afghan expatriates were recently urged to return to their homeland with the promise of a better future. That period appears to have come to an end, and footage from Kabul Airport suggests a nationwide exodus has just begun.
Political friends and adversaries alike see Biden’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan as a betrayal of Afghan people who fought to build their nation. These patriots now now risk Taliban retaliation.
BL understands it is critical that U.S. Congress takes the next step and lets more Afghan refugees into the United States. It is arguably the most honorable approach to safeguard another group of individuals whose lives are intimately linked to the whims of U.S. government.