Tillerson: We Must Protect Interpreters Who Helped Our Troops

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Russ Read Pentagon/Foreign Policy Reporter
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President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of state reiterated the importance of protecting foreign interpreters who aided U.S. troops during the war in Afghanistan while testifying during his confirmation hearing Wednesday.

“It’s important we protect those whose lives are at risk, whether military forces or other forces in Afghanistan,” said Rex Tillerson, in response to a question from Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. He added that it is also important the program function as it was intended, lest it risk losing its purpose.

“And it’s also important to make this distinction, otherwise we miss losing it to let people come through the program that are not truly at risk,” said Tillerson.

The Special Immigrant Visa waiver program, or SIV program, was created to allow former Afghan interpreters the ability to immigrate to the U.S. if their lives were in danger. Thousands of interpreters put their lives on the line to support U.S. forces in both Afghanistan and Iraq, a decision that usually marked them for death by groups like the Taliban and al-Qaida. Many U.S. troops claim their lives were saved by the brave interpreters who worked with them on deployment. Unfortunately, many have paid with their lives for doing so.

“We are committed to supporting those who — at great personal risk — have helped us,” a Department of State official told The Daily Caller News Foundation in February. At the time, there were 10,000 Afghans still in the SIV program pipeline awaiting resettlement in the U.S.

While Tillerson expressed support for the SIV program, he also warned against loosening the requirements associated with it.

“I think it’s the execution and this gets back to following through on what the intent of these programs were,” said Tillerson. “And let’s be very specific and execute well and not get sloppy in the execution and start having a lot of other folks coming through the program that really don’t meet that criteria.”

The SIV program has seen bipartisan support in the congress, though the process behind it is often slow and bureaucratic, which often puts the interpreters left behind at grave risk.

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