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June 16, 2021

As U.S. Withdraws from Afghanistan, King Demands Protection of Afghan Citizens Who Aided American Mission

“It takes 900 days to process a special visa application and [the U.S.] will be out of Afghanistan in 90 days,” says Senator on urgency

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As the United States prepares to withdraw the last of its troops from Afghanistan by September 11th, U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) pressed a top Defense Department nominee for his commitment to prioritize efforts to bring America’s Afghan allies to safety. During a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator King pressed Dr. Ely Ratner, nominee to serve as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs, for his commitment to “be irritating” on this matter given the urgency. Senator King has been aggressively highlighting the need to protect these partners in recent days, to raise awareness and pressure for needed action. Last month, Senator King joined a bipartisan group of his colleagues to urge President Joe Biden to streamline the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program for Afghan nationals who worked for or on behalf of the United States.

Senator King: “Mr. Ratner, this country is facing an intense moral obligation right now, and it's also a national security imperative, and that is the evacuation and protection of those people in Afghanistan who have served with us over the last twenty years as translators, guides and other personnel. I hope you will commit to me to giving this question your highest level of attention and urgency. The last figures I saw were that it takes 900 days to process a special visa application and we will be out of Afghanistan in 90 days. There is grave danger to these individuals. I’d like your commitment to, as I say, the highest level of attention and urgency.”

Dr. Ely Ratner: “Senator, I share your view that we have a moral obligation to support those who have been working with us in Afghanistan and I commit to you to make it a top priority of mine and to work with you in this committee on day one.”

Senator King: “I want you to be irritating within the councils of the Defense Department on this issue. Can you manage that?”

Dr. Ely Ratner: “I will commit to be irritating. Thank you.”

In addition to Dr. Ratner, today’s hearing featured testimony from Caroline Krass, Nominee to be General Counsel of the Department of Defense; Gina Ortiz Jones, Nominee to be Under Secretary of the Air Force; Shawn Skelly, Nominee to be Assistant Secretary of Defense for Readiness; and Meredith Berger, Nominee to be Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy, Installations and Environment.

As Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Strategic Forces – which oversees the United States’ nuclear posture worldwide – and a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Senator King is recognized as a thoughtful voice on national security and foreign policy issues in the Senate. In addition to his committee work, Senator King serves on the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, the Senate North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Observer Group, and is co-chair of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission. He voted in favor of the Senate’s passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2021, which includes several funding and policy priorities advocated for by Senator King to support military facilities and communities in Maine and advance the national defense. The legislation – containing 25 bipartisan cybersecurity recommendations from the Cyberspace Solarium Commission – became law earlier this year after Senator King and the overwhelming majority of his colleagues voted to override former President Trump’s veto.

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