By Troy Torres
The Biden administration could very well be moving silently to evacuate 18,000 Afghans to Guam temporarily. Such an evacuation of the former interpreters for the U.S. military (marked for murder by the Taliban) would be a major security program the military won't want the Taliban to know about, according to No One Left Behind co-founder Mark Zeller.
As a matter of fact, according to Guam Hotel and Restaurant Association president Mary Rhodes, there is an unofficial dialogue taking place between military coordinators and some of her hotel members.
"If our hotels are going to be used, it likely will be for the U.S. officials associated with the program and not necessarily for the refugees because of the security concerns," Ms. Rhodes said. She emphasized that no accommodations have yet been made, and that there's been no official word from the Defense or State departments, or the U.S. Government otherwise.
The use of the hotels, however, was raised as a possible solution for housing evacuees during Thursday morning's discussion on the issue among a coalition of Guam leaders and national interest groups, including Zeller and his group's co-founder Janis Shinwari.
"We have our hotels that are not being used right now while tourism is at a standstill," Vice Speaker Tina Muna Barnes said.
Logistics expert, former Marine Corps captain, and APL Guam general manager Charlie Hermosa echoed the idea.
A previous evacuation of 28,000 Kurds in the 90s during the administration of former Gov. Carl Gutierrez resulted in a temporary stay at Andersen South, a now-abandoned military housing campus off of Route 15. In the 1970s - and without any planning - the U.S. military evacuated 120,000 Vietnamese refugees to Guam. Both the Kurds and the Vietnamese refugees were only temporarily housed on Guam until permanent residency could be established, mainly in the western continental United States.
There is a growing crisis evolving for both the Afghan interpreters and the United States. President Biden has begun withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, with a promise for a full withdrawal from the country by September 11, 2021, which will mark the twentieth anniversary of the day terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center twin towers and damaged the Pentagon with planes. Another plane meant for the White House was taken down by heroic passengers into a field in Pennsylvania that day. Then-President George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Afghanistan following the attacks on U.S. soil and waged a ferocious war against the Taliban and other terrorist groups.
Our country has been there since. Thousands of American lives, including the lives of soldiers from Guam, have been saved by the 18,000 Afghans, who were interpreters for the Americans during the war effort. Their number was more, but many have been murdered already by the Taliban.
“The Taliban would kill me. They will torture us in front of our family. They will kill us in front of our family. They will make a video of it and send it to the other interpreters. It will be a warning message to other countries in the future to not help [the Americans].” - Janis Shinwari
The fate of the 18,000 Afghans is an humanitarian issue. The national security issue for the country is as Mr. Shinwari alluded to: If the U.S. absconds from its obligation to protect those foreigners who risked their lives to help the American cause, then future U.S. servicemen and women will find themselves at greater risk of dying in foreign wars.
"They just won't help us anymore," said Peter Sgro, Jr., local businessman and de facto leader of the Guam-based movement to evacuate the Afghans here.
The GHRA, meanwhile, has demonstrated a keen ability to respond to the needs of the nation when called upon during urgent situations. Last year, when the crisis outbreak of coronavirus stranded the 5,000 sailors of the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt on Guam, it was Ms. Rhodes and her GHRA who partnered with the U.S. Navy to quickly and securely quarantine sailors in Guam hotels.
Whether that kind of coordination already is happening perhaps is something we will soon enough know. May we do what is right. And may God bless America and her Afghan friends.