US Senate funds Afghans’ relocation to US and Capitol security

The emergency bill would allow 8,000 more visas and provide $500m to help resettle Afghans who helped US troops and civilians.

Afghan interpreters during an April protest in Kabul demanded the US and other countries help the interpreters who worked with US troops and civilians [File: EPA-EFE/Hedayatullah Amid]

An emergency spending bill passed by the Senate 98-0 on Thursday would increase the number of visas for allies who worked alongside Americans in the Afghanistan war. It would also bolster security at the Capitol and repay outstanding debts from the January 6 insurrection.

Democrats and Republicans struck an agreement on the legislation this week, saying the money is urgently needed for the Capitol Police and for the translators and others who worked closely with US government troops and civilians in Afghanistan.

The bill loosens some requirements for the visas, which lawmakers say are especially pressing as the US military withdrawal enters its final weeks and Afghan allies face possible retaliation from the Taliban.

The bill would allow 8,000 additional visas and provide $500m for Afghans’ emergency transportation, housing and other essential services.

White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Thursday that the process of relocating the Afghan allies will begin “before the end of this month”.

“This is a whole of government, 24-7, worldwide effort,” she said, adding, “in consideration for their safety and security and privacy of the Afghan special immigrants and their families, we’re not going to discuss or confirm any details of flights at this time.”

Alabama Senator Richard Shelby, a top Republican who negotiated the legislation with the Democrats, said it would be “shameful” not to help the Afghan allies and that they could be killed by the Taliban as the US withdraws.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said senators “intend to keep our nation’s promises to brave Afghans who have taken great risks to help America and our partners fight the terrorists”.

The House overwhelmingly passed separate legislation last week to provide the visas, 407-16. US President Joe Biden decreed an end to the US military role in Afghanistan by September 11. The Pentagon says the troop withdrawal is more than 95 percent complete and is to be finished by August 31.

The White House issued a statement of support for the legislation, saying the Biden administration backs the Capitol security improvements and “remains committed to supporting the Afghan people, including by fulfilling our commitment to Afghan nationals who worked for or on behalf of the US Government.”

The House is expected to vote on the legislation in the coming days and send it to Biden for his signature.

Post-riot Capitol funding

The money for the Capitol — including for police salaries, the National Guard and to better secure windows and doors around the building — comes more than six months after the violent insurrection by former President Donald Trump’s supporters and is scaled back from a House-passed bill and previous Democratic proposals.

Democrats have said that if Congress does not pass the bill, money would start running out for officers’ salaries by August and that the National Guard might have to cancel some training programs.

The bill’s passage comes after four police officers who fought off the rioters in the January 6 attack testified in an emotional House hearing on Tuesday and detailed the “medieval” battle in which they were brutally beaten and verbally assaulted.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested on Wednesday that the hearing had perhaps “jarred the Senate to move in a bipartisan way to pass this legislation”.

A more generous bill narrowly passed the House in May, but no Republicans supported it and some liberal Democrats voted against it. In the Senate, Republicans rejected Leahy’s earlier $3.7bn proposal before they negotiated the final version.

The legislation would boost personal protection for lawmakers who have seen increasing death threats since the insurrection, install new security cameras around the complex and replace riot equipment the police lost in the fighting that day.

It would also fund new intelligence gathering and boost wellness and trauma support for the Capitol Police, as many troops are still suffering in the wake of the attack. And it would reimburse the National Guard $521m for the thousands of troops that protected the Capitol for more than four months after the siege.

Unlike the previous proposals, the legislation would not provide money for temporary fencing in case of another attack or create a new quick-reaction force within the police or military that could respond to events at the Capitol. Police were overrun on January 6 as the National Guard took hours to arrive.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies