Stanford students and Hoover Institution policy-makers are combining efforts to help No One Left Behind, a non-profit with comprehensive evacuation and resettlement of Iraqi and Afghan allies left behind after the U.S. military withdrawals through guidance and advocacy.
“Our organization does three main things,” said No One Left Behind Director of Advocacy and Marine veteran Jeff Phaneuf M.B.A. ’23. “We do evacuation — that’s everything from chartering flights to helping facilitate people get on U.S. government flights. We do resettlement, which is helping folks who make it to the US with things like car loans and grants for furniture, clothing and rental assistance. But my job is to advocate for changes in the law and changes and governmental action.”
Founded in 2014 by once-Afghan interpreter Janis Shinwari with money used to resettle his family, No One Left Behind has grown into the largest organization focused on aiding former U.S. interpreters and foreign government employees in adversary nations, according to Phaneuf. In 2021 alone, No One Left Behind evacuated 493 Afghans and successfully advocated for Congressional legislation that significantly reduced the wait time Afghan families faced for Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) from the typical 3.5 years.
To describe the danger Afghan U.S. allies face in their nation, Hoover Institution veteran fellow and No One Left Behind executive director Philip Caruso recalled a specific Afghan collaborator — Bakht Mohammad — that he interacted with during his time at a base in the city of Kandahar. When the Taliban captured and killed Mohammad, it jarred Caruso into advocacy for those like his late acquaintance.
“Bach Mohammed was viewed as a collaborator and was targeted and ultimately killed for his willingness to talk to me and his employment at the base,” Caruso said. “And so I saw firsthand the consequences that these kinds of people faced for being willing to support us.”
Caruso shared that No One Left Behind currently tracks 62,000 Afghan allies of the U.S. who are seeking to emigrate, and that the organization shares the information with the U.S. government so that both entities can coordinate frequent evacuations. This comes with a special importance since during the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul destroyed some passports in its possession, according to Phaneuf.
Phaneuf added that almost all of those passports came from Afghans who temporarily turned those documents over to finalize their visas.
“I’m working with an Afghan right now who — ready to get his visa finalized and scheduled for a flight in late August — handed in his passport, but, because of that, is now trapped in Afghanistan,” Phaneuf said.
Hoover Institution policy makers work closely with No One Left Behind, foremost among them — retired Lieutenant General Herbert Raymond McMaster. The 26th U.S. National Security Advisor and a commissioned officer for thirty-four years, McMaster oversaw the preparation and execution of many operations in the Middle East — particularly Iraq and Afghanistan. This experience drives his “work with No One Left Behind and other groups under the Hoover Afghanistan Relief Team,” he wrote to The Daily.
Also in a statement to the Daily, McMaster’s chief of staff Chelsea Berkey wrote that they and the Hoover Afghanistan Relief Team “remain grateful for No One Left Behind’s sustained efforts to support Afghans at every level of their evacuation and resettlement journey.”
According to Caruso, priorities of No One Left Behind moving forward include increasing the capacity of sites and facilities to host American allies in hostile nations as they await evacuation, continuing advocacy for the shortening of visa-receival timelines and to ensure that these American allies receive robust aid in settling into American society as well as treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) induced by their service in war.
“A lot of these folks — since they served in combat — suffer from mental health issues like PTSD, and they don’t receive either health care benefits or educational benefits the way that veterans do,” Caruso said. “Over the long run, we’re advocating for benefits to be provided to this population so that they’re able to fully integrate and assimilate into American society and ultimately become the most productive contributors in our society that they can.”
However, the legislative proposal that Caruso said possesses the most bipartisan support is “to simplify” SIV programs focused on evacuating American allies in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria and similar countries, and to coalesce those SIV programs “into one permanent program,” so that Congress would not have to “year after year authorize and appropriate more visas.”
Phaneuf explained that this legislation would also close current gaps in SIV programs, such as a twelve-month requirement of active service and disqualification for someone who “served for 10 months and then was wounded while on a combat tour with U.S. troops.”
“Similarly, if the principal applicant passes away before they reach a certain stage in the application process, then their family loses their right to a special immigrant visa,” Phaneuf added.
He hopes that the legislation will repeal this type of disqualification scenario.
Another piece of legislation in development that Phaneuf discussed with members of the Congress and the U.S. State Department in early May focuses on ensuring that these American allies would not be deported a few short years after being granted refuge in the states.
Ultimately, Phaneuf stressed that if the United States leaves behind allies in nations such as Afghanistan with vengeful governments like the Taliban, the U.S. will lose credibility in the sight of future potential partners in war.
“We hope and pray that the U.S. avoids conflict as much as it can, but the reality is that there will be conflicts in the future,” Phaneuf said. “And when that happens, we need the people who worked for us to be confident that we’re going to uphold our promise of protection. I think that’s a national security issue.”
This article has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of Bakht Mohammad’s name and clarify his relation to Jeff Phaneuf. The Daily regrets this error.