Evacuating all American citizens and allies from Afghanistan “is necessary to ensure we keep our promises” as a nation, a MOAA official said during a bipartisan press event Monday in Washington, D.C., hosted by a group of more than two dozen veterans serving in Congress.
“MOAA’s stance remains for our nation to keep promises made,” said Lt. Col. Mark Belinsky, USA (Ret), MOAA’s director of government relations for currently serving and retired affairs, during the For Country Caucus event. “Our currently serving members and those who previously served in Afghanistan developed very close relationships with interpreters and Afghan Security Forces. Many fought shoulder to shoulder, and it is a matter of national conscience to evacuate our citizens and allies.”
Belinsky, whose service included deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq, joined For Country Caucus members from both parties as well as veterans representing the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Association, and Non Commissioned Officers Association for the Monday event. The 25-member For Country Caucus sent an Aug. 20 letter to President Joe Biden seeking a commitment “to evacuating all Americans and Afghan partners.”
That request was echoed by all who spoke at Monday’s event.
“There are Americans that are literally trapped behind enemy lines … and we believe, all of us, that every single American should come home. That we should bring our allies home,” said Rep. Van Taylor (R-Texas), a caucus co-chair and Iraq War veteran.
Caucus vice-chair and Marine Corps veteran Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.) stressed the immediate need to focus on the evacuation effort.
“There’s plenty of time to finger-point,” Carbajal said. “There’s plenty of time to examine, have hearings, and all that. What today is about is the United States honoring our word. … We as a country today need to stand by our allies.”
Rep. Jack Bergman (R-Mich.), a retired Marine Corps lieutenant general and the highest-ranking combat veteran ever elected to Congress, pointed to the bond of service held by the caucus members and how it shapes their efforts in this cause.
“The commonality is, we all understand the mission,” Bergman said. “We all understand leadership. … And above all, you never leave anyone, anyone behind.”
Members of the caucus stressed the need to move the Aug. 31 deadline if necessary to complete the evacuation mission, and to understand the national security threat created by falling short in this endeavor – not just in Afghanistan, but in future conflicts.
“If we don’t stand by those friends and allies right now, we will find ourselves dealing with future threats and challenges alone,” they wrote in the Aug. 20 letter.
As Congress holds the administration to account in evacuation efforts, it must also live up to other commitments made to those who fought in Afghanistan and in other battles, Belinsky said.
“This tragedy is also a time for us to reflect: To reflect on keeping promises to our currently serving and retired servicemembers —especially those we lost and those who were injured in combat,” he said at the press event. “As Congress works to complete the National Defense Authorization Act, we ask that they consider inclusion of the Star Act for combat injured, and consider improving reserve component compensation as the active and reserve component secure Kabul International Airport and conduct evacuation operations.”
Support MOAA’s NDAA Efforts
You can make your voice heard on these MOAA priorities by asking your lawmakers to co-sponsor bills addressing these issues in the current legislative session. The more support these bills have, the better the chance of their inclusion in the final NDAA:
- Fix the TRICARE Young Adult Coverage Gap
- Support the Military Hunger Prevention Act
- Support Concurrent Receipt
- Support Legislation Extending TRICARE Coverage to Certain ‘Gray Area’ Retirees
- Support the Military Retiree Survivor Comfort Act
- Secure Health Care for Servicemembers in the Selected Reserve
- Support the Retained Skilled Veterans Act