Petraeus, a retired four-star general who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, said there have not been enough “Special Immigrant Visas” granted to translators and the approval process is slow, overall.
“This is not something you can pin on this administration, clearly, I mean the reason is quite simple. We just haven’t done enough. The SIV numbers have not been adequate. When it comes to Afghanistan, I think there are 7,000 roughly, still waiting,” Petraeus said on Friday during an American Enterprise Institute event titled, Lost in translation: The unsung war heroes of Iraq and Afghanistan.“The reason is it took us a long time to get to the SIV legislation and then it has taken a long time to get the numbers up to where they ought to be.”
The Trump administration amended its executive order that restricts travel from certain Middle Eastern countries for 90 days on Thursday. The restrictions have been clarified as not applicable to Iraqi translators and their family members. When the order was initially rolled out, translators’ family members experienced difficulty entering the U.S.
Petraeus was asked how President Trump’s executive order, which also pauses refugee programs for 120 days, would impact U.S. security.
“It depends a great deal on how we clarify as we go forward on the speed with which we resolve what additional steps are required, the logic that’s behind all of that, and frankly at the end of the day, the communication of all of that as well,” he replied. “If that is done in a matter, again, that recognizes 99 percent of almost any faith want to get along together and provide for themselves and their families and help their kids do a little bit better than they did, then I think we will be in good shape.”
“Government rations certain activities. If it doesn’t, then costs are endless and so forth and I suspect there’s some of that kind of thinking that went on here, that if we open it up too wide that the next thing every Afghan will be there because they will have claimed to have worked – you know, there will be some logic perhaps like that in the mind of some staffer and that’s all I can surmise,” he said.
Petraeus recalled asking the local translator he had in Haiti where he wants to be in 10 years, expecting him to say he wants to be the president of Haiti but instead he said he wanted to be an American.
“It struck me. I mean we didn’t go to Haiti to allow everyone to come to America. We went to Haiti to improve the conditions in that country so in fact they wouldn’t be getting into rickety boats to come to America so again there maybe some of that, if we are just honest with each other about that,” he said. “And the truth is, I suspect, that certainly a large number if not the majority of the translators and interpreters would have loved to just be able to stay in their own home country where their families are.”
Petraeus also said the future of Iraq depends on “the battle after the battle,” alluding to forthcoming political solutions that might be implemented there. Petraeus argued that an “inclusive” government that guarantees “minority rights” should be re-established in Iraq to prevent “ISIS 3.0.”
“The way forward in Iraq will depend greatly on the battle after the battle. It’s never been a doubt that the Iraqi security forces supported by the U.S. and the coalition would be able to defeat the army that is the Islamic State,” he said. “It’s about whether politics can be inclusive or not.”