Internally displaced families from northern provinces of Afghanistan, who fled from their homes due the fighting between Taliban and Afghan security forces, take shelter at a public park in Kabul Aug. 10, 2021. (CNS photo/Reuters)

By Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The “human dignity” of Afghanistan’s people “must be respected” amid the chaos in the country, the head of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services said Aug. 17.

“The fall of Afghanistan and the departure of its elected leaders are a cause for concern, because of the possible denial of human rights, particularly for women and girls,” said Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio.

The Taliban, an extremist Islamic movement that ruled Afghanistan until ousted by a U.S.-led coalition nearly 20 years ago, swiftly took control of the capital city of Kabul Aug. 15 after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country. Several other major cities have fallen to the Taliban.

President Joe Biden announced in April that he would end U.S. involvement in the war in Afghanistan, and he gave the Pentagon until Aug. 31 to complete the withdrawal of the remaining 2,500 to 3,000 troops in that country when he made his announcement. As of mid-August, the number of U.S. troops had dropped to about 650.

But since the Taliban began taking over large swaths of the country, Biden ordered the return of several thousand U.S. troops to secure the airport in Kabul and conduct security measures to help with the evacuation of thousands of people who want to leave the country.

“My two visits to the country confirmed my impression regarding the sacrifices, even including death, made by many members of the Armed Forces and civilians striving to bring stability and peace to the people there,” Archbishop Broglio said.

“At the moment, however, we can only pray for the Afghani people, support any humanitarian efforts that are in place there (especially through Catholic Relief Services), and give voice to local leadership on all sides,” he said.

“Naturally, I am particularly concerned about those in the U.S. Armed Forces who continue to defend refugees and assets in the country,” the archbishop added. “We pray that there will be no violence and a peaceful departure for all of those desiring to leave.”

On Aug. 16, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops tweeted: “Let us continue to pray for all those in #Afghanistan and for peace amid conflict. #PrayTogether.”

In other reaction, Bishop Declan Lang, chair of the international affairs department of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, said even when situations appear hopeless, Christians should place hope “in the Lord Jesus Christ, to whom we pray in the knowledge that he will never abandon the people of Afghanistan.”

“Today our hope can be placed in those who are working tirelessly for dialogue, justice and peace in their country,” he said. “Our hope can be placed in the humanitarian organizations that are continuing to offer their assistance, and the efforts to welcome and protect refugees fleeing their homes.”

Afghan nationals who provided translation, interpretation, security, transportation and other vital services to the U.S. troops in the last two decades have feared reprisals from Afghanistan’s Taliban, even more so now as its fighters advance around the country in the absence of the U.S. military.

The New York Times reported Aug. 17 that “tens of thousands of Afghan nationals” who risked their lives to assist the U.S. military in Afghanistan “are more desperate than ever to leave.”

Citing data from the International Rescue Committee, a global nongovernmental humanitarian relief agency, the Times said over 300,000 Afghan civilians “have been affiliated with the American mission over its two-decade presence in the country … but a minority qualify for refugee protection in the United States.”

In 2006, the U.S. Congress first authorized a bipartisan humanitarian program to provide Special Immigrant Visas, or SIVs, for nationals from Afghanistan and Iraq that include resettlement services and legal permanent residence for the approved principal applicants, their spouses and children.

Since the creation of the program, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services has worked with the U.S. Department of State, the Office of Refugee Resettlement and other nongovernmental organizations to provide resettlement services to some of the over 73,000 Afghan SIV holders and their families.

On July 14, the White House announced the emergency relocation of Afghan SIV applicants in their final stages of processing to the United States, with the first of that group arriving in the United States July 30.

Planeloads of Afghans arrived at Dulles International Airport in Virginia outside of Washington and they were then taken to Fort Lee, near Petersburg, Virginia. The families were pre-vetted and able to complete the immigration process safely stateside. Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, is helping resettle the newcomers.