Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

America's Ronin Refugees: Forgotten Allies of the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

America's Ronin Refugees: Forgotten Allies of the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

Article excerpt

The dynamic nature of America's conflicts overseas have resulted in unintended and undesirable consequences. In the midst of a global refugee crisis, the displacement of thousands of U.S.-trained Iraqi and Afghan security forces poses a threat not only to these wartime allies themselves but also to U.S. national security interests. These wartime allies represent some of the "best and brightest" needed to lead Iraq and Afghanistan during the next decade of US. military drawdown in the region. The international refugee resettlement paradigm is based upon antebellum systems which are no longer valid amid the volatile security situation on the ground throughout the Middle East. While the US. government has made some effort to assist high risk individuals, the majority of our wartime allies turned refugees must navigate a system plagued by bureaucratic backlogs and strained diplomacy in the region. Historical precedence suggests a unique military and diplomatic approach to protect American allies is warranted.



The United States is at war around the world, and the need to protect our partnered forces is critical. Since 9/11, the U.S. government has spent billions of dollars, and hundreds of American servicemen and women have given their lives to train our wartime allies. The threat posed by nonstate actors like ISIS, the Taliban, and al Qaeda against fragile and sometimes corrupt U.S.-Supported governments in Iraq and Afghanistan has led to mass attrition of local security forces. These Iraqi and Afghan forces are a critical component in the current fight against nonstate actors. They represent a future cadre of pro-U.S. allies in a post-conflict world, provided they are supported in their most dire time of need.

An unknown number of U.S. wartime allies have gone into hiding or fled their homes as refugees. Many have decades of distinguished combat service with and without the U.S. military's direct support. They have saved American lives and received awards for valor. However, their service with the U.S. has put them at additional risk not only from nonstate actors, but also from rival government factions.

In many cases, these allies must hide their identity as former soldiers to receive any chance of help from the international refugee system. They have become a "masterTess" shadow force; they have become popularly known as "Ronin."

Ronin is a word derived originally from the ancient Japanese concept of Samurai warriors left without a home or a future after the death of their master. Today, America's Ronin include thousands of Iraqi and Afghan soldiers and policemen who, despite legitimate threats against their safety, are excluded by the U.S refugee support system. The U.S. Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) was designed to provide wartime allies such as interpreters and contractors with a path to resettlement outside the standard refugee process. Unlike the Ronin, these individuals signed contracts with the U.S. government and their successful resettlement has been widely discussed in policy and media. Yet current U.S. refugee resettlement policies are vague and incomplete for threatened allies from foreign security forces. Even the Department of Defense (DoD) has excluded Iraqi and Afghan allies from their limited humanitarian assistance efforts. Thus, Ronin refugees are left with little support from the U.S. government.

Current policy obliges many Ronin to wait years for resettlement into the U.S. and does not account for honorable wartime service with the U.S. military. These outdated policies do not properly recognize real threats facing wartime allies. In the past, massive U.S. military "exodus" operations, such as the helicopter airlift from the embassy in South Vietnam, saved lives but at great cost in political capital and resources. (1) Alternatively, allowing the DoD to participate in or assume the role of the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) is time-consuming and ineffective for the Ronin under threat today. …

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