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Photo illustration by The Free Press, images via Getty, Tracey Jacobson image via U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia.

Tracey Jacobson Abandoned Our Afghan Allies. Now She’s Getting a Promotion.

The woman who failed to rescue U.S. friends from the Taliban is Biden’s nominee for ambassador to Iraq.

When America was retreating from its 20-year-war in Afghanistan in August 2021, Omar was one of the Afghan allies President Joe Biden promised to rescue. He had performed a perilous task for the U.S. military: identifying and neutralizing roadside mines embedded by the Taliban insurgency. 

Omar was supposed to receive a special immigrant visa, or SIV, which would have been his ticket to a new life in the U.S. now that his old life was in grave danger from the Taliban. 

He never got that SIV. Instead, after being stopped at a checkpoint last February, Taliban thugs dragged him from his home two days later and beat him to a pulp for helping the United States. His family found his unconscious body lying limp on the street. After four surgeries, Omar succumbed to his wounds and died that same month. (The Free Press is withholding Omar’s last name to protect his family) 

Nearly two years after Biden’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, there are 150,000 Afghans like Omar who put their lives at risk to work with the U.S. government, but are still waiting for their SIVs. Though the SIV process was supposed to provide an escape route for our Afghan allies, that process was “chaos incarnate,” said Tom Kasza, the executive director of the 1208 Foundation, which helps former Afghan allies obtain their visas.

And yet the woman in charge of the SIV Taskforce during the fiasco is getting a promotion. Last week, the White House nominated Tracey Jacobson, 59, to be the next U.S. ambassador to Iraq. The last time Biden talked publicly about Jacobson was on August 14, 2021, the day before Kabul fell to the Taliban. The president said he was putting Jacobson “in charge of a whole-of-government effort to process, transport, and relocate Afghan Special Immigrant Visa applicants and other Afghan allies.” 

America’s ambassador to Iraq is a crucial appointment now that the U.S. is engaged in a regional war with Iran and its proxies. Iran’s militias in Iraq, which draw their salaries from the government budget in Baghdad, have stepped up their attacks since Hamas’s October 7 massacre in Israel. One of those militias, the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, claimed credit Sunday for a drone attack on a U.S. base in Jordan that killed three service members and wounded at least 34 more.

Jacobson has extensive experience as a diplomat, having worked as an ambassador to Kosovo, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. Her most recent post was as the chargé d’affaires for the U.S. embassy in Ethiopia. But she has no experience serving at a senior level in an Arabic country. 

Rich Goldberg, a senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a veteran of the Afghanistan war, told The Free Press that “Jacobson’s appointment is emblematic of a White House that has internalized disaster as success. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Iran’s decision to set the Middle East on fire—both of these events connect directly to the withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021.” 

Her nomination will draw serious scrutiny in the Senate, which is expected to vote on her appointment next month. Senator Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that will decide Jacobson’s fate, told The Free Press he doubts she is the right person for the job. “Tracey Jacobson played a central role in one of the most unforgivable of those failures, the abandonment of vetted Afghans who had risked their lives for our security, and it will undoubtedly mar and endanger her nomination,” he said. 

Since the withdrawal, hundreds of thousands of Afghans have fled to Pakistan. But in September, Pakistan’s military began a brutal campaign to force these migrants back to the country they left. It has been particularly perilous for Afghans who sided with America in its war against the Taliban. They now live with a target on their back. 

The SIV process, which involves obtaining letters of recommendation from U.S. officials, a labyrinth of official forms and paperwork, and protocols that have changed over time, is nearly impossible to navigate for people living underground in fear of the Taliban. 

“The goalposts are always moving,” Kasza said. “You don’t know what recommendations or documents are needed. A letter that would have been accepted nine months ago might be rejected today.” 

State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told The Free Press that “Ambassador Jacobson is proud of the Afghanistan task force she led from mid-July to mid-August 2021, which created streamlined processes from bringing SIV applicants to the United States.” He added, “As a result of her work and the work of others, we have been able to issue nearly 38,000 SIVs to principal applicants and their eligible family members since January 2021. The work is not complete and the Department will continue to demonstrate its commitment to the brave Afghans who stood side-by-side with the United States. The Department has also taken a number of steps to improve the SIV program, including continuing to streamline the application and adjudication process.” 

But Simone Ledeen, a former Pentagon official who has worked with veteran groups to rescue Afghan allies since 2021, told The Free Press, “If the goal of the task force was to effectively help our Afghan allies become American citizens, then it has utterly failed.” She added, “It is shocking that someone with such a profound, demonstrated history of failure gets appointed to this job.” 

Kasza, a former active duty Army Green Beret who testified this week before the House of Representatives, said when he served in the war, Afghan contractors took on the perilous task of sweeping the roadside mines known as improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that maimed and injured thousands of U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

“Unlike myself, these guys didn’t go home after a deployment,” Kasza said. “These guys undertook far more risk than any other U.S. soldier.” 

Eli Lake is a Free Press reporter. Follow him on X (formerly Twitter) @EliLake. Read his last Free Press piece, “American Troops Know: Iran Is Already at War with Us.”

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