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Photo by @erintrieb / The U.S. military’s ongoing withdrawal from Afghanistan, set to be completed by September 11, is raising the stakes for thousands of Afghans who worked alongside American troops and who are still waiting on their SIVs (special immigration visa). The SIV program originated in 2009 to assist Afghans with U.S. immigration, but it's been plagued by a lengthy vetting process and changing politics in Washington. While 16,000 Afghan SIVs have been issued to date, 18,000 applications are currently backlogged. They cover a total of 53,000 individuals, including applicant family members. By law, an SIV application should be processed within nine months, but it often takes up to five years. SIV applications also are often denied without explanation. During the wait, thousands of allies remain vulnerable, facing persistent threats from the Taliban and also even from family members for their collaboration with the United States. Sakhidad Afghan was 19 when he started working as an interpreter for the U.S. military in 2009. In his first year, he saw combat with the Marines in the Battle of Marjah, and he remained an interpreter until the fall of 2014, when American troops drew down and his job disappeared. By then he’d received an anonymous death threat over the phone, so he applied for an SIV to live in the United States. He’d been in the pipeline for three years when, in March 2015, he was tortured, killed, and left by the side of the road. He was 24. A letter bearing the Taliban flag was found stuffed into his pants pocket. It warned that three of his brothers, who also worked for coalition forces, were in for the same fate. Pictured here, one of them, who worked as a driver, mourns Sakhidad’s death at his gravesite, near Kabul. Sakhidad’s parents say neither the U.S. military nor the U.S. government attempted to make reparations to the family after Sakhidad’s death. For more stories from Afghanistan, follow @erintrieb.
Photos by @carltonward / This week marked the completion of the Kissimmee River restoration in the Florida Everglades—the largest successful river restoration project in history. The river connects Lake Kissimmee to Lake Okeechobee, in the heart of the northern Everglades. Once meandering 102 miles (164 km), with a floodplain three miles (five km) wide, the river was converted into a 30-foot-deep (9 m) straight canal in the 1960s. Draining the land also destroyed the wetland ecosystem, cut the waterfowl population by 90 percent, and sped up the flow of nutrient-polluted water from the edge of Orlando into Lake Okeechobee. Restoration work began in 1999 to return flow to 44 miles (70 km) of the river's historic channel and revive much of the original floodplain. These recent photos show the newly meandering river amid wetlands that are once again cleaning water as it flows south to the Everglades. The second photo shows the scar of the drainage canal (upper left) that has been filled back in. The landscape of the Kissimmee River Valley is a vital component of the Florida Wildlife Corridor, a swath that supports endangered species and provides the next frontier for the northward recovery of the Florida panther. While the Kissimmee River Restoration Project took 20 years and $1 billion to complete, it shows that restoration can work. It also provides a cautionary tale of the effectiveness in proactively conserving ecosystems rather than facing far the greater expense and challenge of restoring systems after they are damaged. The @PathofthePanther project is supported by @insidenatgeo. Please see links and @carltonward for more.