The Biden administration plans to evacuate a first group of Afghans, who helped the United States during the Twenty Years’ War and who are now facing reprisals from the Taliban, to an army base in Virginia in the coming days, three American officials said on Monday with.
About 2,500 Afghan interpreters, drivers, and others who have worked with American forces are being dispatched to Fort Lee, Virginia, south of Richmond, to complete their processing for formal entry into the United States, officials said.
The White House announced last week that it would begin evacuating Afghans in the last week of July in an effort called Operation Allies Refuge, but officials declined to comment on many details of the rapidly evolving program including the stay of the first visa applicants.
With the American military in the final stages of withdrawing from Afghanistan, the White House has come under severe pressure to protect Afghan allies who have helped the United States and expedite the process of providing special immigrant visas.
More than 18,000 Afghans who worked as interpreters, drivers, engineers, security, repairs, and embassy workers for the United States during the war are trapped in the bureaucratic limbo after applying for special immigrant visas that face threats to work for the U.S. Government.
American diplomats have sought arrangements to relocate Afghans to third countries, including some in Central Asia and the Persian Gulf, as well as US territories such as Guam, in order to safely complete the visa application process.
But as these negotiations dragged on and the security situation in Afghanistan worsened, the government developed a stopgap solution for applicants who had completed most, if not all, of the reviews: bring them directly to the United States for final processing.
Government officials are working out last-minute details about sending the first group of Afghans to Fort Lee.
Pentagon press secretary John F. Kirby spoke opaque about this option last week when he told reporters that the government may have “short term” shelter for some of the Afghans on bases within the United States while their applications are processed.
However, the vast majority of Afghan applicants and their families would go through the relocation process and be transferred to an American base in another country.
The mission fulfills a promise made by President Biden not to repeat the US allies’ abandonment during the retreat from Vietnam and comes as the Taliban gain ground across Afghanistan, occupying parts of the territory, displacing tens of thousands and wounding or wounding hundreds of civilians kill.
Members of the House of Representatives from both parties, who are expected to pass laws later this week that increase the number of special immigrant visas from the State Department and streamline the application process, praised the government’s efforts, but complained that they should have been made much faster .
“The ability to evacuate now will be different from the ability to evacuate in August, September, October, November,” said Jason Crow, Democrat of Colorado and former Army Ranger, Rep. Who served in Iraq and Afghanistan Has. said this month on MSNBC. “It’s getting worse every month.”