About 700 Afghans who worked for the U.S. government and their families will be evacuated to the United States, with some be staying temporarily at Fort Lee, a large Army post near Richmond, the Pentagon has announced
The move to repatriate thousands of Afghan visa-seekers who assisted American troops during combat operations in Afghanistan is at the heart of Operation Allies Refuge. The Biden administration has been under strong pressure to protect Afghan nationals who worked with the U.S. and allied military and who could be in danger should the country fall to the Islamist Taliban insurgency after the U.S. forces depart.
At least 2,500 Afghans, both applicants and their families, will be arriving in the U.S. in the coming days. Pentagon officials said they are among the group farthest along in the process and have passed security vetting.
“While at Fort Lee, they would be able to safely complete the final steps of the [Special Immigrant Visa] process, such as final medical screenings and final administrative requirements,” chief Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Monday.
Rep. Mike Waltz, a Republican from Florida and former Army Green Beret, called the announcement “welcome news” on Twitter.
“But we still need to see details on how the Biden administration will get the SIV applicants and their families out from across Afghanistan now that we have no bases or military transportation,” he added.
Mr. Waltz said the Afghan interpreters he worked with were nothing less than his lifelines to the local communities.
“Without them, I was deaf and culturally blind,” he said.
The applicants are only expected to be at Fort Lee for a few days. They will stay in single barracks or family housing depending on their family situation. Their numbers could dramatically increase in the future.
“We are still considering overseas military locations,” Mr. Kirby said.
Some members of Congress and advocates for Afghan translators have called for the Biden administration to help those who worked for the U.S. over the past 20 years. The Taliban has been stepping up its military operations against the government in recent weeks, including seizing large swathes of territory as the U.S. troops continued its rapid withdrawal.
“We are mindful of the large numbers in the SIV process right now,” Mr. Kirby said. “We’re going to give the people a safe space for a few days.”
Last week, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Mark Warner urged the president in a letter to act swiftly to help the stranded Afghans.
“Their efforts contributed to the decimation of al Qaeda and its ability to attack the U.S. homeland,” the Virginia Democrat said in a statement. “I applaud the president and his administration for acting to help bring these individuals to safety.”