The US military is building “eight small cities” to house tens of thousands of Afghanistan evacuees at bases across the country.
More than 25,000 Afghan refugees were already housed at the eight bases as of Friday, said Air Force General Glen VanHerck, who heads U.S. Northern Command.
Eventually, as many as 50,000 will be brought to the bases.
“Our commitment is an enduring one,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told reporters. “This is not just a matter of the next several weeks. We will not rest until we have accomplished the ultimate goal.”
Each base will have its own city-type leadership organization to deal with sanitation, food and other matters, as an increasing number of Afghans are processed from overseas and arrive in the U.S., The Associated Press reported.
VanHerck said there have been problems as the bases grapple with language, cultural and other issues, but he has heard of no serious security issues.
“Building eight small cities, we’re going to have challenges,” he said. He’s asked the Pentagon for more translators who can speak with the Afghans.
Each base has designated a military officer as a “mayor” to be in charge of a couple dorms or housing units, and an Afghan counterpart who can communicate about any ongoing issues.
The evacuees are divided at the bases, with single males and single females in separate housing, and families walled off in their own sections where possible to provide privacy.
So far, few evacuees have tested positive for COVID-19.
The largest number of evacuees, about 8,800, is housed at Fort McCoy in Western Wisconsin, normally an Army training facility that sees as many as 150,000 soldiers rotate through each year. A State Department official told the LaCrosse Tribune that no one is transported directly to the base before screening.
The base is expected to boost its capacity for housing refugees to 13,000 in the coming days, the paper reported.
“As more and more people arrive, there are people who know each other,” said a State Department official who briefed reporters at the facility and noted the refugees “are connecting.”
Officials said a top request from refugees has been WiFi access, and that efforts have been made to upgrade wireless communication.
Local residents have stepped up to help. “There has been an outpouring of support asking for ways to help the Afghan evacuees at Fort McCoy,” the base posted on its Facebook page.
Joint Base McGuire–Dix in Lakehurst, N.J., received about 3,700 evacuees by Friday. The Defense Department said the approximate totals of evacuees at the other bases: Fort Bliss, Texas, 6,200; Fort Lee, Va., 1,700; Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., 650; Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., 800; Fort Pickett, Va., 3,650 and Camp Atterbury, Ind., 65.