As the US troop pullout in Afghanistan closes in on its end-of-August deadline, the Biden administration has announced it will begin to evacuate Afghans who assisted American forces during the 20-year war to a military base in Virginia to protect them from reprisals by Taliban fighters.
Around 2,500 Afghans who worked for the US government will be relocated to Fort Lee, a military base just south of Richmond, while they wait out the process for the special immigrant visa program.
Members of Congress have expressed concerns for the safety of the thousands of Afghans who served as interpreters or other staff as Taliban militants continue to gain territory in Afghanistan while US forces withdraw.
“These are brave Afghans and their families, as we have said, whose service to the United States has been certified by the embassy in Kabul and who have completed thorough SIV security vetting processes. They will be provided temporary housing and services as they complete the final steps in the special immigrant process,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said Monday.
Price said the first flights ferrying Afghans out of the country could happen before the end of July.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby wouldn’t comment on a specific timetable but said at Monday’s briefing that the Afghan assistants and their families will only be housed at the base temporarily as part of “Operation Allies Refuge.”
“We don’t anticipate that these individuals and their families will be at Fort Lee or any other domestic installation, should another installation be required, for long — probably several days or so,” he said.
“You have to remember that these people and their families are in the very final stages of the SIV process, so there’s just not a need for them to be on a military installation for long before they’ll work through the resettlement process, so just a few days,” Kirby said.
President Biden initially announced in April that troops would be pulled from Afghanistan by Sept. 11 — the 20th anniversary of the terror attacks — and then accelerated that timetable last month, setting an Aug. 31 deadline.
Price said the visa applicants who have completed the security vetting process will be brought to the US.
Another group of about 4,000 who have yet to complete the security clearance will be taken to locations outside the US while the process continues.
Of the 2,500 being evacuated to the US, 700 are Afghans who worked with the US government and the remaining 1,800 are family members.