The Biden administration on Wednesday announced plans to evacuate Afghanistan citizens who assisted US troops in fighting the Taliban, dubbing the mission Operation Allies Refuge.
Flights out of the war-torn country will begin at the end of July ahead of the final withdrawal of US troops by Aug. 31.
A senior administration official said “the United States is launching Operation Allies Refuge to support relocation flights for interested and eligible Afghan nationals and their families who have supported the United States and our partners in Afghanistan.”
The official said that “flights out of Afghanistan for [special immigrant visa] applicants who are already in the pipeline will begin in the last week of July.”
President Biden has defended the US troop pullout while saying that many Afghan assistants won’t be able to immediately enter the US and will have to remain in third countries temporarily pending vetting.
Former President George W. Bush, who directed the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks, this week made a rare public comment arguing against the withdrawal, claiming it would set back human rights in the country, including for women and girls.
The Taliban have made steady military gains against the Afghan government as the final US departure nears.
The senior Biden administration official said, “Ambassador Tracey Jacobson, a three-time chief of mission in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Kosovo, is leading the State Department Coordination Unit that will deliver on the president’s commitment under Operation Allies Refuge.”
Political stances on the Afghanistan pullout don’t fall neatly along party lines. Members of both parties support and oppose the policy.
Biden announced in April that US troops will leave Afghanistan before the 20th anniversary of the US invasion. Plans to leave Afghanistan were developed at the end of the Trump administration before Biden affirmed that troops would be exiting after fighting the longest US war on record.
Biden has insisted there won’t be humiliating images of US defeat after the pullout akin to the 1975 fall of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War.
“There’s gonna be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy of the United States from Afghanistan,” Biden said last week.