U.S. to Begin Evacuating Afghans Allies in Late July
The White House kept crucial details under wraps, including who would ultimately be eligible and where evacuees could safely be sent while their visa applications were reviewed.
Evacuations for Afghans Who Helped U.S. Troops Will Begin This Month
Former Afghan interpreters, who worked with U.S. troops in Afghanistan, demonstrated in Kabul last month.Credit…Reuters
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration said on Wednesday that it would begin evacuating Afghans this month who helped the United States during the 20-year war and who could face revenge attacks by the Taliban.
The evacuation, called “Operation Allies Refuge,” will start the last week in July, officials said.
“The reason that we are taking these steps is because these are courageous individuals,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, told reporters. “We want to make sure we recognize and value the role they’ve played over the last several years.”
But the White House kept crucial details under wraps, including who would ultimately be eligible for evacuation, what role the U.S. military would play and where evacuees could safely be sent while their visa applications were reviewed. Those details are most likely not going to be made public until the Afghans’ safety can be assured, Ms. Psaki said.
U.S. Will Begin Evacuating Afghans, Pentagon Says
John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said Wednesday that the United States was prepared to begin evacuation flights for Afghan interpreters and translators who helped the U.S. military effort in the nearly 20-year war.
This afternoon at President Biden’s direction, the United States will begin relocation flights for the first group of eligible and interested Afghan nationals and their families who have supported the United States and our partners and who are in the special immigrant visa pipeline and we’ll begin those relocation flights by the end of this month. The department’s role in Operation Allies Refuge will continue to be one of providing options and support to the interagency effort that’s being led by the State Department. To date, we have identified overseas locations and we’re still examining possibilities for overseas locations to include some departmental installations that would be capable of supporting planned relocation efforts with appropriate temporary residences and associated support infrastructure. The department remains eager and committed to doing all that we can to support collective government efforts, U.S. government efforts, to help those who have helped us for so long.
John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said Wednesday that the United States was prepared to begin evacuation flights for Afghan interpreters and translators who helped the U.S. military effort in the nearly 20-year war.CreditCredit…Reuters
With the American military in the final phases of withdrawing from Afghanistan, the White House has come under heavy pressure to protect Afghan allies who helped the United States and speed up the process of providing them with special immigrant visas.
President Biden has vigorously defended his administration’s decision to end the war and has maintained that the United States will formally complete its military mission at the end of August.
He has faced criticism for the decision, notably from former President George W. Bush, who ordered the invasion of Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Mr. Bush has argued that the pullout will lead to a geopolitical and humanitarian crisis.
“I am afraid Afghan women and girls are going to suffer unspeakable harm,” the former president said in an interview on Wednesday. “They are scared.”
Afghans who want to participate needed to already be in the “pipeline” of the State Department’s special immigrant visa program, said the administration official who announced the mission, adding that it would be limited to those who “supported the United States and our partners in Afghanistan.”
More than 18,000 Afghans who have worked as interpreters, drivers, engineers, security guards, fixers and embassy clerks for the United States during the war have been trapped in bureaucratic limbo after applying for special immigrant visas, available to people who face threats because of work for the U.S. government. The applicants have 53,000 family members, U.S. officials have said.
Last month, when he announced his plan to assist the Afghans who had aided American forces, Mr. Biden insisted that his administration would not be leaving them to fend for themselves.
“Those who helped us are not going to be left behind,” he said at the time.
The question now is where they will go once they are evacuated. John F. Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, told reporters on Wednesday that officials may potentially house some of the Afghan visa applicants at bases inside the United States on a “short-term” basis while their applications are processed. This would most likely be through humanitarian parole, a government program that allows people to apply to enter the United States for urgent humanitarian reasons.
“I would say that the reason why we’re being careful about the information we’re putting out is because just like we’ve been careful about the information regarding the U.S. drawdown,” Mr. Kirby said, “we don’t want to see anybody get hurt.”
The vast majority of applicants and their families would go through the relocation process and be moved to an American base in another country. The options include Qatar, Kuwait and bases throughout Europe, as well as U.S. territories, including Guam.
The mission fulfills a pledge by Mr. Biden to not repeat the abandonment of U.S. allies during the withdrawal from Vietnam, and comes as the Taliban gain more ground throughout Afghanistan, seizing swaths of territory, displacing tens of thousands, and wounding or killing hundreds of civilians.
But among former Afghan interpreters, the news was greeted with skepticism.
“They’ve promised a lot, and so far they’ve given nothing,” said Omid Mahmoodi, a former interpreter. “I’m still not believing it. There are thousands who will be left behind.”
Some interpreters have minor blemishes on their service records that have hurt, or even destroyed, their chances at securing a visa thus far. Others criticized plans to send former interpreters to countries other than the United States while their applications are processed.
Sherin Agha Jafari, another interpreter, said there were dozens like him who were considered ineligible for “very small reasons,” even though they were greatly at risk in the event of a Taliban takeover.
“I feel we will not be getting a visa,” he said. “The problem is that nobody is talking about the terminated combat interpreters. Their service is called ‘unfaithful’ so they will not be given visas. There are a lot like this.”
Others who worked with American forces were relieved, but anxious about where they might fall on the priority list.
“Very glad to hear the news,” said Wahidullah Rahmani. “I think I’m on the list. But it’s going to take a little bit of time for them to process me.”
In December, Congress added an additional 4,000 slots to the special visa program in preparation for a pullout that was supported by both Mr. Biden and his predecessor, President Donald J. Trump. Since 2014, the program has issued about 26,500 visas to foreign nationals deemed at risk because of their cooperation with U.S. forces.
The evacuations will be directed by Ambassador Tracey Jacobson, a three-time chief of mission in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Kosovo, and will include representatives from the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, the official added.
The announcement was part of the complex, double-time choreography of moves required to quickly end a deployment two decades in the making.
Gen. Austin S. Miller, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan for nearly the past three years, arrived in Washington on Wednesday, Pentagon officials said. Ms. Psaki said Mr. Biden would be meeting with General Miller personally that evening.
“General Miller oversaw the vast majority of our drawdown from Afghanistan, which is a particularly vulnerable period for our troops,” Ms. Psaki said. “That this drawdown has been conducted in such an orderly and safe way is a testament to General Miller’s leadership.”
General Miller, who gave up his command at a muted ceremony in Kabul on Monday, was greeted at Joint Base Andrews by Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. While in Washington, General Miller is expected to brief Mr. Biden and other senior administration officials. He is expected to retire later this year.
Rear Adm. Peter G. Vasely, a former member of the Navy SEALs, will take charge of the security mission at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. Admiral Vasely reports to Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., a four-star Marine officer who heads the military’s Central Command in Tampa, Fla.