In what it’s calling “Operation Allies Refuge,” the United States is moving an initial group of 2,500 Afghans, who worked for the Western coalition, as well as their families to the Ft. Lee base in Virginia.
Other bases may be used in the future, but those locations aren’t known yet.
Fort Lee is located about 25 miles south of Richmond, VA. It is the home of the U.S. Army Combined Arms Support Command – Sustainment Center of Excellence. It will serve as a way-station for Afghans who have passed the State Department’s screening for special immigrant visas, said Pentagon spokesman John Kirby.
“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.
The plan is to get them to Ft. Lee for just a few days and then resettle them with the help of the State Department and various refugee agencies.
The Biden administration, according to State Department spokesman Ned Price, has created a task force to take qualified Afghan applicants out of the clutches of the Taliban and to the United States “once security vetting is complete.”
The task force includes personnel from several government agencies
“These are brave Afghans and their families… whose service to the United States has been certified by the embassy in Kabul and who have completed a thorough security vetting process,” Price said at a press conference.
Other Nations Will Also Host Afghan Allies
Price added that there are another 4,000 applicants who don’t yet have the level of visa approval for visas that the initial group has. Under Operation Allies Refuge, Washington plans to take those individuals to other countries, where they will be provided with accommodations that “can last a number of months.”
There are currently 20,000 Afghans who are trying to get “Special Immigrant Visas” (SIVs); some have been trying for several years.
“We are striving to shorten these processing times at every stage,” Price said. He added that the administration is pressing more U.S. government employees to get involved in the process to speed things up.
Many members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, have expressed concern about the fate of the Afghans, especially the interpreters who worked closely with the United States during the past 20 years of conflict against the Taliban.
While some Congress members are praising the efforts thus far as encouraging, others worryingly noted that there was no plan to move the Afghans out before now.
Rep. Michael McCaul (TX), the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s top Republican, called the lack of planning “deeply concerning.”
“This has been an extremely haphazard withdrawal from the beginning and the Biden administration’s inability to provide a detailed strategy on how they will support and protect our remaining Afghan partners is unacceptable,” McCaul said.
The Defense Department sent a notice out to members of Congress this week trying to explain the details of Operation Allies Refuge.
“These initial relocation flights, the first under Operation Allies Refuge led by the State Department, will place America’s commitment to those who have helped us into action-providing transportation to secure locations at which the requirements of the [visa] process can be safely and thoroughly completed,” the DoD notice said.
“In line with a formal request for assistance from interagency partners, the [Defense] Department has recommended Fort Lee, Virginia as the temporary host installation for the first group of SIV applicants embarking on relocation movements,” the notice to Congress added.
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