Biden Administration Sending Afghan Visa Applicants to Army Base in Virginia

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration plans to evacuate an preliminary group of Afghans who helped the United States in the course of the 20-year struggle and who now face reprisals from the Taliban to an Army base in Virginia in the approaching days, the State and Defense Departments stated on Monday.

About 2,500 Afghan interpreters, drivers and others who labored with American forces, in addition to their relations, shall be despatched in phases to Fort Lee, Va., south of Richmond, to await ultimate processing for formal entry into the United States, officers stated.

“This is a group who have completed that step, the security vetting process, the rigorous process that is required before we bring the applicants and their families to the United States,” Ned Price, the State Department spokesman, advised reporters.

The White House introduced final week that it might start evacuating Afghans the final week of July, in an effort known as Operation Allies Refuge, however officers declined to touch upon many particulars of the quickly evolving program, together with the place the preliminary visa candidates and their eligible family members would go in the United States.

With the American army in the ultimate phases of withdrawing from Afghanistan, the White House has come below heavy strain to defend Afghan allies who helped the United States and pace up the method of offering them with particular immigrant visas.

More than 18,000 Afghans who’ve labored as interpreters, drivers, engineers, safety guards, fixers and embassy clerks for the United States in the course of the struggle have been trapped in bureaucratic limbo after making use of for particular immigrant visas, which can be found to individuals who face threats due to work for the U.S. authorities. The candidates have 53,000 relations, U.S. officers have stated.

American diplomats have been scrambling to attain agreements to relocate the Afghans to third international locations, together with some in Central Asia and the Persian Gulf, in addition to United States territories like Guam, to full the visa software course of in security.

But with these negotiations dragging on and the safety scenario in Afghanistan worsening, the administration got here up with a stopgap measure for candidates who had accomplished most, if not all, vetting: Bring them straight to the United States for ultimate processing.

Administration officers are nonetheless figuring out last-minute particulars about sending the primary group of Afghans to Fort Lee.

John F. Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, spoke opaquely about this feature final week when he advised reporters that the administration may doubtlessly home a few of the Afghans at bases contained in the United States on a “short-term” foundation whereas their purposes are processed. This would probably be by humanitarian parole, a authorities program that enables folks to apply to enter the United States for pressing humanitarian causes.

The overwhelming majority of Afghan candidates and their households, nevertheless, would undergo the relocation course of and be moved to an American base in one other nation.

“Clearly, we are planning for greater numbers than just this initial 2,500,” Mr. Kirby stated. “But what that looks like over time, I just couldn’t be able to predict right now.”

Applicants and their households will keep in out there barracks or household housing items at Fort Lee. The Pentagon additionally will present “food and water, proper sustenance, appropriate medical care,” together with coronavirus screening, Mr. Kirby stated.

The mission is geared toward fulfilling a pledge by President Biden to not repeat the abandonment of U.S. allies in the course of the withdrawal from Vietnam, and comes because the Taliban achieve extra floor all through Afghanistan, seizing swaths of territory, displacing tens of hundreds, and wounding or killing tons of of civilians.

House members from each events, who’re anticipated to approve laws this week growing the variety of State Department particular immigrant visas and streamlining the appliance course of, praised the administration’s efforts however complained they need to have occurred a lot quicker.

“The ability to conduct an evacuation now is going to be different from the ability to conduct an evacuation in August, September, October, November,” Representative Jason Crow, Democrat of Colorado and a former Army Ranger who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, stated on MSNBC this month. “It’s going to get worse with each passing month.”

Those looking for a particular immigrant visa are required to submit identification paperwork, proof of their work for the U.S. authorities and a letter of advice from an American official. The applicant should additionally clear a number of background checks, submit fingerprints for every member of the family and go an interview at a U.S. embassy.

Despite a congressional mandate that the State and Homeland Security Departments course of the visas inside 9 months, greater than eight,000 candidates had been stalled longer than that, in accordance to the International Refugee Assistance Project, or IRAP, which filed a lawsuit towards the federal authorities over the delays.

Zolan Kanno-Youngs contributed reporting.