These relocations are intended to provide safe accommodation for interpreters and other personnel who have worked with the American military forces that are leaving.
WASHINGTON — On Thursday, President Biden stated that his administration would relocate thousands of Afghan translator, drivers, and other people who were part of American forces in Afghanistan. This is to ensure their safety while they apply to enter the United States.
Reporters at the White House were told by Mr. Biden that “those who helped us aren’t going to be forgotten.”
The American military is in the final stages of withdrawal from Afghanistan. After 20 years of war, the White House has been under pressure to protect its allies in Afghanistan from the Taliban’s revenge attacks and accelerate the complex and lengthy process of granting them special immigrant visas.
Officials from the administration informed lawmakers on Wednesday that they were about to begin a mass move of up to tens of thousand Afghans. Officials stated that the Afghans would be moved to other countries, or to another country to await processing of their visa applications to enter the United States.
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Officials declined to give specifics about where the Afghans would be waiting, nor did they say if third countries were willing to accept them. Officials said Guam, which is an American territory, could also be a possibility. People who have completed the application process will be granted the opportunity to move.
John F. Kirby was the chief Defense Department spokesperson. He told reporters that officials from the Pentagon, State Department, and the White House were still working out details for the relocation effort. He stated that “We are committed to helping this withdrawal from Afghanistan.”
According to the Pentagon, there are contingencies that could evacuate up to 100,000 people using a combination military and chartered civilian planes. However, Mr. Kirby stated that he has not seen such high numbers in recent internal discussions.
Representatives of the administration and legislators were briefed about preliminary details of the relocation plan. They said that several temporary destinations were being considered for Afghan visa applicants, which included several Middle East countries along with Guam.
After applying for special immigrant visas that are available to those who face threats due to their work for the U.S. government, more than 18,000 Afghans have been stuck in bureaucratic limbo.
Officials stated that the applicants had 53,000 relatives.
Senior administration officials stated that family members of applicants will also be relocated out of Afghanistan to third countries to await visa processing under the plan. The visa processing will not be guaranteed for applicants who are being transported out of Afghanistan. It is not clear if people who aren’t eligible will be sent back to Afghanistan, or if they will be allowed to travel in another country.
Because they were not allowed to speak publicly about the decision, the officials spoke under the pretext of anonymity.
This is amidst a worsening security situation in Afghanistan, as Mr. Biden prepares for Friday’s meeting with President Ashraf Ghani.
According to Aides, Mr. Biden will press Mr. Ghani to show unity and encourage them to cease fighting when there is a crisis in the country.
They assured Mr. Ghani that he would continue to provide financial support from the United States for the Afghan government. This included a $266million humanitarian assistance package and $3.3B in security assistance. There was also significant aid to combat the coronavirus pandemic, which includes vaccines, testing kits, and personal protective equipment.
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Officials stated that the administration was working to simplify the visa process for Afghans who served with U.S forces and that they had increased the number of people handling the applications.
In recent weeks, both the Senate and the House have been increasing pressure on the administration to quickly act on behalf of the Afghans. At a Pentagon budget hearing, on Wednesday, lawmakers pressed Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III, and Gen. Mark A. Milley (chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff), for quick action.
On Thursday, translator advocates expressed relief mixed with caution.
Jason Crow, a Democrat from Colorado, and a former Army Ranger who served in Iraq, and Afghanistan, tweeted that he was glad to see the first step. Every day is important. We cannot wait any longer
Mr. Crow is part the Honoring Our Promises Working Group, which is made up of 10 Democrats as well as six Republicans. Last week , introduced legislation to expedite special immigrant Visas from Afghanistan and increase the number of available to 19,000 from the 11,000.
Massachusetts Democrat Representative Seth Moulton and a former Marine officer, who also pushed for the White House, said that “the Biden Administration recognizes that this visa process will not satisfy this need.”
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Moulton stated that Guam is “standing by with open arms to accept American allies from Afghanistan.” He stated that he believed that an operational commander should be appointed to oversee the evacuation.
According to Mr. Moulton, “This is a positive day in this story but it is not the end of the story,” he told Capitol Hill reporters. “There’s still much to do.”
VoteVets.org posted a video to social media that featured an Afghan interpreter, who had been evacuated and begged Mr. Biden for help.
The video stated that there are thousands of translators in Afghanistan and they don’t have the time to wait. Do right for Afghan soldiers and civilians who served with them as you withdraw American troops. They are yours too.
General Milley stated that the military was ready and able to move Afghans who have applied for special visas at Wednesday’s House hearing. He said, “I believe it is a moral imperative that we take care of those who have served alongside us.” “We are ready to execute any directive.”
The special immigrant visa program has been plagued by delays and logjams for more than a decade. Democrats accuse Trump, the former president, of causing the problem by starving it of staff and resources.
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The coronavirus pandemic didn’t help matters. A surge in cases at Kabul’s embassy resulted in in-person interviews and vetting.
In January, a State Department report stated that “limited staffing” was affecting visa applications and that “local safety conditions directly linked to the Covid-19 pandemic were causing serious problems.
Recent weeks have seen both Democrats and Republicans in Congress introduce bills to speed up the process as well as to waive some requirements such a requirement that applicants must undergo expensive medical examinations. In December, Congress increased the total visa program cap by 4,000 to 26,500 as part of a massive spending bill.
Many advocates for refugees and non-profit groups have also pressed the Biden administration to do more.
A total of 70 organizations wrote to Mr. Biden recently requesting that his administration “immediately execute plans to evacuate vulnerable U.S.affiliated Afghans”. This is a step that the White House is taking.