The Biden administration plans to begin this month evacuating interpreters and other Afghans who face deadly retaliation for helping U.S. troops during the 20-year war, according to the White House.
The evacuation operation, known as “Operation Allies Refuge,” comes as the U.S. troop withdrawal accelerates and the Taliban fighters gain territory.
“We will help as many of the bold and courageous individuals as we possibly can,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki.
The operation will relocate those who have applied for Special Immigrant Visas, a program for U.S. enablers, to countries outside to await approval to come to America.
Details of the operation are unclear including the number of applicants eligible for evacuation or the location they will be relocated to. Administration officials cited “operational security” concerns as their reason for withholding details.
The State Department has stood up a coordination unit for the effort led by a former Chief of Mission to Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Kosovo, Tracey Jacobson. Deputy Homeland Security Advisor Russ Travers will coordinate the interagency policy process. Representatives from the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security will also be involved in the operation.
President Biden confirmed his commitment to the Afghanis in his speech detailing the troop withdrawal last week.
“There is a home for you in the United States if you so choose, and we will stand with you just as you stood with us,” the president said.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have grown increasingly vocal in their calls for the administration to act, citing an accelerating troop withdrawal timeline and a State Department visa process ensnared in a backlog of close to 18,000 applicants, which some estimate could take until next year to work through.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire Democrat, welcomed the new details.
“Relieved for our Afghan allies who have been waiting for this day to come and that there is a clear path forward,” she said on Twitter. “Every effort must be made to see through a safe and efficient evacuation for our partners.”
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