57 Children, 15 Infants Among 221 Afghans On First Evacuation Flight to U.S.

Fifty-seven children and 15 infants were among the 221 Afghans evacuated to the U.S. on the first flight under a special visa program, according to an internal U.S. government document obtained by the Associated Press.

The flight, which landed Friday in Dulles, Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C., was the first evacuation flight for Afghans who worked alongside American servicemembers and civilians in Afghanistan and now fear retaliation from the Taliban.

"Most of all, I want to thank these brave Afghans for standing with the United States, and today, I am proud to say to them: 'Welcome home,'" President Joe Biden said in a statement.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Afghan refugee children
Among the more than 200 Afghans on the first evacuation flight from Afghanistan for resettlement in America were 57 children and 15 infants. Above, children from the internally displaced Afghan families arriving from districts of Khan Abad, Ali Abad and Imam Sahib, who fled due to the ongoing battles between Taliban and Afghan security forces, look on inside the premises of a school in Kunduz city on June 26, 2021. STR/AFP via Getty Images

The evacuation flights highlight American uncertainty about how Afghanistan's government and military will fare after the last U.S. combat forces leave that country in the coming weeks.

Family members are accompanying the interpreters, translators and others on the flights out.

Biden called the flight "an important milestone as we continue to fulfill our promise to the thousands of Afghan nationals who served shoulder-to-shoulder with American troops and diplomats over the last 20 years in Afghanistan." He said he wanted to honor the military veterans, diplomats and others in the U.S. who have advocated for the Afghans.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin lauded the Afghans for their work alongside Americans and said their arrival demonstrates the U.S. government's commitment to them.

The Biden administration calls the effort Operation Allies Refuge. The operation has broad backing from Republican and Democratic lawmakers and from veterans groups. Supporters cite repeated instances of Taliban forces targeting Afghans who worked with Americans or with the Afghan government.

Congress on Thursday overwhelmingly approved legislation that would allow an additional 8,000 visas and $500 million in funding for the Afghan visa program.

Biden announced earlier this year the U.S. would withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan by September 11, honoring a withdrawal agreement struck by former President Donald Trump. He later said the U.S. military operation would end on August 31, calling it "overdue." Some administration officials have expressed surprise at the extent and speed of Taliban gains of territory in the countryside since then.

Biden said that although U.S. troops are leaving Afghanistan, the U.S. will keep supporting Afghanistan through security assistance to Afghan forces and humanitarian and development aid to the Afghan people.

The newly arrived Afghan people will join 70,000 others who have resettled in the United States since 2008 under the special visa program.

Subsequent flights are due to bring more of the roughly 700 applicants who are farthest along in the process of getting visas, having already won approval and cleared security screening.

The first arrivals were screened for the coronavirus and received vaccines if they wanted them, said Tracey Jacobson, the U.S. diplomat running the effort. They were expected to stay at Fort Lee, Virginia, for about seven days, completing medical exams and other final steps, Jacobson said. Resettlement organizations will help them as they travel to communities around the United States, with some bound for family members already here, she said.

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More than 200 Afghans landed Friday in the United States in the first of several planned evacuation flights for former translators and others as the U.S. ends its nearly 20-year war in Afghanistan. Above, an Afghan interpreter with the U.S. Army's 4th Squadron 2d Cavalry Regiment helps to question a villager during a joint patrol with soldiers from the Afghan National Army on March 5, 2014, near Kandahar, Afghanistan. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)