8 U.S. Bases Housing Afghan Refugees Near Capacity as Overseas Flights Set to Resume

New Afghan evacuees are expected to arrive in the United States next week, military officials said Thursday, as thousands conclude an almost monthlong pause in the Middle East and Europe to get the measles vaccine, the Associated Press reported.

The head of U.S. Northern Command, General Glen VanHerck, told reporters that roughly 14,000 refugees staying overseas are set to be transported to the U.S. VanHerck added that about 53,000 are spread across eight U.S. military bases, edging close to their 64,000 capacity.

"I would anticipate that the flights will start here in the very near future," said VanHerck. "Next week we could see something" because the 21-day vaccination process would be complete.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Afghan U.S. Military Bases
Afghan refugee girls watch a soccer game from a distance near the Village at the Fort McCoy U.S. Army base on Thursday in Fort McCoy, Wisconsin. The fort is one of eight military installations across the country that are temporarily housing the tens of thousands of Afghans who were forced to flee their homeland in August after the U.S. withdrew its forces from Afghanistan and the Taliban took control. Barbara Davidson/Pool/Photo via AP

VanHerck said that there are 4,000 evacuees at the U.S. bases who have completed their medical and other screening processes and have been cleared to leave and resettle in the United States. As they begin to move to their new homes, that will free up room at the bases for those being flown in from overseas.

"We're relying on the output to ensure that we'd have enough capacity for the additional remaining Afghans coming this way," he said. An additional 2,400 Afghans already finished the screening process and have already moved on to their new homes.

Thousands of Afghans were airlifted out of Afghanistan in a chaotic evacuation effort in the wake of the U.S. military withdrawal and the swift takeover of the country by the Taliban.

But as Afghan refugees began arriving at bases around Europe and the Middle East, cases of measles were detected. Acting on the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Customs and Border Protection paused all flights of Afghan refugees around September 10. The evacuees have been held at the bases while they get vaccinated and wait for 21 days so the vaccine can take effect.

Overall, VanHerck said there have been 24 cases of measles, including 12 cases that are active. He said that as of Thursday, all of the Afghans have been vaccinated for measles, and the 21-day waiting period will start ending early next week for some, depending on when they got the vaccine.

Asked about assaults and other problems at the U.S. bases, VanHerck said that two Afghans have been indicted in connection with sexual assaults at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin. There have been other incidents, including minor skirmishes and assaults, as well as eight reported cases of robbery and theft.

Federal authorities are still investigating the assault on a female service member by three to four men at Fort Bliss, New Mexico. So far, no one has been arrested or charged in that incident, and officials are still trying to identify the men.

VanHerck also said that about 84 percent of the evacuees are at least partially vaccinated for COVID-19. He said this recent three-week pause in movement has given many enough time to get their second shot. And some have received the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.