U.S. Accelerating Plan to Evacuate Afghans who Assisted Military

Planning by the Biden administration to evacuate tens of thousands of Afghans who assisted U.S. troops during the war has accelerated in the past few days, according to officials close to the matter. Afghan interpreters and others who aided the U.S., as well as their families, will be temporarily relocated to a to-be-determined location while their applications to enter the U.S. await approval.

One senior administration official said that the U.S. plans to complete the evacuation during a later summer month, such as August, the Associated Press reported. The possibility of relocating the Afghans to a U.S. territory would be difficult as it could provide visa applicants increased legal rights before they have been approved.

The administration has already begun briefing lawmakers on the evacuation plans and selecting Afghans to be evacuated before the U.S. withdraws completely from the country in September, an official said.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Afghan Evacuees
In this Friday, April 30, 2021, file photo former Afghan interpreters hold banners during a protest against the U.S. government and NATO in Kabul, Afghanistan. With American troops withdrawing from Afghanistan, pressure has been mounting for the Biden administration to plan a military evacuation of Afghans who supported U.S. military operations during two decades of war in their country. Mariam Zuhaib/AP Photo

Those individuals have already begun the process of applying for special immigrant visas available to Afghans who have worked with the U.S. The official stressed that administration relocation efforts would comply with U.S. consular law and would be coordinated with Congress.

The White House is planning for a variety of scenarios including "additional relocation or evacuation options" if necessary, the official said.

With U.S. and NATO forces facing a Sept. 11 deadline to leave Afghanistan, the Biden administration has faced i ncreased pressure from lawmakers, veterans and others to evacuate thousands of Afghans who worked as interpreters or who otherwise helped U.S. military operations there in the past two decades.

"We have a moral obligation to protect our brave allies who put their lives on the line for us, and we've been working for months to engage the administration and make sure there's a plan, with few concrete results," Republican Rep. Peter Meijer of Michigan said during a House hearing last week.

Despite unusual bipartisan support in Congress, the administration hasn't publicly gone on record in support of an evacuation as it unwinds a war that started after the 9/11 attacks.

The Biden administration and U.S. military officials have spoken carefully about relocation — and largely sidestepped talk of a mass evacuation — amid growing concerns about the precarious security situation for the Afghanistan government in the face of diminished U.S. military presence. In part, U.S. officials have been concerned that word of an evacuation could trigger a panic in Afghanistan, not to mention further complicate the present security situation.

The Taliban issued a statement earlier this month saying those who worked for U.S. and western interests would not be targeted. Still for many the runaway corruption, deep insecurity and fear of violence from Taliban and from the many heavily armed U.S.-allied warlords has many Afghans seeing the special immigration visas as their last chance to leave their war-tortured nation.

As part of its plan, the White House will also push to surge resources to help process special immigration visa applications to help those who remain in Afghanistan after the U.S. military drawdown but want to leave for the U.S, according to the official.

The official added that the administration is looking to work with Congress to find quick fixes to make the application process more efficient including eliminating duplicative paperwork and adjusting requirements that do not impact national security.

The move to accelerate plans to relocate Afghans who helped the U.S. effort comes as Biden is set to meet on Friday with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation.

Rep. Seth Moulton, a Massachusetts Democrat who has been pushing the administration to move more quickly on the issue, said Thursday he had not yet seen details of the White House plan.

"As a Marine, I want to see a specific plan," Moulton said. ""I want to see an operational plan to know how this is going to unfold and have confidence that it will be successful."

The stepped-up relocation effort was first reported by The New York Times.

U.S. Soldiers in Afghanistan
In this Nov. 30, 2017, file photo, American soldiers wait on the tarmac in Logar province, Afghanistan. With American troops withdrawing from Afghanistan, pressure has been mounting for the Biden administration to plan a military evacuation of Afghans who supported U.S. military operations during two decades of war in their country. Rahmat Gul/AP Photo