The U.S. is said to be preparing to evacuate Afghan civilians who helped the U.S. as interpreters and specialists throughout the nearly 20-year war in Afghanistan and are now being targeted by the Taliban.
The New York Times first reported on Thursday that senior administration officials began informing lawmakers on Wednesday of a plan to relocate those at-risk Afghans outside of Afghanistan. Politico later reported its own two unnamed official sources had confirmed the evacuation plan.
When asked about the reported evacuation plan on Thursday, Biden said only, “Those who helped us are not going to be left behind,” USA Today reported.
The U.S. withdrawal is more than 50 percent complete and concerns are growing that the Taliban will resurge in Afghanistan when the withdrawal is complete, and that Afghans who helped the U.S. will face particularly harsh retribution. Afghan interpreters have already been targeted and in recent weeks, Taliban officials have told those Afghans to “show remorse” for their support of the U.S. and other coalition forces.
The U.S. has a special immigrant visa (SIV) program intended to help those U.S.-allied Afghans immigrate to the U.S. to avoid reprisals. Currently, there are an estimated 18,000 Afghans awaiting approval on their SIV visas. Some advocates have raised concerns that there isn’t enough time to process those SIV applications before the U.S. finally completes its Afghan withdrawal.
“That’s a pretty big number to move and to process administratively in a short period of time retired U.S. Army Gen. Joseph Votel, the former commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), told American Military News in a recent interview.
Proposals to help protect those U.S.-allied Afghans have ranged from expanding the SIV program to ordering a mass evacuation and potentially placing those Afghans in Guam while they await approval for their SIV applications.
The details of the reported evacuation plan are unclear, but the New York Times reported officials would be moved to a third-party country while they await their VISAs. The officials declined to tell the New York Times what third -party countries were being considered to temporarily host those evacuated Afghans, or if any of those countries had even agreed to take them.
The officials who spoke with the New York Times reported those 18,000 Afghans would bring with them about 53,000 family members. The officials said under the proposed plan, family members of applicants would also be moved out of Afghanistan to a third country to await visa processing, potentially adding up to about 71,000 people total to be evacuated from Afghanistan by the U.S.
The efforts to protect these at-risk Afghans have seen support from both Democrats and Republicans. Last week, Rep. Jason Crowd (D-CO) introduced legislation to expedite SIV processing for U.S.-allied Afghans. The legislation has been cosponsored by 38 Democrat lawmakers and the Democrat Congressional delegates for the District of Columbia and Guam, and 14 Republican lawmakers, and the Republican Congressional delegate from Puerto Rico.