President Joe Biden announced on Thursday that U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan would officially conclude on August 31, 2021 and that the U.S. would begin efforts to evacuate at-risk Afghans, including those who worked with U.S. and coalition forces throughout the 20-year war in Afghanistan and their families.
Biden described a plan in which at-risk Afghans could stay in U.S. facilities outside Afghanistan, as well as willing third party countries as those Afghans await processing for special immigrant visas (SIV) to come to America.
“Starting this month, we’re going to begin relocation flights for Afghanistan SIV applicants and their families who choose to leave,” Biden said.
“Our message to those women and men is clear,” Biden added. “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 plan to evacuate these at-risk Afghans comes as the Taliban has expanded its territorial control in Afghanistan in the two months since President Biden initiated the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country.
Afghans who have helped U.S. forces, including as interpreters, have already been targeted and in recent weeks, and Taliban officials have told those Afghans to “show remorse” for their support of the U.S. and other coalition forces over the years.
Advocates for these at-risk Afghans have raised concerns that there isn’t enough time to process the growing backlog of SIV applications, estimated at around 18,000 unprocessed applications, given the growing Taliban threat.
During his announcement, Biden said his administration had “already dramatically accelerated the procedure time for special immigrant visas to bring them to the United States.”
Biden said under his administration, the U.S. has processed about 2,500 SIVs, but only about half of those approved applicants have chosen to exercise their SIV option and board flights to the U.S.
On Thursday, Biden described the U.S. drawdown from Afghanistan since April as a rapid process, adding, “in this context, speed is safety, and thanks to the way in which we’ve managed the withdrawal no one, no one of U.S. forces or any forces have been lost.”
Biden said, like the U.S., other NATO allied forces in Afghanistan have also been able to withdraw without sustaining any casualties.
Biden said it is the responsibility of the Afghan people to govern their country, and that the U.S. and NATO allies have trained and equipped nearly 300,000 Afghan government forces. He also said after U.S. forces leave, the U.S. will continue to provide civilian and humanitarian to Afghanistan and the U.S. will continue “speaking out for the rights of women and girls” in the country.
“I intend to maintain our diplomatic presence in Afghanistan,” Biden said. “And we are coordinating closely with our international partners in order to continue to secure the international airport and we’re going to engage in a determined diplomacy to pursue peace and a peace agreement that will end this senseless violence.”
Biden also said the U.S. will continue to work to secure the release of captured and detained Americans, such as Mark Frerichs, a former U.S. Navy diver and U.S. contractor believed to have been kidnapped by the Taliban in January of 2020.