The first flight carrying about 200 at-risk Afghan evacuees, who helped U.S. and coalition forces during the 20-year mission in Afghanistan, arrived in the U.S. at Fort Lee, Va. on Friday morning.
Afghans who served as cultural specialists and interpreters for U.S. and Coalition troops throughout the two decades of military operations in Afghanistan have faced reprisals from Taliban militants. The arrival of the at-risk Afghans, who are coming to the U.S. through a Special Immigrant Visas program, comes after Biden announced on July 8 that the U.S. would begin relocation flights by the end of July.
In a Thursday press phone call with reporters, Senior Deputy Advisor Russ Travers and Ambassador Tracey Jacobson described the Biden administration’s effort to evacuate at-risk Afghans through what they are calling “Operation Allies Refuge.” Of an initial cadre of 700 SIV applicants, Travers said the number of applicants and their families is about 2,500 people. Travers said the first flight, which took off Thursday, includes about 200 Afghans.
On Friday morning, as that first flight arrived, President Joe Biden said, “Today is 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. This morning, the first flight of Operation Allies Refuge has arrived in the United States, carrying Afghans who are eligible for Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) and their families.”
Biden said the arriving Afghan SIV applicants who served alongside U.S. forces have already been vetted with background checks and security screenings by the U.S. intelligence community and the Departments of State and Homeland Security (DHS). Biden said those arriving SIV applicants and their family members will complete the final steps of their visa applications and required medical checks at Fort Lee, “before traveling onward to begin their new lives in the United States.”
“I want to honor all those in the United States who have spoken out on behalf of these brave Afghans, including the proud community of veterans, who have consistently advocated for the Afghans who were by their side in the field in Afghanistan, often serving as translators and interpreters,” Biden said. “And I want to thank the diplomats and public servants across our government and around the world who are working tirelessly as part of Operation Allies Refuge.”
Biden added, “Although U.S. troops are leaving, we will continue to support Afghanistan through security assistance to Afghan forces, as well as humanitarian and development aid to the Afghan people to help them sustain their achievements of the past 20 years.”
There are an estimated 18,000 Afghans awaiting approval on their SIV visa, and it is estimated they would bring with them about 53,000 family members. Those thousands of Afghans would join an estimated 70,000 Afghans who have already come to the U.S. since the SIV process began.
On Thursday, Travers said the first flight of about 200 Afghans “now join the over 70,000 Afghans who have received SIVs and started new lives in the U.S. since 2008.”