The Department of Defense is planning to accommodate up to 22,000 Afghan special immigrant visa (SIV) applicants at military bases in the U.S., the department confirmed on Monday.
The U.S. Army has already been providing housing and care to some 2,000 Afghans at Fort Lee, Va., but the plan to accommodate up to 22,000 Afghans would expand capacity at Fort Lee, and extend to Fort Bliss, Texas and Fort McCoy, Wis.
“At this point, we’re looking to establish 22,000 spaces. We can expand if we need to,” Garry Reid, director of the Department of Defense’s Afghan Crisis Group, told reporters at the Pentagon on Monday.
Pentagon Spokesperson John Kirby added that the U.S. doesn’t anticipate 22,000 Afghans, but is planning for that capacity. “We want to make sure we’re ready,” Kirby said.
Kirby said that the U.S. has the capacity to fly out 5,000 people from Kabul per day if the airport can continue to be secured without evacuation flights being interrupted. At full capacity, he said, evacuation flights should be able to reach completion by President Joe Biden’s August 31 full withdrawal deadline.
The DoD will accept thousands of Afghans at military bases in the U.S. while they await the screening process to live in the U.S. under special immigrant visas. The SIV process was devised as a way for Afghans, like the ones who served as interpreters for U.S. and coalition forces, to emigrate from Afghanistan and avoid potential retribution by the Taliban.
“The situation in Afghanistan may lead to DoS [Department of State] allowing Afghan SIV applicants to be moved to temporary housing locations while still being vetted for parolee status,” a DOD document shown to Fox News said.
Kirby also told Fox News that American citizens will not be given over Afghan SIV applicants at the Kabul airport.
“Once we get more airlift out of Kabul, we’re going to put as many people on those planes as we can,” he said. “There will be a mix, not just American citizens, but perhaps some Afghan SIV applicants as well. We’re going to focus on getting people out of the country, then sorting it out at the next stop. It’s not going to be just Americans first, then SIV applicants. We’re going to focus on getting as many folks out as we can.”
The relocation effort would come as a step up from prior efforts taken under President Joe Biden to rapidly evacuate Afghan SIV applicants. The plan to quickly bring tens of thousands more SIV applicants to military bases in the U.S. comes after the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan rapidly collapsed under pressure from the Taliban.
On Sunday, the Taliban seized control of the Afghan capital city of Kabul. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country and U.S. forces completely evacuated the U.S. Embassy in the city. About 6,000 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan, with the majority providing security at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. Those U.S. forces at the airport are also handling air traffic control and coordinating evacuation flights out of the country.