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US military bases to house up to 50,000 Afghans

Evacuees from Afghanistan board a Boeing 777 departing Naval Air Station (NAS) Sigonella, Sept. 4, 2021. (U.S. Navy photo by Andrea Rumple)
September 07, 2021

An estimated 50,000 Afghan refugees are to be housed on eight U.S. military bases, according to U.S. Northern Command head Air Force Gen. Glen VanHerck.

During a Pentagon press conference on Friday, VanHerck said U.S. Northern Command is “working around the clock” to increase capacity for Afghan personnel. As of Friday, the total capacity at eight different installations was around 36,000.

“We’re working to increase capacity to at least 50,000 and we continue to provide culturally appropriate food, water, bedding, religious services, recreational activities and other services, such as transportation from the port of entry to the location of accommodations, and some medical services,” the general said.

Over 25,600 evacuees have arrived in the United States so far, including special immigrant visa applicants and asylum-seekers, he said, adding that it is unlikely additional bases will be needed.

While the evacuees’ applications are being processed, they are receiving necessary services at Fort Lee, Va.; Fort McCoy, Wis.; Fort Bliss, Texas; Joint Base McGuire-Dix–Lakehurst, N.J.; Holloman Air Force Base, N.M.; Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.; Fort Pickett, Va.; and Camp Atterbury, Ind.

Fort McCoy in Wisconsin currently has the largest number of Afghan refugees at almost 9,000, whereas Camp Atterbury in Indiana has the fewest with around 60.

VanHerck said the duration of processing applications falls on the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department. He said he was unsure exactly how many refugees have been processed off installation, but estimated around 1,000.

“In addition to that, the — Headquarters Air Force has provided a cultural advisor, again fluent in the languages, to help with the cultural challenges that everybody needs to understand,” VanHerck explained.

“With regards to interpreters, linguists, those kinds of things to support, those are challenges.  We’re — we’re seeking as many as we can through the interagency process,” he continued. “We’ve also had a, you know, request for forces out to DOD for additional support.  I’m confident that we’re going to get that support as we go forward.  Great people volunteering to help us out.”

VanHerck also said the military is testing “every single Afghan personnel” for COVID-19, adding that they are tested at Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C., as well.

“Last week during my trip, we visited Bliss and McCoy, and we saw at one location three positive COVID tests out of more than 1,300; one at another location out of 1,200,” he noted. “And yesterday during my visit to Task Force Liberty there was no concern expressed by the commanders or any of the medical professionals about COVID positivity rates or testing.”