U.S. coordinating with allies to evacuate 4,000 Afghan nationals who helped coalition forces

U.S. Army 1st Lt. Benjamin Riley (right) and a Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul interpreter (center) meet a villager during a patrol to the Arghandab River, Afghanistan, on July 19, 2011.

Source: U.S. Army

WASHINGTON – The United States is working with allies on securing several overseas locations for approximately 4,000 Afghan nationals and their families as U.S. and coalition troops withdraw from the war-torn country.

The interagency effort, dubbed Operation Allies Refuge, comes as the State Department works through a backlog of more than 10,000 special immigrant visas for eligible Afghans who helped coalition forces. Those who have completed the majority of their visa process will be evacuated to a U.S. Army garrison in Virginia.

A senior State Department official, who requested anonymity in order to discuss specific details of the relocation plan, said that Afghan nationals and their families will remain at Fort Lee for approximately seven to 10 days.

The official added that because of a limited U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, those eligible for an evacuation flight must make the trek on their own to Kabul.

“We don’t have the ability to provide transportation for them. If they’re let’ say in the north of the country and they don’t feel safe staying in Afghanistan they could go to a neighboring country and finish the rest SIV [special immigrant visa] application process there,” the official said.

Last week, the White House announced it will begin evacuation flights this month for Afghan nationals and their families who assisted U.S. and NATO coalition forces during America’s longest war.

As the Taliban makes rapid advances on the battlefield, there are concerns that Afghans who helped U.S. and NATO forces will face retribution.

In April, Biden ordered the full withdrawal of approximately 3,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, effectively ending America’s longest war. Last week, Biden gave an updated timeline and said that the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan will end by Aug. 31.

“We did not go to Afghanistan to nation-build,” Biden said in remarks at the White House. “It’s up to the Afghans to make decisions about the future of their country.”

At the Pentagon on Wednesday, the nation’s highest military officer told reporters that the U.S. has completed more than 95% of the herculean task of withdrawing from Afghanistan.

“The sheer volume of movement involved in this operation has been extraordinary,” said Chairman of the Joint Chiefs U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley, adding that the U.S. conducted more than 980 airlifts of cargo in less than three months.

“Furthermore, all the military operating bases, outside of Kabul, have been fully transferred to the Afghan Ministry of Defense and the Afghan security forces.”

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