On Wednesday, the Biden government announced that it prepared to start evacuation flights for Afghan people (translators and interpreters) who aided the United States military effort in the approximately twenty-year war – but their destinations are still undecided, and there are lasting questions about how to guarantee their safety until they can get on planes.
According to the White House, the Operation Allies Refuge plane fought out of the country during July last week will be available 1st for special immigrant visa candidates already in the process of applying for American residency. However, Jen Psaki, the press secretary of White House, declined to share details of how many Afghan people expected to be in the evacuated list in the initial flights or about their destinations, citing security concerns.
Psaki justifies that they are taking these steps because they are courageous individuals. The government wants to ensure that they acknowledge and value the role they played during the Afghan war. Confirmation of the evacuation flights’ timeline came as U.S. President Joe Biden met with General Austin Scott Miller on Wednesday, who earlier resigned as the top American commander in Afghanistan.
President Joe Biden Wanted to Personally Thank Miller
After the meeting, Psaki said that the president wanted to thank Miller personally for conducting an orderly and safe withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Austin Miller directed the war effort for almost three years, expressed terrible concern in his final days as commander about the instant loss of districts across Afghanistan to the Taliban, telling reporters that a civil war is undoubtedly a way that can be visualized if this continues on the route it is right now.
Lloyd Austin, the U.S. Defense Secretary, also met separately with Miller at the Pentagon and praised his planning for the successful but complex evacuation of thousands of personnel and millions of tons of equipment that so far conducted without a single casualty. However, the president faced bipartisan pressure from representatives to give a plan for the evacuation of Afghan military helpers before the U.S. troops complete withdrawal next month. In response, the White House started briefing representatives on the summaries of their plans last month.
The planning of withdrawal could possibly affect tens of thousands of Afghan nationals. Tens of thousands of Afghan individuals who worked for the U.S., including their family members – are already in the application queue for special immigrant visas. Moreover, the Biden government is also working on identifying a U.S. territory or a third country that could host Afghans while their visa applications are under process.
The CEO and president of Lutheran Immigration & Refugee Service, Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, said that there is too much about the government evacuation plan, which remains unknown. However, the government will help those in regions outside Kabul evacuate. Furthermore, the Taliban made instant gains in taking over big districts of the country, specifically in more rural areas.
How Many Afghans applied for Immigrant Visas?
The government is considering using State Department-chartered commercial planes instead of military planes for the evacuation of Afghan individuals. However, if the State Department requests military aircraft, the United States military would be ready to assist them. On the other hand, Pentagon said that they didn’t receive such requests so far.
A three-time chief of mission in Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Kosovo, Tracey Jacobson, is heading the State Department coordination unit charged with administration Operation Allies Refuge. This unit also includes lawmakers from the departments of U.S. Defense and Homeland Security.
According to the State Department, the American Embassy in Kabul issued around two hundred and ninety-nine special immigrant visas this year in March, three hundred and fifty-six in April, and six hundred and nineteen in May. Last week, the president said that the federal government approved around twenty-five hundred special immigrant visas to come to the United States after holding office.
A projected eighteen thousand Afghans worked for the United States as translators, drivers, and other positions who applied for visas and waiting for the process of their applications. Psaki retold that the White House officials are working with Congress to pass legislation to update the application process. Last week, the president announced that the U.S. military operation in Afghanistan would end on 31st August 2021.