August 22, 2021 ~ By Zachary Stieber ~
Afghan evacuees landed in the United States for the first time since the Taliban took over their home country, U.S. officials said Saturday.
Three flights touched down at Dulles International Airport in Washington, Army Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor told reporters at the Pentagon.
“There are now Afghans, in just one week after beginning this operation, that have left Afghanistan and will be transitioned to Fort Bliss today,” he said.
Many of the Afghans have been granted Special Immigrant Visas under section 602(b) of the Afghan Allies Protection Act of 2009, largely because of the assistance they or family members rendered to U.S. troops following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
Some 34,500 such visas have been allocated since December 2014, and some interpreters who received them landed at Fort Lee in Virginia last month.
Other Afghan evacuees are getting P-2 visas.
The new groups of evacuees were slated to be taken to Fort Bliss in Texas. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin approved that fort and two others, Fort McCoy in Wisconsin and Fort Lee, to temporarily house the special visa applicants, their families, and other Afghans at risk.
The evacuees, who did not need to test negative for COVID-19, were vetted by intelligence, law enforcement, and counterterrorism professionals, according to Taylor.
The government experts “are surging resources to evaluate all of these evacuees to ensure protection of the homeland,” he said.
Space for up to 22,000 evacuees was cleared, military officials have said. That number could ultimately end up higher. President Joe Biden this week said it could be as high as 65,000.
The United States is flying Afghans, Americans, and others from the Hamid Karzai International Airport to Germany and elsewhere before the flights continue on to America, following the recent Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
Some 17,000 since Aug. 14. Approximately 2,500 were Americans, Major Gen. Hank Taylor, deputy director of the Joint Staff for Regional Operations, told reporters.
Despite expressing hope that the number of people flown per day could soon reach 9,000, though, the pace of evacuations has slowed as U.S. officials try to process the streams of people who want out and Americans trying to go home while keeping the airport secure.
In the past 24 hours, just 3,800 people were flown out on six U.S. military flights and 32 charter flights. That’s down nearly 2,000 from a recent 24-hour period, and likely stems from an hours-long shutdown of flights that U.S. officials described as a pause to process special visa applicants.
Taliban fighters control the area outside the airport. They’ve been checking people’s documents at various checkpoints. President Joe Biden said Friday that people with U.S. passports are being let through, though some Americans have said they were blocked by militants and there are reports of terrorists beating Americans in Kabul.
“We don’t believe it’s a very large number,” Kirby said Saturday.
Governors across the nation have said they would welcome Afghan evacuees to their states.
“We are eager to continue that practice and assist with the resettlement of individuals and families fleeing Afghanistan, especially those who valiantly helped U.S. troops, diplomats, journalists, and other civilians over the past 20 years,” Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, a Republican, said in a recent statement.
“We’re already working in terms of a lot of those refugees coming in and working with [community groups] and non-profit organizations to make sure that they feel welcome and celebrated as members of our community,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, told reporters this week.
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