WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) – The first group of Afghans pledged by the Biden administration to help the United States during the 20-year war in Afghanistan landed on American soil early Friday, July 30, starting a new chapter in life after years of waiting.
A chartered airliner carrying 221 interpreters, drivers and other Afghan people who worked with the U.S. military, along with their families, arrived at Dulles International Airport outside Washington after traveling over hour from Kabul, the Afghan capital, officials said.
From Dulles, they were transported by bus to Fort Lee, Va., South of Richmond, where they will stay at a base hotel for about a week to complete their treatment before being permanently relocated to the United States, have officials said.
The late arrival marked the vanguard of an initial group of around 2,500 Afghans evacuated under threat of Taliban retaliation, in an effort the White House calls Operation Allies Refuge.
Groups of Afghans will arrive by plane about every three days and be transported to Fort Lee, a US official briefed on the arrangements said.
At the sprawling military base about 210 miles south of Washington, Afghans will stay in dedicated floors of the hotel, where private security rather than military police will be in place to keep them safe, officials said.
An additional 4,000 Afghans who have worked with US forces but whose applications require additional approvals will travel to other countries with their families in the coming weeks to complete the visa process before coming to the United States, officials said. responsible.
The United States is negotiating with Qatar and Kuwait to house thousands of Afghans at military bases in those countries for several months while they complete their visa applications and wait for permission to come to the United States.
Diplomats are discussing similar arrangements with Kazakhstan and Kosovo, an official said.
Many of the newly arrived interpreters have long been targets of the Taliban for their cooperation with US troops during the war.
Their passage was promised under two special visa programs designed by Congress, but documentation and security requirements plagued many applicants.
About 18,000 Afghans have been caught in bureaucratic limbo after applying for special immigrant visas, which are available to those at risk because of their work for the US government. The applicants have 53,000 family members, US officials said.
Many more remain trapped as Taliban fighters tighten their grip on rural areas. The administration has been opaque about who exactly will receive the passage, and many fear they will never be found.
On Thursday, Congress agreed to increase the number of special immigrant visas available to Afghans to 19,000 from 11,000 and expand the universe of eligible people by removing certain application requirements.