US to begin evacuating Afghans who aided US military, but their number and destination remains unknown

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The US government is about to begin evacuation flights for the Afghan interpreters and translators who aided the US military effort during the nearly 20-year war.

Operation Allies Refuge flights from Afghanistan in the last week of July will first be available to special immigrant visa applicants already in the process of applying for residence in the United States, according to the House. White.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki declined on Wednesday to say how many Afghans should be among those evacuated in the first flights or where they would be taken, citing security concerns.

“The reason we are taking these steps is because they are courageous individuals,” said Ms. Psaki.

“We want to make sure that we recognize and value the role they have played over the past few years.”

President Joe Biden has come under pressure from both sides of US politics to come up with a plan to help evacuate Afghan military aid before US troops withdraw next month.

There are also a number of former interpreters, contractors and security guards who have helped Australia over the past 20 years, and who are now desperately trying to leave the country.

Earlier this month, Foreign Secretary Marise Payne told the ABC the Australian government prioritizes visa applications based on their merits.

Senator Payne said 230 Afghans had been granted protection in Australia in the previous month.

Much remains unknown on US plans

The American evacuation plan could potentially affect tens of thousands of Afghans.

Several thousand Afghans who have worked for the United States – along with their family members – are already in the process of applying for special immigrant visas.

The Biden administration has also worked to identify a third country or U.S. territory that could host Afghans while their visa applications are being processed.

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service chairman and chief executive Krish O’Mara Vignarajah said much about the plan remained unknown, including how the administration would help people living in areas outside of the country. capital Kabul.

The Taliban quickly took control of large swathes of the country, especially in more rural areas.

“Unfortunately, there are still far too many unanswered questions, including who exactly and how many people are eligible for the evacuation. How will those outside the capital access safety?” said Ms. Vignarajah, whose group has helped resettle thousands of Afghans in the United States.

“And to which countries will they be evacuated? We have serious concerns about the protection of the human rights of our allies in the countries that have been announced as potential partners in this effort.”

A man in a US military uniform hands a rolled up flag to another man.
U.S. Afghanistan War-Leading General Austin Miller handed over command to Naval General Kenneth McKenzie and left the country earlier this week. (Reuters: High Council for National Reconciliation)

The administration weighs in using State Department-chartered commercial planes, not military jets, according to an administration official, who has not been allowed to publicly discuss internal deliberations and has spoken on condition of anonymity.

But if the State Department asks for military planes, the U.S. military would be ready to help, the official said.

U.S. officials have said that one possibility under consideration is to move Afghan visa applicants to neighboring countries in Central Asia, where they could be protected from possible reprisals from the Taliban or other groups.

The White House and the State Department declined to comment on the exact number of people to be relocated or where they might go.

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul issued 299 special immigrant visas in March, 356 in April and 619 in May, according to the State Department.

Mr Biden said last week that the federal government had approved 2,500 special immigrant visas to come to the United States since his inauguration in January.

An estimated 18,000 Afghans who have worked for the United States as interpreters, drivers and other positions have applied for visas and are waiting for their application to be processed.

Ms Psaki said the White House was working with Congress on legislation to streamline the application process.

Mr. Biden announced last week that the US military operation in Afghanistan would end on August 31.

George W Bush, who as president started the war, criticized the Western withdrawal from Afghanistan in an interview with a German broadcaster published Wednesday, saying he fears for Afghan women and girls as the Taliban take over. control of much of the country.

“It’s amazing how this society has changed since the brutality of the Taliban, and all of a sudden – sadly – I fear that Afghan women and girls are suffering indescribable harm,” Bush said.

PA

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