White House preparing to relocate Afghans who helped US

White House preparing to relocate Afghans who helped US

The official said the administration has already begun to identify a group of interpreters to be relocated outside of Afghanistan

White House. Credit: iStock Photo

The Biden administration is stepping up preparation for relocating tens of thousands of Afghan interpreters and others who worked with US forces during the war to other countries as their applications for US entry are processed, a senior administration official said Thursday.

The official said planning has accelerated in recent days to relocate Afghans, and their families, who assisted Americans during the nearly 20-year-old war to other countries or US territories as their applications are being sorted out. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the yet-to-be publicly announced plans.

The White House began to brief lawmakers on the outlines of their plans on Wednesday.

Also read — Junkyard of empires: Afghans sift through leftovers of US occupation

The official said the administration has already begun to identify a group of interpreters to be relocated outside of Afghanistan before the US completes its drawdown by September.

Those individuals have already begun the process of applying for special immigrant visas available to Afghans who have worked with the US. The official stressed that administration relocation efforts would comply with US consular law and would be coordinated with Congress.

The White House is planning for a variety of scenarios including "additional relocation or evacuation options" if necessary, the official said.

With US and NATO forces facing a September 11 deadline to leave Afghanistan, the Biden administration has faced increased pressure from lawmakers, veterans and others to evacuate thousands of Afghans who worked as interpreters or who otherwise helped US military operations there in the past two decades.

“We have a moral obligation to protect our brave allies who put their lives on the line for us, and we've been working for months to engage the administration and make sure there's a plan, with few concrete results,” Republican Rep. Peter Meijer of Michigan said during a House hearing last week.

Despite unusual bipartisan support in Congress, the administration hasn't publicly gone on record in support of an evacuation as it unwinds a war that started after the 9/11 attacks.

The Biden administration and US military officials have spoken carefully about relocation — and largely sidestepped talk of a mass evacuation — amid growing concerns about the precarious security situation for the Afghanistan government in the face of diminished US military presence.

In part, US officials have been concerned that word of an evacuation could trigger a panic in Afghanistan, not to mention further complicate the present security situation.

The Taliban issued a statement earlier this month saying those who worked for US and western interests would not be targeted. Still for many the runaway corruption, deep insecurity and fear of violence from Taliban and from the many heavily armed US-allied warlords has many Afghans seeing the special immigration visas as their last chance to leave their war-tortured nation.

As part of its plan, the White House will also push to surge resources to help process special immigration visa applications to help those who remain in Afghanistan after the US military drawdown but want to leave for the US, according to the official.

The official added that the administration is looking to work with Congress to find quick fixes to make the application process more efficient including eliminating duplicative paperwork and adjusting requirements that do not impact national security.

The move to accelerate plans to relocate Afghans who helped the US effort comes as Biden is set to meet on Friday with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation.

Rep. Seth Moulton, a Massachusetts Democrat who has been pushing the administration to move more quickly on the issue, said Thursday he had not yet seen details of the White House plan.

“As a Marine, I want to see a specific plan,” Moulton said. “I want to see an operational plan to know how this is going to unfold and have confidence that it will be successful.”

The stepped-up relocation effort was first reported by The New York Times. 

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