Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Friday welcomed the arrival in the U.S. of the first contingent of Afghan nationals who aided the 20-year U.S. combat mission in their country and now face potential revenge attacks from insurgent Taliban forces.
More than 200 Afghan nationals, including family members of those who worked with the U.S., arrived on a flight to Virginia to be housed for now at Fort Lee. About 10 times that number, including interpreters, contractors and their families, are still in the security screening process and expected to come in the near future.
“These brave men and women, at great risk to themselves and their families, served alongside U.S. and coalition forces and diplomats to support our operations and prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for terrorism that threatens our homeland,” Mr. Austin said in a statement. “We have spoken many times about the moral obligation we have to help those who have helped us, and we are fully committed to working closely with our interagency partners to meet that obligation.”
The Biden administration has faced bipartisan pressure from Congress to provide refuge to Afghan interpreters and other allies as U.S. forces near the completion of their withdrawal from the country.
Many fear they will be targeted by the Taliban, who have been on attack and seizing territory as U.S. troops and their allies withdraw.
The State Department is overseeing the resettlement program, and Mr. Austin said 300 U.S. service members are preparing Fort Lee and providing logistical support for the first new arrivals.
The refugees will spend about a week at the Virginia fort and be given a medical check-up before being relocated to sites around the country, according to administration officials.
There remains a much larger backlog of about 18,000 Afghan interpreters, contractors and others still hoping to secure a so-called “special immigrant visa” allowing them to resettle with their families in the U.S.
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