White House, Pentagon Finalizing Plans to Get Thousands of Interpreters out of Afghanistan
No decision yet on where and how Afghans and their families will be housed and fed as they await U.S. visas.
After weeks of pledges to not leave behind interpreters who have worked side by side with U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Pentagon and White House officials on Thursday spoke more bluntly about how they are planning to evacuate those key allies in the waning weeks of U.S. military operations there.
President Joe Biden said efforts were already underway to help those Afghans and their families leave Afghanistan and avoid violent retaliation by the Taliban.
“We’ve already begun the process. Those who helped us are not going to be left behind,” Biden said in response to shouted questions after delivering remarks at the White House on his infrastructure plan.
On Thursday, a senior White House official told NPR that as many as 100,000 Afghans could be transported out of the country.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah will visit both the Pentagon and White House Friday.
Biden said part of the discussion with Ghani will include locations where those thousands of interpreters and their families might live while U.S. officials process their applications to come to the United States.
“He’s coming to my office. That will be discussed. But they’re welcome here just like anyone else who risked their lives to help us,” Biden said.
One option floated by veterans’ groups is to fly those families to Guam, a U.S. territory that has been used as a visa waiting room for interpreters and refugees after the 1991 Gulf War and the Vietnam War.
At a Pentagon briefing shortly after Biden spoke, press secretary John Kirby said while no final decisions have been made, those interpreters and their families could be flown out on chartered flights instead of military aircraft.
“It's not like we haven't done this before using chartered aircraft, commercially leased aircraft or contracted aircraft,” Kirby said. “So there's lots of opportunities here, lots of things that we still have to work through.”
Even if the military has largely drawn down, DOD will be able to conduct the evacuation, Kirby said.
DOD and the State Department have been working to speed the visa process for Afghans, but the effort to help them leave their home country will involve much more than that, Kirby said.
“The planning will obviously include housing and medical care, and, obviously, sustenance, of course, all those things are going to be factored into the planning here for how we are able to continue the [Special Immigrant Visa] process for individuals that we help depart Afghanistan, who's going to do all that,” Kirby said
He said no decision has been made about which government office will provide temporary housing, for example.
“But yes, broadly speaking, the U.S. government will obviously fulfill those obligations, those basic life support and life-sustaining obligations to these men and women and their families,” Kirby said.