Price said in a video statement that “the Department of Defense has agreed, at the request of the Department of State, to allow the use of Fort Lee Virginia as the initial relocation site for the pool of applicants who are closest to completing special immigrant processing.” The Post reports the group includes roughly 700 allies and 1,800 family members, representing a small portion of the up to 20,000 allies waiting for safety after aiding U.S. military, and roughly 53,000 family members.
“The other Afghan applicants who are further along in the process but have not been approved through the security vetting process will go to US military bases overseas or to third countries,” CNN said. The Wall Street Journal and Politico said thousands more allies and families will reportedly be evacuated to U.S. military bases in Qatar and Kuwait to await their visa processing. “The Qatar and Kuwait arrangements are ‘basically done deals,’ said the congressional source, adding that the armed services committees have been informed of the plan,” the latter reported.
Per that report, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said families evacuated to Fort Lee at the end of this month will remain there for only a short amount of time before being relocated elsewhere in the U.S., presumably with the assistance of refugee resettlement agencies. And while the first evacuation flights from Operation Allies Refuge are welcome news, advocates and lawmakers expressed worry over families who are still in danger.
One Afghan man who worked as a contractor with the U.S. Agency for International Development told NPR in June that he’s been receiving threatening calls from people purporting to be from the Taliban. “They told me on the phone that ‘We know where you live,’” he said in the report. “Every day, you can see an increase in the Taliban’s presence. What am I going to do after September? What’s going to happen in November? Am I going to even be alive by December?” That report also noted the particular danger facing Afghan women who aided U.S. military.
“The Taliban are already here, they are just a few kilometers away from the town where I live,” one woman said according to a testimony provided by International Refugee Assistance Project to NPR. “They are not going to show mercy, nor would they listen to any justification. They are thirsty for retaliation, especially against women. They even kill civil servants who worked for the [Afghan] government, then imagine the fate of those who worked for the Americans.”
“There are still many questions around the logistics for evacuating the majority of applicants, notably, how to move those not currently in Kabul,” tweeted Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) President Krish O’Mara Vignarajah. “They will almost certainly have to travel through Taliban territory to access evacuation flights. Last week Pentagon Press Sec. said that DOD has NOT been asked to support transportation of allies into Kabul. As of right now, they are on their own to make the dangerous trip.”
“I’m pleased that the State Department will be bringing an initial group of Afghan SIV applicants to the United States, and that DOD has recommended Fort Lee to house this first group,” Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine said. In his statement, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner said he applauded the evacuation to the state, and encouraged “further swift action to help the thousands of other Afghans and their family members who remain at risk because of their support for the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.”
In officially announcing Operation Allies Refugee, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said “[t]he reason why we are taking these steps is because these are courageous individuals. We want to make sure we recognize and value the role they’ve played over the last several years.” In a speech the week prior, President Biden said our nation’s message to allies and their families was that “[t]here is a home for you in the United States if you so choose, and we will stand with you just as you stood with us.”
“I gave everything I had to the Americans, but once they are gone, I will be killed,” interpreter Abdul Rashid Shirzad told the Post in July. While the report said he had glowing letters from military officers calling him a “true hero” and a man of “great character and integrity,” his application was denied in 2016. He appealed but has heard nothing back. He remains in danger. “They keep track of us, and they don’t shoot us like they do Afghan soldiers,” he continued. “If they catch me, they will behead me.”