(WASHINGTON) — The first Afghans who worked for the U.S. military and diplomatic missions are being evacuated and will arrive in the U.S. late Thursday night or early Friday morning, according to a source familiar with the plans.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday that they would arrive “very, very soon,” speaking during a press conference in Kuwait. He confirmed that the U.S. and Kuwait have had diplomatic discussions about hosting another group of Afghans, including during the day’s meetings, but he did not announce an agreement to do so.
These arrivals are the first after President Joe Biden’s pledged to support Afghan interpreters, guides and other contractors who served alongside U.S. troops and diplomats — many of whom now face threats from the Taliban as the militant group gains strength amid the U.S. military withdrawal.
Biden ordered all remaining American forces out of the country by the 20th anniversary this fall of the Sept. 11th attacks, which first brought U.S. troops to Afghanistan to destroy al Qaeda’s operations in the country and topple the Taliban government that gave them sanctuary.
Afghans who worked for the U.S. mission and now face threats for that work are eligible for a special immigrant visa program for them and their families. There are approximately 20,000 Afghans who have applied, plus their family members, according to a State Department spokesperson — although it’s unclear how many of them the administration plans to evacuate.
So far, the administration has announced that some 750 Afghans who have already been approved and cleared security vetting will be brought to the U.S., along with their family members — 2,500 in total. They will be housed and provided temporary services at Fort Lee, a U.S. Army base in central Virginia, for seven to 10 days as they undergo medical exams and finish their application processing.
A second group of some 4,000 Afghan applicants, plus their family members, will also be housed overseas, possibly including at U.S. military installations, according to senior State Department officials. A U.S. official told ABC News the administration has had conversations with Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and several Central Asian countries — Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.
But during his visit to Kuwait, Blinken did not announce a new agreement with the U.S. ally to house Afghans there, where there are several U.S. military installations.
Blinken confirmed for the first time that the U.S. and Kuwait are discussing the mission, including in his meetings Thursday at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but it seemed they were unable to reach an agreement.
“We’re talking to a number of countries about the possibility of temporarily relocating” Afghans, Blinken told reporters. “That’s one of the issues that came up in our conversations today, but we are very much focused on making good on our obligations.”
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