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Biden Vows to Evacuate Afghan Helpers  06/25 06:11

   

   (AP) -- President Joe Biden vowed on Thursday that Afghans who helped the 
U.S. military "are not going to be left behind" as his administration stepped 
up planning to evacuate thousands of Afghan interpreters while their 
applications for U.S. entry are processed.

   A senior administration official said planning has accelerated in recent 
days to relocate the Afghans and their families to other countries or U.S. 
territories while their visa applications are sorted. The official spoke on the 
condition of anonymity to discuss the unannounced plans.

   The administration intends to carry out the evacuation later this summer, 
likely in August, before its September deadline to withdraw U.S. forces, 
according to a second official familiar with the deliberations but not 
authorized to discuss them publicly.

   Both officials added that the administration has not settled on a country or 
countries for the planned temporary relocation. Evacuating Afghans to a U.S. 
territory is seen as complicated because it could lead to the visa applicants 
having greater legal rights as they are vetted. Asked if he had determined 
where Afghans would be relocated as they await U.S. visas, Biden said he did 
not know.

   "They're going to come," Biden said in an exchange with reporters after an 
event to highlight a bipartisan agreement reached on infrastructure 
legislation. "We've already begun the process. Those who helped us are not 
going to be left behind."

   The White House has begun briefing lawmakers on the outlines of the plans. 
The evacuation planning could potentially affect tens of thousands of Afghans. 
Some 9,000 Afghans who worked for the U.S.-- plus their family members -- are 
already in the application pipeline for special immigrant visas.

   With U.S. and NATO forces facing a Sept. 11 deadline to leave Afghanistan, 
the Biden administration has come under i ncreased pressure from lawmakers, 
veterans and others to evacuate thousands of Afghans who worked as interpreters 
or who otherwise helped U.S. military operations there in the past two decades.

   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 U.S. 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 U.S. military presence. In part, U.S. 
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 U.S. and Western interests would not be targeted. Still for many the 
runaway corruption, deep insecurity and fear of violence from the Taliban and 
the many heavily armed U.S.-allied warlords have many Afghans seeing the 
special immigration visas as their last chance to leave their war-tortured 
nation.

   The move to accelerate plans to relocate Afghans who helped the U.S. 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.

   The administration has begun to identify a group of interpreters to be 
relocated before the U.S. completes its drawdown by September, the senior 
administration official said.

   Those individuals have already begun the process of applying for special 
immigrant visas available to Afghans who assisted Americans during the nearly 
20-year-old war. The White House is planning for a variety of scenarios 
including "additional relocation or evacuation options" if necessary, the 
official said.

   As part of its plan, the White House will also push to have additional 
resources devoted to processing special immigration visa applications to help 
those who remain in Afghanistan after the U.S. military drawdown but want to 
leave for the U.S, 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 affect 
national security.

   Rep. Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs 
Committee, said on Twitter the evacuation plan was "great news" but urged Biden 
to push his effort to "secure a safe 3rd country to host them into high gear."

   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.

   Moulton on Thursday unveiled a detailed plan supported by veterans that 
would use Guam as a way station as they go through the visa application 
process. He noted there is precedent for using the island, a U.S. territory 
where refugees were processed after the Vietnam and Gulf wars.

   "We don't want a single Afghan ally to die because we can't find a third 
country or the program is moving too slowly," he said.

   Advocates, including former interpreters living in the U.S., applauded the 
news, but remain concerned the backlog of applicants was too great to overcome 
even with measures to accelerate the process.

   Khalil Arab, who spent five years working for the coalition forces as an 
interpreter, fled Afghanistan in 2010 after receiving threats from the Taliban. 
His younger brother, who also was a translator, was nearly kidnapped. Both are 
in the United States now, but they fear for those left behind.

   "Every Afghan ally, every man and woman serving for the United States 
government under whatever capacity, whatever their title, they are in peril," 
he said. "Make no mistake. Time is running out."

    

 
 
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