US to begin evacuation of Afghans who aided US military

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FILE – In this Friday, April 30, 2021, file photo former Afghan interpreters hold banners during a protest against the U.S. government and NATO in Kabul, Afghanistan. With American troops withdrawing from Afghanistan, pressure has been mounting for the Biden administration to plan a military evacuation of Afghans who supported U.S. military operations during two decades of war in their country. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib,File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration is set to begin evacuations of Afghans who aided the U.S. military effort in the nearly 20-year war during the last week of July, according to a senior administration official.

The official, who was not authorized to comment publicly, said Wednesday that Operation Allies Refuge flights out of Afghanistan will be available first for special immigrant visa applicants already in the process of applying for U.S. residency.

President Joe Biden has faced pressure from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to come up with plan to help evacuate Afghan military helpers ahead of next month’s U.S. military withdrawal.

The White House began briefing lawmakers on the outlines of their plans last month.

The evacuation planning could potentially affect tens of thousands of Afghans. Several thousand Afghans who worked for the U.S. — plus their family members — are already in the application pipeline for special immigrant visas.

The Biden administration has also been working on identifying a third country or U.S. territory that could host Afghans while their visa applications are processed.

The administration is weighing using State Department-chartered commercial aircraft, not military aircraft, according to a second administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. But if at some stage the State Department requests military aircraft, the U.S. military would be ready to assist, the official said.

Tracey Jacobson, a three-time chief of mission in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Kosovo, is leading the State Department Coordination Unit that will deliver on the president’s commitment under Operation Allies Refuge. That unit also includes representatives from the Defense and Homeland Security departments.

Russ Travers, deputy Homeland Security adviser and former head of the National Counterterrorism Center, is coordinating the interagency policy process on Operation Allies Refuge, officials said.

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