US Army 1st Lt. Benjamin Riley (right) and a Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul interpreter (center) meet a villager during a patrol to the Arghandab River, Afghanistan, on July 19, 2011.
Source: US Army
WASHINGTON – The Biden administration will begin evacuation flights this month for Afghan nationals and their families who assisted US and NATO coalition forces during America’s longest war.
A senior White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to share details of the effort, said that the Departments of State, Defense and Homeland Security will oversee the task of safely relocating Afghan nationals.
“For operational security, we won’t have additional details on when flights will depart, but we will meet the President’s commitment to begin flights this month,” the official said.
The interagency effort, dubbed Operation Allies Refuge, follows concerns raised on Capitol Hill and elsewhere about whether the State Department could work through a backlog of more than 10,000 special immigrant visas for eligible Afghans before the remaining US troops withdraw from the country.
As the Taliban makes rapid advances on the battlefield, there are concerns that Afghans who helped US and NATO forces will face retribution.
In April, Biden ordered the full withdrawal of approximately 3,000 US troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, effectively ending America’s longest war. Last week, Biden gave an updated timeline and said that the US military mission in Afghanistan will end by August 31.
“We did not go to Afghanistan to nation-build,” Biden said Thursday in comments at the White House. “It’s up to the Afghans to make decisions about the future of their country,” he added.
In another symbolic end to America’s longest military conflict, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley met US Army General Scott Miller, the former top US commander in Afghanistan, on the flight line Wednesday morning at Joint Base Andrews.
Miller, America’s last four-star commander to serve on the ground in Afghanistan, stepped down from his role on Monday, nearly three years after he took over the war.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, left, and Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley greet General Austin S. Miller, the former top US commander in Afghanistan, upon his return, at Andrews Air Force Base, US July 14, 2021.
Alex Brandon | Reuters
On Tuesday, the Pentagon said it has completed more than 95% of the entire withdrawal process.
The US military has removed the equivalent of approximately 984 loads of material flown out of the country by large cargo aircraft, according to an update from US Central Command.
Approximately 17,000 pieces of equipment that will not be left to the Afghan military have also been handed over to the Defense Logistics Agency for destruction. The US has officially handed over seven facilities to the Afghan military, including Bagram Air Base.