The Department of Defense is preparing to house thousands of Afghan refugees on military bases in the US as the Biden administration scrambles to evacuate the Special Immigrant Visa applicants amid the Taliban’s rapid takeover of Afghanistan, according to reports.
Up to 30,000 Afghans who worked with the US military over the 20-year war would be relocated to military bases in Wisconsin and Texas, according to a statement from the Defense and State Departments, Fox News reported.
“The situation in Afghanistan may lead to DoS [Department of State] allowing Afghan SIV applicants to be moved to temporary housing locations while still being vetted for parolee status,” a Defense Department document says, according to the report.
The Afghans would be housed at Fort McCoy in Wisconsin and Fort Bliss in Texas.
“We want to have the capacity to get up to several thousand immediately, and want to be prepared for the potential of tens of thousands,” Pentagon Spokesperson John Kirby told Fox News.
“Bliss and McCoy have the capability right now – and what’s advantageous is with a little bit of work, they could increase their capacity in very short order,” he said.
The Biden administration has cut back on the number of government flights evacuating Afghans to the US as it focuses on getting American personnel out of the country, CNN reported.
It’s unknown how long that pause will last because of the rapidly changing situation in Afghanistan, the report said.
Kirby said the deployment of about 6,000 troops will focus on keeping the airport open.
“We are already basically in charge of air traffic control at the airport, so we’re going to be in oversight of the air operations at the airport for as long as we can,” Kirby said.
He said the State and Defense departments are working together to evacuate the refugees and find facilities to house them.
For those Afghans who do not qualify for the special visas, Kirby said the Pentagon is trying to find locations in the US and abroad to house them.
“Secretary Lloyd Austin has made it very clear to the Department and to military leaders that he wants additional options,” Kirby told Fox News. “We all share a sense of urgency and we’re going to be leaning forward to help the State Department as much as we can.”
Asked about a timetable, Kirby said: “The President gave us Aug. 31 as an end date, so that’s what we’re focused on.”
The development comes as stunning video shows hundreds of desperate Afghan civilians chasing a US Air Force jet as it taxied down a runway at Kabul’s international airport in a last-ditch effort to escape the country and the savage rule of the Taliban.
The statement also marks a change in policy by the Biden administration that initially said it would relocate Afghan refugees outside of the US while their visa requests are being processed.
At a White House briefing in July when Biden announced the goal of pulling troops out of Afghanistan by Aug. 31, he was asked about evacuating the SIV applicants to the US to await processing, as is done with migrants at the southern border.
“Because the law doesn’t allow that to happen. And that’s why we’re asking the Congress to consider changing the law,” Biden told reporters.
“But in the meantime, we can guarantee their safety, if they wish to leave, by taking them to third countries and/or, while the wait is taking place … and hopefully, while they’re waiting there, to be able to bring them back to the United States, if that’s what they choose to do,” he continued.
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