The Biden administration will start evacuating interpreters and other Afghans who face deadly retaliation for helping U.S. troops during the 20-year war, the White House said Wednesday.
Operation Allies Refuge will begin this month as the U.S. troop withdrawal accelerates and the Taliban fighters gain territory.
“We will help as many of the bold and courageous individuals as we possibly can,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.
The operation will relocate those who have applied for Special Immigrant Visas, a program for U.S. enablers, to countries outside to await approval to come to America.
Details of the operation are unclear. Administration officials cited “operational security” concerns as their reason for withholding details such as the number of applicants eligible for evacuation and their places of relocation.
The State Department has stood up a coordination unit for the effort, led by Tracey Jacobson, a former chief of mission to Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Kosovo. Deputy Homeland Security Adviser Russ Travers will coordinate the interagency policy process. Representatives from the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security will also be involved in the operation.
President Biden confirmed his commitment to the Afghans in his speech about the troop withdrawal last week.
“There is a home for you in the United States if you so choose, and we will stand with you just as you stood with us,” the president said.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have grown increasingly vocal in their calls for the administration to act. They cited an accelerating troop withdrawal timeline and a State Department visa process ensnared in a backlog of close to 18,000 applicants, which some estimate could take until next year to complete.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire Democrat, welcomed the news.
“Relieved for our Afghan allies who have been waiting for this day to come and that there is a clear path forward,” she said on Twitter. “Every effort must be made to see through a safe and efficient evacuation for our partners.”