The Department of Defense said Thursday it is reviewing several overseas U.S. military installations that could be used to temporarily house Afghans whose lives would be in danger in the event of a Taliban takeover. In addition to the U.S. bases, officials are reaching out to third countries to host former interpreters waiting for visas who worked closely with American troops during 20 years of combat in Afghanistan.
Chief Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said officials don’t have an exact count of how many Afghan nationals and their families could seek to leave the country following the U.S. withdrawal.
“We want to preserve some flexibility in the process to begin to absorb numbers as they flex up and down,” Mr. Kirby said.
Unexpectedly, Mr. Kirby said fewer than half of about 2,500 former interpreters who have gone through the visa process have indicated a willingness to move at this point.
“We are still working this very hard with countries in and out of the region,” he said.
The security situation on the ground has shifted in the 20 years America has been fighting in Afghanistan. The original goal was to defeat al Qaeda and the Taliban following the 9/11 attacks.
“They are a greatly reduced threat,” Mr. Kirby said. “They are nothing like the organization they were on 9/11. That’s a real testament to the hard work our men and women in uniform had accomplished.”
The Islamist Taliban insurgency, however, remains a potent challenge to the U.S.-backed Kabul government and has made surprising battlefield gains as the U.S. and allied troops head for the exits.
The Afghan military now has a “competent” air force, modern weaponry, and training, Mr. Kirby said Thursday, and it will ultimately be up to them to defend the country. President Biden, insisting at the White House earlier in the day that he was not reevaluating his decision to withdraw, made much the same point after a briefing from top military advisers.
“The focus right now, militarily, is to get the drawdown complete, to do that in a safe way [and] to transition to a new relationship with our Afghan partners,” Mr. Kirby said. “They already have a lot of capabilities at their disposal to assist themselves in these efforts.”