The Defense Department is “very, very rapidly” developing an ambitious plan to evacuate thousands of Afghans who worked with the U.S. over the past two decades but will soon be Taliban targets as American troops depart, the Pentagon’s top general said Wednesday.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley said that America has a responsibility to ensure that those Afghan allies — many of whom worked as interpreters and in other key roles alongside American military personnel — aren’t killed by the Taliban as the U.S. exits the country. The U.S. and NATO military withdrawal is set to be completed no later than Sept. 11 but could be done as soon as July, putting more pressure on Pentagon leadership to quickly come up with a strategy.
“There are plans being developed very, very rapidly,” Gen. Milley told the media outlet Defense One, which was traveling with the general on Wednesday. “We recognize that a very important task is to ensure that we remain faithful to them, and that we do what’s necessary to ensure their protection, and if necessary, get them out of the country, if that’s what they want to do.”
It’s unclear exactly how many Afghans might be evacuated, but the number is believed to be in the thousands.
The Taliban is quickly capturing territory across rural parts of Afghanistan. The insurgent group is expected to mount a major offensive against the capital, Kabul, and other key cities once the U.S. withdrawal is complete.
It’s all but certain that the Taliban would seek to exact revenge on Afghans who aided the American military at any point over the last 20 years.
“I believe we need to get them out. We owe a moral responsibility to get them out before the Taliban kills them,” Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said at a congressional hearing earlier this month.
Mr. McCaul and other lawmakers, along with regional analysts and observers, have suggested that the U.S. take an interim step of moving the Afghan allies to Bahrain, Kuwait, and other friendly nations in the Middle East.
Many of the Afghans may qualify for visas that would allow them to come to America, but lawmakers say the visa process is so backlogged that there is no chance they can all be evacuated before the U.S. military withdrawal is completed.