More than 25,000 Afghans who fled Afghanistan after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban are at military bases in the United States and senior U.S. officials expect to double that number before the mission is complete.
On Friday, Air Force Gen. Glenn VanHerck, head of U.S. Northern Command, said the Defense Department expects to house some 50,000 people at eight military installations around the country.
“We’re ready to expand if needed [but] at this time I don’t anticipate needing any additional bases,” Gen. VanHerck told reporters at the Pentagon.
Fort Lee, near Richmond, Va., was the first base to take in Special Immigrant Visa applicants fleeing the Taliban takeover of their homeland last month. The list quickly expanded and now includes Virginia’s Fort Pickett and Marine Corps Base Quantico, along with Fort Bliss, Texas; Holloman Air Force Base, N.M.; Fort McCoy, Wisc.; Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.; and Camp Atterbury in Indiana.
Gen. VanHerck called the evacuation and housing mission “a massive military, diplomatic and humanitarian undertaking.”
The Afghan evacuees arrived in the U.S. after spending about a week at military bases in Europe or in the Middle East. All will receive a COVID-19 test upon arrival to the U.S., Gen. VanHerck said.
Some bases instituted “mayor cells” — military officers teamed with an Afghan counterpart to manage daily operations within the refugee communities.
Families are kept together in the housing units, while single men and single women are in single-sex accommodations. A handful of unaccompanied children managed to get aboard one of the evacuation flights from Afghanistan. They are now in the care of the Department of Health and Human Services who are hoping to reunite them with family members, Gen. VanHerck said.
About 1,000 Afghans have completed processing at one of the U.S. bases and are now being moved off-base, ideally near family members, or to an area with a significant Afghan-American population, officials said.