- The first evacuation flight, under the relocation program dubbed Operation Allies Refuge, includes more than 200 Afghan immigrants and their immediate families.
- Those who requested a coronavirus vaccination were inoculated in Kabul and those who declined a vaccine were given a Covid-19 test.
- The evacuation flights come in the waning weeks of a full U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.
WASHINGTON – The first group of Afghan nationals who assisted U.S. and NATO coalition forces during America's longest war arrived on evacuation flights from Kabul on Friday.
Earlier this month, the Biden administration announced the beginning of evacuation flights for Afghan nationals and their immediate families as foreign troops withdraw from the war-weary country.
The first evacuation flight, under the relocation program dubbed Operation Allies Refuge, includes more than 200 Afghan immigrants and their immediate families.
Those who requested a coronavirus vaccination were inoculated in Kabul and those who declined a vaccine were given a Covid-19 test.
"They have all completed rigorous security background checks conducted by the intelligence community and the Departments of State and Homeland Security," explained senior deputy Homeland Security Advisor Russ Travers.
"Once these Afghan special immigrants are paroled into the U.S. and complete a medical exam as required by law, they will be resettled to cities across the country with assistance through the United States Refugee Admissions Program," Travers said, adding that more than 70,000 Afghans have received the special immigrant visa since 2008.
Ambassador Tracey Jacobson from the State Department Afghanistan coordination task force told reporters that the principal applicants and their families "have undergone extensive screening."
"They are at the very end of the immigrant visa process, lacking only a couple of steps that we will be performing at Fort Lee, Virginia," Jacobson said, adding that more flights are scheduled over the next couple of weeks.
The evacuation flights come in the waning weeks of a full U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, effectively ending America's longest war.
In April, President Joe Biden ordered the withdrawal of approximately 3,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11. Earlier this month, Biden gave an updated timeline and said the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan will end by Aug. 31.
Last week, the nation's highest military officer told reporters that the U.S. has completed more than 95% of the massive withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The Pentagon has airlifted more than 980 loads of equipment out of Afghanistan and handed over seven facilities to the Afghan Ministry of Defense, according to the latest update from Central Command.
"These brave men and women, at great risk to themselves and their families, served alongside U.S. and coalition forces and diplomats to support our operations and prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for terrorism that threatens our homeland," wrote Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in a statement Friday.
"We have spoken many times about the moral obligation we have to help those who have helped us, and we are fully committed to working closely with our interagency partners to meet that obligation," he added.