The first evacuation flight of Afghans who worked alongside Americans in Afghanistan on Friday resulted in more than 200 people, including dozens of armed children and babies, relocating to the United States, and the President Biden welcomed them into their home.
The evacuation flights, bringing out former interpreters and others who fear retaliation from the Afghan Taliban for working with U.S. military and civilians, highlight U.S. uncertainty over how the government and the Afghan army will behave after the last American combat forces leave that country in the coming weeks.
Family members accompany interpreters, translators and others on departure flights.
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The commercial airliner carrying the 221 Afghans under the Special Visa Program, including 57 children and 15 babies, according to an internal U.S. government document obtained by The Associated Press, landed in Dulles, Va., Just outside of Washington, DC, according to business tracking service FlightAware.
Biden called the flight “an important milestone as we continue to deliver on our promise to the thousands of Afghan nationals who have served side-by-side with US troops and diplomats over the past 20 years in Afghanistan.” He said he wanted to honor military veterans, diplomats and others in the United States who stood up for the Afghans.
“Above all,” Biden said in a statement, “I want to thank these brave Afghans for standing with the United States, and today I am proud to say, ‘Welcome home. “”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin praised the Afghans for their work alongside the Americans and said their arrival demonstrates the commitment of the U.S. government to them.
The Biden administration calls the effort Operation Allied Refuge. The operation enjoys broad support from Republican and Democratic lawmakers and veterans groups. Supporters cite repeated cases of Taliban forces targeting Afghans who worked with the Americans or with the Afghan government.
Congress overwhelmingly approved legislation Thursday that would authorize 8,000 additional visas and $ 500 million in funding for the Afghan visa program.
AFGHAN TRANSLATOR WHO WORKED FOR THE AMERICAN ARMY WOULD BE BEED BY THE TALIBAN
Biden announced earlier this year that the United States would withdraw all of its troops from Afghanistan by September 11, honoring a withdrawal agreement made by former President Trump. He later said the US military operation would end on August 31, calling it “delayed”. Some administration officials have expressed surprise at the extent and speed of the Taliban’s territory gains in the countryside since then.
Biden said that although American troops are leaving Afghanistan, the United States will continue to support Afghanistan through security assistance to Afghan forces and humanitarian and development assistance to the Afghan people.
The newly arrived Afghans will join another 70,000 people who have resettled in the United States since 2008 under the special visa program.
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The following flights are expected to bring in over the 700 or so applicants who are most advanced in the visa process, having already obtained approval and security clearance.
The first arrivals were screened for the coronavirus and received vaccines if they wanted, said Tracey Jacobson, the U.S. diplomat leading the effort. They were to stay in Fort Lee, Va., For about seven days, to undergo medicals and other final steps, Jacobson said. Resettlement organizations will help them when they travel to communities across the United States, with some already serving family members, she said.
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