Head of the US Central Command, General Kenneth McKenzie, speaks in the U.S. embassy compound in Kabul on July 25, 2021. Photo: Sajjad Hussain/AFP via Getty Images
The first plane with more than 200 Afghans who served as interpreters, contractors or other ally roles for the U.S. military has arrived in the U.S. — the first of many such flights as troops are withdrawn from the region.
Why it matters: More than 700 Afghan allies and their families are preparing to be brought into the U.S. in the coming days on special immigrant visas. More than 70,000 Afghans have received those since 2008.
What they're saying: "This flight represents a fulfillment of the U.S. commitment and honors these Afghans' brave service in helping support our mission in Afghanistan, in turn, helping to keep our country safe," Senior Deputy Homeland Security Advisor Russ Travers said on a call Thursday.
The big picture: The flight comes after President Biden pledged support for Afghan interpreters and others who helped the U.S. military throughout the war.
- The vast majority of U.S. troops has withdrawn from Afghanistan, while the security situation on the ground deteriorates.
- The U.S. intelligence community has warned that the Afghan government could collapse as soon as next year as the Taliban's battlefield offensive grows.
Driving the news: The approximately 200 Afghans traveling to the U.S. this week — under "Operation Allies Refuge" — have completed rigorous security background checks and will complete a medical exam upon arrival at Fort Lee in Virginia, per Travers, before being resettled in cities across the country.
- Other Afghans may be under threat, but are not currently eligible for the special immigrant visa program, including women's leaders, activists, human rights defenders and journalists.
- Thousands of Afghan allies who are not as far along in the special immigrant visa process will be moved out of Afghanistan to a third country for safety, said Ambassador Tracy Jacobson, who leads the State Department's Afghanistan task force.
What to watch: When asked if there would be a similar program to the one that has allowed some Iraqi allies to receive refugee status in the country, Jacobson said they are considering a variety of options.