About 2,500 interpreters have been evacuated from Afghanistan along with their families and brought to the United States just outside of Washington DC, becoming the first group to be moved out of the war-torn country.
The individuals and their families will be required to stay at the nearby Fort Lee Army Base while they complete a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) process. The program is given to those who have assisted the United States government or American-led military forces during war times in Afghanistan, which started in 2001.
Interpreters assist American soldiers and officials with communicating with insurrection groups such as the Taliban to negotiate deals. They risked their lives alongside U.S. forces in the war-torn country for two decades, in hopes of ending the strife.
The threats that Afghan interpreters are facing since helping the U.S. government against the Taliban have increased after the latter's advance in the country. On Thursday, the U.S. State Department confirmed that the flight of the first group to be evacuated from Afghanistan landed safely on American soil.
The Fort Lee base will become home to the 2,500 evacuees until they finish their vetting process, medical screening, and other requirements for the visa. There have been about 70,000 Afghans since 2008 who have received SIVs and resettled in the United States, officials said, BBC reported.
Last week, it was announced that there were currently more than 20,000 applicants of SIV in the country, a senior state department official said. They noted that only about half of the individuals have finished the first step of the process.
Many Afghans who have worked with American soldiers fear that United States President Joe Biden's withdrawal of troops from the war-torn country leaves them with no hope of escape. In recent weeks, the Taliban group has made significant advances in the country following the retreat of the U.S. troops. Afghans who have previously worked with American soldiers have become targets of reprisals.
Afghanistan veteran Matt Zeller said that he previously asked interpreters if they had other options if American troops were unable to help them. They simply said that if the U.S. government did not help them, they would surely die, NPR reported.
Protected From Threats
On Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinker confirmed the arrival of the first group of interpreters as coming "very, very soon." The announcement was made during a press conference in Kuwait where he also revealed that the two governments were working together and discussing hosting another group of Afghans.
The evacuations are part of Biden's efforts to assist the interpreters who worked alongside American troops as he continues his orders of withdrawing soldiers from the region. Officials announced that there were about 750 of the 20,000 Afghan applicants who have already been approved for SIVs.
About 4,000 more interpreters will come in a second group that will be housed in international areas. The possible regions include Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and several Central Asian countries, such as Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan, ABC News reported.