(CNN)The Pentagon is in the early stages of planning for the potential evacuation of thousands of Afghan nationals whose work for the US could make them Taliban targets when the American military withdraws from the country, according to four administration officials.
The officials emphasized that a formal request to develop a contingency plan has not been made by the White House but there is significant pressure on the administration from Capitol Hill and outside groups to safely remove the Afghans before US troops leave.
President Joe Biden’s April announcement that the US would withdraw troops by September 11 has created uncertainty for thousands of Afghans who risked their lives to help the US military working as translators and in other roles since the beginning of the war in Afghanistan in 2001.
Officials have privately said the troop withdrawal could be completed in July which increases the sense of urgency. There has also been an uptake in Taliban violence against Afghan security forces and civilians in recent weeks and Afghans who are waiting for visas to come to the US have been killed by the Taliban.
In one recent instance the Taliban cracked the skull of an Afghan national with an AK-47, kept him captive and told him that they planned to kill him because he had worked for the Americans, he told CNN. The man was able to escape only because the Afghan national army raided the place where he was being held.
An evacuation is just one option being examined and the administration is also looking at speeding up the issuing of visas. The State Department has said that about 18,000 people who have applied for special immigrant visas to the US are still awaiting approval.
But there are concerns that it will not be possible to process all of them before the troops have left. Granting the visas is an arduous and lengthy process; in recent years the processing for each approved applicant has taken more than 500 days, according to State Department data reviewed by CNN in April.
‘We could certainly do it’
Last month Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the commander of US Central Command, said that the Pentagon could assist in getting Afghans out of harm’s way if they were directed to do.
“The special immigrant visa program is probably the best route to make that happen. And it’s really a better question for the Department of State than me. I would just tell you that from a Central Command perspective and the perspective of the US military, if directed to do something like that, we could certainly do it,” Mckenzie said at a Pentagon briefing.
The officials with knowledge of the initial planning process said US Central command which oversees operations in Afghanistan and commanders in the country needed to start planning now to be ready when a decision is made by the Biden administration. They stress that an evacuation would be a highly complex operation and they’d hope to carry it out gradually. They need to work out how many people would need to be transported, how many aircraft would be needed and whether the Afghans would be tak
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