(CNN)The Biden administration is launching “Operation Allies Refuge,” an effort to relocate thousands of Afghan interpreters and translators who worked for the United States throughout its nearly two-decade military campaign in Afghanistan and now fear for their safety.
Flights for Afghan special immigrant visa (SIV) applicants “who are already in the pipeline will begin in the last week of July,” according to a senior administration official.
“At President Biden’s direction, the United States is launching Operation Allies Refuge to support relocation flights for interested and eligible Afghan nationals and their families who have supported the United States and our partners in Afghanistan and are in the SIV application pipeline,” the official said.
The administration said it would not have additional details about the timing or destination of the flights for operational security.
However, a US official with direct knowledge of current discussions says the US is exploring the possibility of granting Afghans humanitarian parole, which would allow them to enter the US temporarily, and that they may be relocated “in the US at potential military installation locations.” The official called this scenario “likely” but also said overseas locations are not ruled out as well, emphasizing that a final decision on the issue has yet to be made.
News of “Operation Allies Refuge” was first reported by Reuters.
Amb. Tracey Jacobson, who served as US ambassador to Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Kosovo, “is leading the State Department Coordination Unit that will deliver on the President’s commitment under Operation Allies Refuge,” the senior administration official said, noting the task force will include representatives from the Defense Department and Department of Homeland Security.
Russ Travers, a senior adviser at the National Security Council, will coordinate the interagency policy process on the operation.
The administration has faced criticism from bipartisan lawmakers and advocates for not doing enough to protect the Afghans who helped the US and now fear their lives are in danger as the Taliban gains ground and the US nears full withdrawal from Afghanistan.
President Joe Biden announced last week that the military drawdown from Afghanistan would be finished by the end of August, and US Central Command said Tuesday the US had completed “more than 95% of the entire withdrawal process.”
In his remarks, the President vowed “to make sure that we take on the Afghan nationals who work side-by-side with US forces, including interpreters and translators.”
“Our message to those women and men is clear: There is a home for you in the United States if you so choose, and we will stand with you just as you stood with us,” he said.
The State Department has said that there are 18,000 SIV applicants in the pipeline, and the administration had previously suggested it would focus on the 9,000 in the later stages of the application process.
‘Offer to relocate’
“We have identified a group of SIV applicants — that is to say, individuals who were already somewhere in that SIV processing chain — whom at the right time before the military withdrawal is complete later this year, relocate or at least offer to relocate to a third country as they go through their SIV a
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