- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
WASHINGTON – The Biden administration agreed to relocate thousands of Afghans who worked with the U.S. military as interpreters and translators while their visa applications are vetted, according to a senior administration official.
"Those who helped us are not going to be left behind," President Joe Biden told reporters on Thurday when asked about the plan.
The decision comes amid growing pressure from lawmakers in both parties, who fear Afghans who served alongside American troops will be killed by the Taliban as the United States completes its military withdrawal.
The official, who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, declined to say exactly how many Afghans would be relocated or where they would go while their visas are processed. The United States could fly them to a third country or a U.S. territory. The relocation plan was first reported by The New York Times.
Thousands of Afghans are desperately seeking to leave their homeland as the Biden administration withdraws the last American troops in the coming months. These Afghans fear that once U.S. forces are gone, the Taliban will sweep back into power and target them as traitors.
"You will see the dead bodies in every street," Omid Mahmoodi, who worked as an interpreter and cultural adviser with the U.S. military for three years, told USA TODAY in a phone interview last month. “They will slaughter us."
Mahmoodi said the Taliban considers them infidels and spies.
"If the U.S. forces leave Afghanistan ... I cannot guarantee for one minute what's going to happen with me, with my family,” he said.
'They will slaughter us': Afghans who worked with US beg for visas as troop withdrawal looms
Because of such dangers, Congress created a special visa program in 2006 for Afghans and Iraqis who worked alongside American troops in those two conflicts.
The program is backlogged and limited. It takes an average of nearly three years for Afghans' applications to be processed, in part because of the rigorous vetting involved, according to the State Department.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday that about 18,000 Afghans have expressed interest in the special visa program; about 9,000 have filled out the necessary paperwork and the other 9,000 are at the beginning of the process, Blinken said.
President Joe Biden set Sept. 11 as the deadline for a full U.S. withdrawal, and the Pentagon began drawing down forces in May. As the American military footprint shrinks, the security situation in Afghanistan has become increasingly dangerous – and the pleas from Afghans such as Mahmoodi have become more urgent.
Blood and treasure: US counterterrorism ops touched 85 countries in the past 3 years
The State Department increased staffing for the visa program, and lawmakers have ramped up pressure on the White House to evacuate Afghans who risked their lives to work with American forces.
“How many future Afghan families, how many great American contributions will we not have if President Biden does not act and act now,” Rep. Michael Waltz, R-Fla., a former Green Beret who served multiple tours in Afghanistan, said at a news conference Wednesday with Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo.
“If he does not act and does not get these people out, blood will be on his hands and his administration’s hands,” Waltz said.
The official said that initially, the United States will move only Afghans whose visas are in the pipeline. The U.S. Embassy in Kabul will process the special Afghan visas even after the drawdown is complete, but the White House may approve another relocation operation if necessary, the official said.
"We are planning for all contingencies, so that we are prepared for all scenarios," the official said. "Should it become necessary, we will consider additional relocation or evacuation options."
Biden is scheduled to meet with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, head of the country’s High Council for National Reconciliation, at the White House on Friday.
U.S.-backed peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban have stalled as the militant Islamic group attacks Afghan forces and gains territory.
In announcing Friday's meeting, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the Biden administration remains committed to working with the Afghan government "to ensure the country never again becomes a safe haven for terrorist groups who pose a threat to the U.S. homeland."
Psaki said the United States will continue to press "all Afghan parties to participate" in the peace negotiations, which supporters said could lead to a power-sharing agreement between Ghani's government and the Taliban. Many experts fear the Taliban will topple the Afghan government once U.S. forces have fully withdrawn.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden administration to relocate Afghans who helped US troops