The Biden administration is planning to relocate a group of Afghans who have applied for special immigrant visas (SIV) to Fort Lee, a US army post in Virginia as early as this week, according to two sources familiar with the matter.
Members of Congress have been notified of this plan, according to sources familiar with the conversations.
This will be the first group of SIV applicants to be relocated from Afghanistan, as part of the Biden administration's effort to relocate thousands of Afghan interpreters and translators who worked for the United States throughout its nearly two-decade military campaign in the country.
The Biden administration is calling this effort "Operation Allies Refuge," an indirect reference to the fact that these interpreters and translators fear their safety and that of their families as the US completes its military withdrawal from Afghanistan and the pace of Taliban gains accelerates and violence continues.
It is unclear exactly how many Afghans will be flow into Fort Lee, but these Afghans are far along in the extensive vetting process required in order to get visa approval, sources said.
Later on Monday, State Department spokesperson Ned Price confirmed that a pool of visa applicants who are "closest to completing" the process will be relocated to Fort Lee.
"These are brave Afghans and their families, as we have said, whose service to the United States has been certified by the embassy in Kabul and who have completed thorough SIV security vetting processes," he said at a press briefing.
"They will be provided temporary housing and services as they complete the special immigrant process. We expect to begin the first relocation flights before the end of July," Price said.
He said that the Department of Defense had agreed to house the applicants and their families at the request of the Department of State.
"Approximately 2,500 and family members are currently eligible to finish special immigrant processing in the United States and we'll certainly provide more details as they become available," Price said.
This is a small portion of the overall SIV applicants -- about 20,000 Afghans have applied for visas. in the SIV pipeline. About half of those 20,000 are in the very preliminary stages of the process, meaning "approximately 10,000 of these applicants need to take action before the US government can begin processing their case," the spokesperson said.
The other Afghan applicants who are further along in the process but have not been approved through the security vetting process will go to US military bases overseas or to third countries, the spokesperson said.
Last Wednesday Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said relocation flights for Afghan nationals and their families who are in the pipeline to receive a special immigrant visa will begin "at the end of this month."
Kirby said the Defense Department is still "examining possibilities" where Afghan nationals and their families could potentially go.
"We're still examining possibilities for overseas locations to include some departmental installations that would be capable of supporting planned relocation efforts with appropriate temporary residences and supporting infrastructure," Kirby said.
"As we've said before, the locus of our efforts right now is in helping identify possible locations," he added.
President Joe Biden announced this month that the military drawdown from Afghanistan would be finished by the end of August, and US Central Command said July 13 that the US had completed "more than 95% of the entire withdrawal process."
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 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.
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