The first chartered flight carrying 221 Afghans (including family members and “scores of children and babies in arms” ) who served as interpreters and in other roles in support of the U.S. military in America’s Longest War, landed early Friday morning at Dulles International Airport after a more than 30-hour journey out of Kabul, Afghanistan.
From Dulles they were driven in several buses to Fort Lee, Va., where they will be processed and eventually resettled in cities and towns across the country.
In a statement, President Joe Biden said:
Today is an important milestone as we continue to fulfill our promise to the thousands of Afghan nationals who served shoulder-to-shoulder with American troops and diplomats over the last 20 years in Afghanistan. This morning, the first flight of Operation Allies Refuge has arrived in the United States, carrying Afghans who are eligible for Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) and their families. These arrivals are just the first of many as we work quickly to relocate SIV-eligible Afghans out of harm’s way—to the United States, to U.S. facilities abroad, or to third countries—so that they can wait in safety while they finish their visa applications.
I want to honor all those in the United States who have spoken out on behalf of these brave Afghans, including the proud community of veterans, who have consistently advocated for the Afghans who were by their side in the field in Afghanistan, often serving as translators and interpreters. And I want to thank the diplomats and public servants across our government and around the world who are working tirelessly as part of Operation Allies Refuge.
After promising to continue to support the Afghan forces as well as to continue humanitarian and development aid to the Afghan people and diplomatic support for the peace process, the President concluded, “Most of all, I want to thank these brave Afghans for standing with the United States, and today, I am proud to say to them: ‘Welcome home.’”
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said:
These brave men and women, at great risk to themselves and their families, served alongside U.S. and coalition forces and diplomats to support our operations and prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for terrorism that threatens our homeland…We have spoken many times about the moral obligation we have to help those who have helped us, and we are fully committed to working closely with our interagency partners to meet that obligation…
Russ Travers, the deputy homeland security advisor on the National Security Council, said, “This flight represents a fulfillment of the U.S. commitment to honor these Afghan’s brave service in helping to support our mission in Afghanistan, in turn helping to keep our country safe,” adding that more flights will continue to relocate translators and their families “over the course of a few weeks.”
Finally, putting money where the mouth is, Congress, on Thursday, as part of a $2.1 billion emergency spending bill, expanded the number of special immigrant visas available for Afghans to 19,000 from 11,000 and included hundreds of millions of dollars for government programs that aid and resettle refugees and migrants.
Chris Purdy, Veterans for American Ideals Program Manager at Human Rights First cautioned, “While we commend the administration for expediting the arrival of these Afghan allies, flying them directly to the United States, the people on this flight are a tiny fraction of the 18,000 applicants and their families who are waiting on the president to fulfill our promise to those who worked with our armed forces in Afghanistan.”
And time is not on the side of these brave people as thousands remain in peril as the emboldened Taliban continue to advance and “have taken more territory in Afghanistan in the last two months than at any time since they were ousted from power in 2001.”
The author is a retired U.S. Air Force officer and a writer.