WASHINGTON – The Pentagon and the State Department are making plans for the possible evacuation of Afghans whose lives are in danger as a result of their work for the US government, according to the senior US military official.
Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said it was clear that a “significant” number of Afghans who worked as interpreters or in other roles for the military or embassy America are now facing potential retaliation from the Taliban.
“Their safety could be threatened. And we recognize that it is a very important task to make sure that we remain loyal to them, and that we do what is necessary to ensure their protection and, if necessary, to get them out of the country. if that’s what they want to do, “Milley told reporters aboard his plane after giving an opening speech Wednesday at the US Air Force Academy in Colorado.
The State Department was the primary agency overseeing the matter, Milley said in remarks released by his office Thursday.
“Plans are being developed very, very quickly here, not just performers but a lot of other people who have worked with the United States,” he said.
The general’s remarks marked the first time a senior administration official has publicly confirmed that a possible evacuation is under consideration or that a contingency plan for an evacuation is underway.
Milley’s comments were first reported by Defense One.
The State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the National Security Council said: “I refer you to the Joint Chiefs of Staff to characterize General Milley’s comments. I can tell you that we have no evacuation plan at the moment. The State Department processes SIV requests in Kabul. They focus on ensuring that the system operates quickly and in accordance with US safety requirements and other application requirements. “
US officials previously acknowledged the danger faced by many former Afghan interpreters, but said the administration wanted to avoid triggering panic or sending a signal that Washington had lost confidence in the Afghan government’s ability to survive. .
“We do not want to signal the panic and the departure of all educated Afghans by denigrating and undermining the morale of the Afghan security forces,” US special envoy for reconciliation in Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad told lawmakers at the meeting. ‘a hearing on May 18.
“So it is a delicate and complicated balance that we must maintain,” said Khalilzad, who negotiated a US troop withdrawal agreement with the Taliban.
Representative Mike Waltz, a Republican from Florida and a strong supporter of the evacuation of Afghan partners, said he was encouraged by General Milley’s remarks but called for faster action as US troops would soon be out of the country.
“While I welcome these comments, we need to see action sooner rather than later,” Waltz said in an email. “We need to show the world that we are rewarding those who help us against the enemy rather than leaving them behind.
U.S. officials testifying in front of Congress or responding to questions from reporters have previously focused on efforts to expand and accelerate efforts to provide visas to the estimated 17,000 to 18,000 Afghans who have applied for the program. ‘a program for former employees of the US military or the Embassy in Kabul. The program got bogged down in delays, with applicants waiting for years.
A federal court ruled in 2019 that the U.S. government failed to comply with a law requiring it to process claims within nine months, and an inspector general’s report last year described a chronic staff shortage that had hampered the program.
Citing the assassinations of Afghans associated with the US or Western governments, a growing number of lawmakers on both sides as well as veterans and refugee rights groups are urging the Biden administration to organize an evacuation to US territory or a military base outside of Afghanistan where visa applicants’ documents would be verified and reviewed.
Supporters of the idea cite the US military evacuation of around 6,600 Iraqi Kurds to US territory from Guam in 1996 and 1997. The move came after Saddam Hussein’s regime launched attacks in the Kurdish region of ‘Iraq. The Kurds were housed at Andersen Air Force Base for three to four months and most were eventually relocated to the United States.
Asked Thursday about a possible airlift from threatened Afghan partners, Milley said: “This is one way to go.”
He added, “I’m not going to discuss how we’re going to do it because it will be in the future. I don’t usually discuss what happens in the future. But we have the capabilities to execute that for those. who want to do it. “
As to future U.S. relations with Afghanistan after U.S. troops leave by September 11, Milley said the U.S. will maintain an embassy in the country, maintain financial support for the Afghan military, and would follow terrorist threats from a distance.
“We want the money to keep going to the Afghan government security forces,” he said. “We will provide them with assistance on the horizon, outside the country. And we want to maintain appropriate levels of surveillance, reconnaissance, early warning indicators of any reconstituted terrorist threat, so that we can take appropriate action if necessary. “