The United States is preparing to accommodate thousands of Afghan refugees in the coming days on American military installations while evacuating Americans from the country now controlled by the Taliban terrorist group.
“We want to have the capacity to get up to several thousand immediately, and want to be prepared for the potential of tens of thousands,” Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby told Fox News on Sunday. “[Forts] Bliss and McCoy have the capability right now—and what’s advantageous is with a little bit of work, they could increase their capacity in very short order.”
Fort Bliss is a military base in Texas and Fort McCoy is in Wisconsin.
Kirby also implied that American citizens would not always be prioritized over Afghan Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) applicants.
“Once we get more airlift out of Kabul, we’re going to put as many people on those planes as we can. There will be a mix, not just American citizens, but perhaps some Afghan SIV applicants as well,” Kirby said. “It’s not going to be just Americans first, then SIV applicants. We’re going to focus on getting as many folks out as we can.”
Lieutenant Colonel Chris Mitchell, a spokesperson from the Defense Department, told The Epoch Times that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin approved two requests for assistance from the State Department on Sunday to transport and temporarily house Afghan SIV applicants, their families, and other individuals at risk.
“Under the first request, the Department will provide temporary housing, sustainment, and support inside the United States for up to 22,000 Afghan SIV applicants, their families and other at-risk individuals. The US Northern Command will coordinate details with the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Health and Human Services, as necessary. This support will be provided under Presidential Drawdown Authority to the maximum extent possible, with additional support being provided on a reimbursable basis,” Mitchell said via email.
“Under the second request, the Department will provide protection, air transportation, and processing of up to 30,000 at-risk individuals from Kabul. This total includes embassy personnel, US citizens, Afghan SIV applicants, and other at-risk individuals,” Mitchell continued.
Mitchell said 8,000 of those would be transported to a third country for processing, with an additional 22,000 being transported to the United States. The Department of State will be responsible for onward travel for all transported individuals.
The Department of State didn’t immediately respond to a request from The Epoch Times for comment.
In a joint statement issued Sunday, the two departments asserted they would work together to evacuate Americans and Afghan refugees to the United States in the coming days.
“And we will accelerate the evacuation of thousands of Afghans eligible for U.S. Special Immigrant Visas, nearly 2,000 of whom have already arrived in the United States over the past two weeks. For all categories, Afghans who have cleared security screening will continue to be transferred directly to the United States. And we will find additional locations for those yet to be screened,” the statement reads.
The statement also pointed out that nearly 6,000 troops would be deployed to take over air traffic control and facilitate the evacuation in the next 48 hours.
World leaders expressed shock and dismay after the Taliban took over Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, so swiftly. Republicans and some Democrats have harshly criticized President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan so quickly.
Biden is expected to give a speech on Afghanistan on Monday afternoon.
Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.