WASHINGTON: The United States will use a military base in Virginia to temporarily house Afghan interpreters fleeing their home country due to the withdrawal of US forces after 20 years of war, officials said Monday.

Around 700 interpreters and other Afghans who helped the United States will be taken to Fort Lee, an army post in southern Virginia, along with immediate family members, for a total of around 2,500 people, State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

The interpreters — who worked for the United States and fear for their lives as the Taliban make rapid gains in Afghanistan — are among some 20,000 applying for asylum under so-called Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs).

“These are brave Afghans,“ Price said, “who have completed thorough SIV security vetting processes.”

“They will be provided temporary housing and services as they complete the final steps,“ he told reporters.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said that Afghan interpreters could go to other military installations as well and that he did not expect most of them to stay beyond a few days.

“You have to remember that these people and their families are in the very final stages of the SIV process so there’s just not a need for them to be on a military installation for long before they’ll work through the resettlement process,“ Kirby said.

The White House has said that some 20,000 Afghans have applied to move to the United States under the program.

Afghans who are in more initial stages will be flown to other countries, which have not been publicly identified, as well as to US military bases overseas as their cases are examined, officials said.

The United States last week announced what it called Operation Allies Refuge to pull out interpreters amid mounting concerns for their safety in Afghanistan and the long delays in processing their applications.

US officials initially were concerned about setting off a panic but planned the operation as the Taliban made rapid gains ahead of the August 31 end of the mission launched shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks. — AFP


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