WASHINGTON – The Pentagon and State Department are developing plans for the possible evacuation of Afghans whose lives are in danger because of their work for the US government, the US military chief said.
General 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 American military or the American embassy are now facing possible retaliation by the Taliban is exposed.
“Their safety could be at risk. And we recognize that it is a very important task to ensure that we remain loyal to them and that we do what is necessary to ensure their protection and, if necessary, to evacuate them if we do Case is. ” what they want to do, “Milley told reporters aboard his plane after delivering a speech at the US Air Force Academy in Colorado on Wednesday.
The State Department was the lead agency overseeing the issue, Milley said in remarks released by his office on Thursday.
“There are plans that are being developed here very, very quickly, not just interpreters, but a lot of other people who have worked with the United States,” he said.
The general’s remarks were the first time a high-ranking person in the administration publicly acknowledged that a possible evacuation was being considered or that contingency planning for an evacuation was in progress.
Milley’s comments were first reported by Defense One.
The State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
In a statement, a spokesman for the National Security Council said: “I refer you to joint staff to characterize General Milley’s comments. I can tell you we have no evacuation plans at the moment. The State Department is processing SIV applications in Kabul. You focus on ensuring the system works quickly and in accordance with US security and other application requirements. “
US officials previously recognized the danger faced many former Afghan interpreters, but have indicated that the government wanted to avoid causing panic or sending a signal that Washington has lost confidence in the Afghan government’s viability.
“We do not want to signal the panic and the withdrawal of all educated Afghans by degrading and undermining the morale of the Afghan security forces,” US special envoy for Afghan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, told lawmakers at a May 18 hearing.
“So this is a delicate, complicated balance that we have to maintain,” said Khalilzad, who had negotiated a US troop withdrawal agreement with the Taliban.
Republican Mike Waltz, a Republican from Florida and an outspoken supporter of the evacuation of Afghan partners, said he was encouraged by General Milley’s remarks but called for faster action as U.S. forces would soon be out of the country.
“While I welcome these comments, we need to take action sooner rather than later,” Waltz said in an email. “We have to show the world that we are rewarding those who help us against the enemy instead of leaving them behind.
U.S. officials who testified before Congress or answered questions from reporters have spurred efforts to expand and expedite visa issuance for the approximately 17,000 to 18,000 Afghans under a program for former U.S. military or embassy employees have made an application in Kabul. The program has been delayed and applicants have waited for years.
A federal court ruled in 2019 that the U.S. government had broken a law that required applications to be processed within nine months Report of the Inspector General A chronic staff shortage that had hampered the program was described last year.
Citing the killings of Afghans linked to the US government or the Western government, a growing number of legislators from both parties, as well as veterans and refugee rights groups, are calling on the Biden government to evacuate to US territory or a military base organize outside Afghanistan where the visa will be issued. Applicants’ documents would be reviewed and verified.
Proponents of the idea cite the military evacuation of around 6,600 Iraqi Kurds through the US territory of Guam in 1996 and 1997. The move came after the Saddam Hussein regime launched attacks on the Kurdish region of Iraq. The Kurds were housed at Andersen Air Force Base for three to four months and were eventually relocated to the United States.
When asked about a possible airlift of vulnerable Afghan partners on Thursday, Milley said: “This is one way of doing it.”
He added, “I’m not going to discuss how we’re going to do it because that will be in the future. I don’t usually discuss things that will happen in the future. But we have the ability to do this for these.” that wants to do it. “
Regarding future U.S. relations with Afghanistan after the withdrawal of American troops by September 11, Milley said the United States would maintain an embassy in the country, maintain financial support for the Afghan military, and remotely track terrorist threats.
“We want to keep the flow of money to the Afghan government’s security forces,” he said. “We will support them beyond the horizon outside of the country. And we want to maintain adequate levels of surveillance, education and early warning indicators for any restorative terrorist threat so that we can take appropriate action if necessary.” “”