More than 18,000 Afghans who have worked as interpreters, drivers, engineers, security guards, fixers and embassy clerks for the United States during the war have been trapped in bureaucratic limbo after applying for special immigrant visas, available to people who face threats because of work for the U.S. government. The applicants have 53,000 family members, U.S. officials have said.
Last month, when he announced his plan to assist the Afghans who had aided American forces, Mr. Biden insisted that his administration would not be leaving them to fend for themselves.
“Those who helped us are not going to be left behind,” he said at the time.
The question now is where they will go once they are evacuated. John F. Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, told reporters on Wednesday that officials may potentially house some of the Afghan visa applicants at bases inside the United States on a “short-term” basis while their applications are processed. This would most likely be through humanitarian parole, a government program that allows people to apply to enter the United States for urgent humanitarian reasons.
“I would say that the reason why we’re being careful about the information we’re putting out is because just like we’ve been careful about the information regarding the U.S. drawdown,” Mr. Kirby said, “we don’t want to see anybody get hurt.”
The vast majority of applicants and their families would go through the relocation process and be moved to an American base in another country. The options include Qatar, Kuwait and bases throughout Europe, as well as U.S. territories, including Guam.
The mission fulfills a pledge by Mr. Biden to not repeat the abandonment of U.S. allies during the withdrawal from Vietnam, and comes as the Taliban gain more ground throughout Afghanistan, seizing swaths of territory, displacing tens of thousands, and wounding or killing hundreds of civilians.
But among former Afghan interpreters, the news was greeted with skepticism.
“They’ve promised a lot, and so far they’ve given nothing,” said Omid Mahmoodi, a former interpreter. “I’m still not believing it. There are thousands who will be left behind.”