U.S. to begin housing Afghan refugees at Virginia military base

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Some of the Afghan nationals who aided the U.S. war effort will be temporarily housed at a U.S. Army base about 140 miles south of Washington while they await approval of their visas.

The first round of applicants will be taken to Fort Lee, Va., according to a congressional official who viewed a National Security Council notification sent to Capitol Hill on Monday.

The news comes as the administration has also been considering housing the applicants outside of Afghanistan before they come to the U.S. Many of the Afghan allies, who served as interpreters and translators for the U.S., are in danger amid the U.S. withdrawal from the country and rapid gains by the Taliban.

President Joe Biden announced this month that evacuation flights from Afghanistan would begin in late July. The Afghans are seeking refuge in the U.S. through the Special Immigrant Visa program, which has enjoyed bipartisan support over the years.

A spokesperson for the National Security Council did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The special visa program has seen significant backlogs in recent weeks, raising the urgency of evacuating the applicants and housing them in other countries or on the U.S. mainland as they await State Department approval of their paperwork.

Lawmakers who have been pressing the Biden administration for a more concrete plan to evacuate the Afghan allies cheered the decision.

“This is welcome news,” said Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.), a former Army Green Beret who worked with Afghan interpreters when he served in the country. “But we still need to see details on how the Biden administration will get SIV applicants and their families out from across Afghanistan now that we have no bases or military transportation.”

The House is set to vote this week on legislation to allow applicants to be approved for special visas more quickly.

POLITICO reported last week that the Biden administration was in talks with the government of Uzbekistan to temporarily house the applicants. The U.S. was also discussing the matter with Tajikistan’s government, but a congressional source briefed on the matter said that country was a “no-go.”

The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is nearly complete. U.S. Central Command said last week that it had finished 95 percent of the pullout.

Over the weekend, representatives from the Afghan government and the Taliban met in Doha as the fighting between Afghan troops and Taliban members has escalated. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Monday that the U.S. “welcomes” the talks, adding: “Only a negotiated settlement can bring a lasting end to over 40 years of conflict in Afghanistan.”

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