The U.S. is in the final stages of talks to temporarily house a number of Afghan nationals who aided the U.S. war effort and their families at U.S. military bases in Qatar and Kuwait while they await approval of their visas, according to three people with knowledge of the plans.
The first round of roughly 2,500 applicants will be flown to Fort Lee, an Army base in Virginia, starting this month, State Department spokesperson Ned Price announced on Tuesday. The base will serve as a temporary holding station for Afghan nationals who have completed the security vetting and are in the final stages of their visa application process, officials said.
Additional applicants could be relocated to U.S. military bases in Qatar and Kuwait if the host nations agree, said two U.S. officials and a congressional source. Neither country has approved the U.S. request to host the Afghan nationals, but an agreement is “close,” one of the officials said.
The Qatar and Kuwait arrangements are “basically done deals,” said the congressional source, adding that the armed services committees have been informed of the plan.
The Biden administration is also looking at U.S. bases elsewhere in the Middle East, Europe and the Asia-Pacific to house additional applicants at different stages in the process, one of the officials said.
Joe Biden is withdrawing all U.S. troops from Afghanistan in favor of a new diplomatic strategy, but recent military gains by the Taliban are complicating peace negotiations.
“We’re still engaged in diplomacy with a number of countries,” a State Department official said.
The Biden administration has come under intense bipartisan pressure in recent weeks to fast-track about 18,000 pending applications for the Special Immigrant Visa program as the U.S. combat presence in Afghanistan winds down.
Afghans who aided the U.S. military during the nearly 20-year conflict served as translators and interpreters. They’re increasingly being targeted for retribution by the Taliban as the militant group makes rapid gains in Afghanistan amid the U.S. withdrawal. The intelligence community has assessed that the country could fall to the Taliban in as little as six to 18 months, one of the U.S. officials said.
Reporters said last week that the Biden administration was also in talks with the government of Uzbekistan to temporarily house a portion of the applicants. Officials had also discussed the matter with Tajikistan’s government, but that country was a “no-go,”.
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby confirmed on Monday that the first round of applicants and their families will be housed at Fort Lee for a few days, where they will be able “to safely complete the final steps” of the process, including final medical and administrative checks. Once the process is complete, they will be resettled in the U.S.
The group heading to Fort Lee includes 700 applicants under the Special Immigrant Visa program, which has enjoyed bipartisan support since 2009; the remaining 1,800 Afghans are their family members./ Politico