Afghan evacuees to be housed at Virginia base

The Biden administration plans to send the first group of Afghans being evacuated amid threats to their lives for helping U.S. troops during the war to a military base in Virginia, a congressional aide notified about the plans confirmed Monday.

About 2,500 Afghans who have already applied for Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) are expected to be sent to Fort Lee, Va., while they finish the lengthy application process.

The National Security Council and Pentagon did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The news, which was first reported by Reuters, comes after the Biden administration last week formally announced “Operation Allies Refuge,” which officials said would start evacuations at the end of July.

Sending the Afghans to Fort Lee represents a shift from the administration’s initial statements on looking to send them to third countries or U.S. facilities outside the continental United States.

But the Pentagon last week did say it also started looking at facilities within the continental United States in order to give the State Department, which is leading the operation, as many options as possible.

The Biden administration has faced increasing pressure from lawmakers and advocates to evacuate Afghans who served as interpreters or otherwise helped the U.S. military during the war as the United States nears its final exit from Afghanistan after nearly 20 years.

The pullout from America’s longest war is about 95 percent done, with President Biden setting an official deadline of Aug. 31 for the end of the withdrawal.

Amid fears the Taliban could overrun the country and hunt down Afghan allies to the United States, lawmakers and others have been sounding the alarm about delays in the SIV program, which Congress created to allow Afghans who helped the U.S. come to the United States.

An estimated 18,000 applicants are already awaiting visas, with an estimated 53,000 family members seeking to accompany them. The application process can take as long as 800 days.