John F. Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, spoke opaquely about this option last week when he told reporters that the administration might potentially house some of the Afghans at bases inside the United States on a “short-term” basis while their applications are processed.
The vast majority of Afghan applicants and their families, however, would go through the relocation process and be moved to an American base in another country.
The mission fulfills a pledge by President 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.
House members from both parties, who are expected to approve legislation later this week increasing the number of State Department special-immigrant visas and streamlining the application process, praised the administration’s efforts but complained they should have happened much faster.
“The ability to conduct an evacuation now is going to be different from the ability to conduct an evacuation in August, September, October, November,” said Representative Jason Crow, Democrat of Colorado and a former Army Ranger who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, said on MSNBC this month. “It’s going to get worse with each passing month.”
Those seeking to obtain a special immigrant visa are required to submit identification documents, proof of their work for the U.S. government and a letter of recommendation from an American official. The applicant must also clear multiple background checks, submit fingerprints for each family member and pass an interview at a U.S. embassy.
Despite a congressional mandate that the State and Homeland Security Departments process the visas within nine months, more than 8,000 applicants had been stalled longer than that, according to a report from the International Refugee Assistance Project, or IRAP, which filed a lawsuit against the federal government over the delays.