About 20,000 Afghans who served as interpreters for the United States during the war in Afghanistan and now fear retaliation by the Taliban have applied to evacuate, the White House said on Thursday.
“There are about 20,000 Afghans who have applied,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.
Psaki said they were all former interpreters for the military or other entities targeted by the Taliban.
However, the United States will also consider applications from families of interpreters, she added. However, Ms. Psaki did not specify the number of family members who would be granted asylum.
By some estimates, the total number of people eligible to leave will be around 100,000.
Officials said evacuations would begin this month.
Evacuation-ready interpreters are those who have applied under the State Department’s Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) program for Iraqi and Afghan translators and interpreters.
Ms. Psaki said those who have completed security checks can then be accommodated at a US military base.
These people still need to go through the screening process, which will first be sent to a U.S. base abroad or a third country — “where they will be safely resided until the trial is over. Their visa processing is done,” added Ms. Psaki.
Meanwhile, two senators are pressing President Joe Biden to speed up the evacuation and ensure that Afghans who assist US intelligence agencies are included.
“Over two decades, thousands of Afghans risked their lives working with intelligence experts from the United States and other NATO countries to counter the threat,” wrote Chairman Mark Warner and Vice Chairman Marco Rubio of the Senate Intelligence Committee. against Al Qaeda, the Haqqani Network, ISIS and other terrorist groups”.
“Their efforts have contributed to the destruction of Al Qaeda and its ability to attack American facilities,” they said in a letter to Biden.
The two senators urged Biden to move forward with the SIV program but also consider evacuating Afghans to third countries and prioritizing their immigration under US refugee programs.
The lawmakers also questioned whether, with the rapid withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, there was enough capacity to evacuate the Afghans who had helped the Americans.
“Abandoning these individuals, who provided vital support to our intelligence community in Afghanistan, would send a damaging message to our potential allies and partners in the coming years. prestige of the United States,” the letter read. “It will also be a stain on our national conscience.”