United States scrambles to move translators from Afghanistan

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An additional 4,000 Afghans who worked with U.S. forces, many of them interpreters, had been approved to relocate to the United States with their families in light of the withdrawal of U.S. troops, State Department officials said Wednesday.

But officials added that evacuations were only taking place out of Kabul, the capitol, and any eligible Afghans in remote areas were on their own in figuring out how to make the difficult, and likely dangerous, journey if they wanted to take advantage of the offer.

“In order to come on an evacuation flight, they would have to get themselves to Kabul,” a senior official, who requested anonymity in order to discuss the plan in detail, said on a call with reporters. “Obviously, we don’t have extensive U.S. military presence. We don’t have the ability to provide transportation for them.”

“If they’re staying in the north of the country and they don’t feel safe staying in Afghanistan, they could go to a neighbouring country” and finish their application process there, the official added.

The United States also will not provide security to applicants outside Kabul, many of whom are under direct threat from the Taliban for cooperating with coalition forces during the war.

With the U.S. military in the final phases of withdrawing from Afghanistan, the White House has come under pressure to protect Afghan allies and speed up the process of providing them with special immigrant visas, and President Joe Biden has vowed to do so. There have been about 20,000 applicants for the special visa program.

This month, 2,500 Afghans will be sent in stages to an Army base in Fort Lee, Virginia, south of Richmond, where they will wait roughly 10 days for final processing. The next 4,000 applicants, who need further approvals, will go with their families to other countries to complete the visa process before coming to the United States, the senior official said.

The official did not indicate which countries those applicants would be sent to complete the visa process.

The House is expected to pass legislation this week increasing the number of State Department special immigrant visas and streamlining the application process.

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