'Important Milestone': First Flight of Afghan Evacuees Lands in US, Biden Says
06:14 GMT 30.07.2021 (Updated: 09:40 GMT 30.07.2021)
© AP Photo / Mariam ZuhaibIn this Friday, April 30, 2021, file photo former Afghan interpreters hold banners during a protest against the U.S. government and NATO in Kabul, Afghanistan.
© AP Photo / Mariam Zuhaib
In mid-June, the Biden administration signalled its readiness to start evacuation flights for Afghan interpreters and translators who aided the US military effort in Afghanistan.
The first flight of Afghan interpreters and their families evacuated from Afghanistan has arrived in the US, President Joe Biden said in a statement on Friday.
"Today is an important milestone as we continue to fulfill our promise to the thousands of Afghan nationals who served shoulder-to-shoulder with American troops and diplomats over the last 20 years in Afghanistan”, Biden stressed.
According to an internal US government document obtained by the AP news agency, an aircraft with 221 Afghans, including 57 children and 15 babies on board, landed at Washington Dulles International Airport in the early hours of Friday.
© REUTERS / US ARMYU.S. Army soldiers and contractors load High Mobility Multi-purposed Wheeled Vehicles, HUMVs, to be sent for transport as U.S. forces prepare for withdrawl, in Kandahar, Afghanistan, July 13, 2020.
U.S. Army soldiers and contractors load High Mobility Multi-purposed Wheeled Vehicles, HUMVs, to be sent for transport as U.S. forces prepare for withdrawl, in Kandahar, Afghanistan, July 13, 2020.
The news agency cited unnamed American officials as saying that the evacuees are expected to stay at the Fort Lee Army Base near Washington, DC, for several days to complete the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) process.
The SIV programme is offered to those who cooperated with the US government or American-led military forces during the war in Afghanistan. Last week, the US State Department claimed the total number of SIV applicants stands at more than 20,000.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki earlier declined to elaborate on how many Afghans would be evacuated during the first flight or where the evacuees would be taken, citing security concerns.
"The reason that we are taking these steps is because these are courageous individuals. We want to make sure we recognise and value the role they've played over the last several years", Psaki told reporters.
US Troop Withdrawal From Afghanistan
Friday's developments come amid the ongoing withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan, a process occurring alongside increased military activity by the Taliban*.
The Taliban militants gained momentum as American troops started pulling out of Afghanistan on 1 May, in accordance with an agreement that the terrorist group and the United States concluded in Doha in February 2020.
Last week, Afghan Defence Ministry spokesman Fawad Aman rejected the Taliban's recent claim of controlling 90 percent of Afghanistan's borders as an "absolute lie" and "baseless propaganda". He told the news agency AFP that government forces were in control of the nation's borders and all of the "main cities and highways".
*Taliban, a terrorist group banned in Russia