The Biden administration will begin an airlift of Afghans who aided U.S. military operations during the 20-year war by the end of July, a senior administration official said on Wednesday.
Operation Allies Refuge flights out of Afghanistan will be available first for people who have already applied for special immigrant visas and their families. The flights will begin in the last week of July.
'For operational security, we won’t have additional details on when flights will depart, but we will meet the President’s commitment to begin flights this month,' said the official.
President Biden has been under intense pressure from both left and right to explain how he planned to protect Afghans who risked their lives as translators or in other roles.
They fear a rapid Taliban advance and U.S. withdrawal puts them and their families at even greater risk.Insurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
The White House began briefing lawmakers on the outlines of their plans last month.
Last week President Biden said he would help protect Afghans who worked for U.S. forces. On Wednesday, a senior administration official said Operation Allies Refuge would begin in the last week of July, flying translators and other former staff and their families to safety
The Taliban apparently continued their advance on Wednesday. People are seen waving Taliban flags as they drive through the Pakistani town of Chaman after the Taliban claimed to have captured the Afghan side of the frontier crossing at Spin Boldak
Former Afghan interpreters hold placards during demonstrations against the US government, in front of the US Embassy in Kabul, as they seek safety from advancing Taliban fighters
It is understood the administration is mulling whether to charter commercial aircraft or use military planes.
The move was welcomed by No One Left Behind, which campaigns for the safety for interpreters in Afghanistan and Iraq.Insurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
'No One Left Behind thanks President Biden to following through with his promise last Thursday,' it said.
'The announcement of flights to third countries for SIV applicants is a significant step forward.'
In a speech last Thursday, Biden defended his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan and offered guarantees of safety to translators and other Afghans who worked for American forces 'if they wish to leave by taking them to third countries.'
Meanwhile, the Taliban has been making rapid advances.
On Wednesday, they claimed to have taken a strategic border crossing with Pakistan.
A Taliban spokesman tweeted a video apparently showing Taliban fighters flying their flag in the south-eastern town of Spin Boldak, along the border.
In the meantime, lawmakers from both sides spelled out dire predictions for what might happen if the translators were left behind.
'If they're not given refugee status, we're going to see pictures of them lined up against the wall and machine-gunned,' Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy told MSNBC on Tuesday, saying he feared violence at the hands of the Taliban. 'That's not an exaggeration.'
Former US president George W. Bush on Wednesday said the withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan was a 'mistake' and warned civilians were being left to be 'slaughtered' by the 'brutal' Taliban in an interview with Deutsche Welle
President George W. Bush announcing that the US and Britain had started bombing Afghanistan, in the Treaty Room of the White House on October 7, 2001
Afghanistan is facing a crisis as the Taliban snap up territory across the countryside, stretching government forces and leading to a fresh wave of internally displaced families
Former President George W. Bush, who sent troops to Afghanistan in fall 2001 after the September 11 attacks, said he feared the withdrawal was a mistake.
'I think about all the interpreters and the people that helped not only US troops, but NATO troops and it seems like they're just going to be left behind to be slaughtered by these very brutal people, and it breaks my heart,' he told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.
Biden has insisted soldiers will completely pull out of Afghanistan by September 11, despite facing intense criticism over the decision.
Bush said: 'It's unbelievable how that society changed from the brutality of the Taliban and how all of a sudden, sadly, I'm afraid Afghan women and girls are going to suffer unspeakable harm.'
Pressed on whether the withdrawal was a mistake, he said 'I think it is, yeh, because I think the consequences are going to be unbelievably bad.
Speaking in the interview primarily about German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is set to retire from politics later this year after 16 years in power, Bush said he thought she 'feels the same way'.
US and NATO forces began withdrawing from Afghanistan in early May and are due to completely pull out by September 11, some 20 years after they arrived in the war-torn country.
Most of the 2,500 US and 7,500 NATO troops who were in Afghanistan when US President Joe Biden detailed the final withdrawal in April have now departed, leaving Afghan troops to fight an emboldened Taliban seemingly bent on a military victory.
The country is facing a crisis as the insurgents snap up territory across the countryside, stretching government forces and leading to a fresh wave of internally displaced families, complicated by a renewed outbreak of Covid-19.
The Taliban appear to be winning the propaganda war with videos to prove they will welcome surrendering soldiers (pictured, Taliban fighters and villagers on March 2, 2020)
Former President George W. Bush has warned 'Afghan women and girls are going to suffer unspeakable harm' following the withdrawal of US troops
The United Nations said on Sunday the rising conflict is causing 'more suffering' across the violence-wracked country as it called for continuous financial aid.
Biden has insisted, however, that it is time for US involvement in the war to end and for Afghans to chart their own future.
'I will not send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan, with no reasonable expectation of achieving a different outcome,' he said on Thursday, defending his decision despite the growing threat of civil war.
It comes after American troops slipped away from Bagram in the dead of night on July 2, effectively ending the combat mission without telling the local Afghan commander.
Since the quiet withdrawal Afghan troops around the country have been filmed laying down their arms to the Taliban and reports suggest they have deserted in vast numbers, with more than 20,000 fleeing across the border into Tajikistan.
The result is a growing sense of doom among Afghans and US allies.
US troops are seen loading a helicopter onto a C-17 Globesmaster at Bagram on June 16 as they prepare to leave the airbase
An Afghan soldier stands guard on a security tower at Bagram airfield after US troops left
An Afghan flag is raised during a handover ceremony from the US Army to the Afghan National Army, at Camp Anthonic, in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan in May 2021
The White House has been under intense pressure to explain its rationale for rushing out of Afghanistan.
Washington agreed to leave as part of a deal with the Taliban made by the Trump administration last year.
Military leaders wanted to leave a larger presence in the country but Biden announced in April that he wanted all US troops out by September 11.
In 30 minutes of comments on Thursday, Biden repeated his justification for the withdrawal - saying the