(AP) — President Joe Biden
welcomed home more than 200 Afghans who worked alongside Americans
on Friday, including scores of children
and babies in arms.
The evacuation flights, which bring out former interpreters and others who fear retaliation from Afghanistan's Taliban
for cooperating with American servicemembers and civilians, highlight American concern about how Afghanistan's government and military will fare after the last U.S. combat forces leave the country in the coming weeks.
The interpreters, translators, and others are being accompanied by family
members on their flights out.
According to the commercial FlightAware tracking service, the airliner carrying the 221 Afghans participating in the special visa program, including 57 children and 15 babies, landed at Washington Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Virginia
, just outside Washington, D.C.
Biden described the flight as "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 in Afghanistan over the last 20 years." He also expressed gratitude to military veterans
, diplomats, and others in the United States
who have advocated for Afghans.
“Most of all,” Biden said in a statement
, “I want to thank these brave Afghans for standing with the US, and today
, I am proud to say to them: ‘Welcome home.’”
Russ Travers, senior deputy homeland security
adviser at the National Security
Council, told reporters on Thursday as the Afghan families
were on their way that the flight “represents the fulfillment of the U.S. commitment and honors these Afghans’ brave service in helping support our mission in Afghanistan” and, as a result, “helps to keep our country safe.”
The effort is known as Operation Allies Refuge by the Biden administration
, and it has widespread support from Republican
lawmakers, as well as veterans groups. Proponents point to repeated instances of Taliban forces targeting Afghans who worked with Americans or the Afghan government.
On Thursday, Congress
passed legislation authorizing an additional 8,000 visas and funding for the Afghan visa program in the amount of $500 million.
Biden announced earlier this year that the United States would end its military presence in Afghanistan by September 11, honoring a withdrawal agreement reached by former President Donald Trump
, and some administration officials have expressed surprise at the extent and speed with which the Taliban has gained territory in the countryside since then.
Although US troops are leaving Afghanistan, Biden stated that the US will continue to support the Afghan people
by providing security assistance to Afghan forces as well as humanitarian and development aid.
The newly arrived Afghans will join 70,000 others who have been resettled in the United States under a special visa program since 2008.
Subsequent flights are scheduled to bring more of the approximately 700 applicants who are the furthest along in the visa process, having already received approval and passed security screening.
The first arrivals were screened for COVID-19
and given vaccines
if they requested them, according to Tracey Jacobson, the United States diplomat in charge of the effort. They were expected to stay at Fort Lee, Virginia, for about seven days, completing medical exams and other final steps, Jacobson said.
From Oklahoma City
, Knickmeyer contributed reporting.