The Biden administration is launching an operation to relocate Afghan nationals who aided the U.S. military effort in Afghanistan and are in the process of applying for residency in the United States.
“At President Biden’s direction, the United States is launching Operation Allies Refuge to support relocation flights for interested and eligible Afghan nationals and their families who have supported the United States and our partners in Afghanistan and are in the SIV application pipeline,” a senior administration official said in a statement.
The official said that flights out of Afghanistan will begin in the last week of July and that the government is withholding additional details for security purposes.
Biden announced this month that U.S. troops will be out of Afghanistan by Aug. 31, a few days earlier than the initial Sept. 11 deadline he had laid out. It comes amid escalating violence in the country, something the administration says it is watching with “deep concern.”
“In this context, speed is safety,” Biden told reporters, adding that not a single U.S. military member has been lost during the withdrawal process.
“The United States did what we went to do in Afghanistan – to get the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 and to deliver justice to Usama bin Laden,” he continued. “We did not go to Afghanistan to nation-build.”
President Biden has faced pressure from lawmakers from both parties to evacuate those Afghans who helped the military, including translators, as the U.S. winds down its nearly 20 years presence in the country.
In December, the State Department authorized 4,000 additional Special Immigrant Visas for Afghans (SIV) for a total of 26,500 visas allocated since 2014.
The administration has been working on identifying a third country or U.S. territory to host the Afghan nationals and their families while those visa applications are processed.
The State Department Coordination Unit to enact the operation will be led by Ambassador Tracey Jacobson, a senior administration official said. Jacobson previously led U.S. missions in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Kosovo. The unit also includes representatives from the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security.
Fox News’ Rich Edson, Kellianne Jones contributed to this report, as well as The Associated Press.