Pentagon to provide two more US bases to house Afghans

Pentagon to provide two more US bases to house Afghans
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The U.S. military will provide two additional facilities in the United States to house thousands of at-risk Afghans being evacuated after the Taliban seized power Sunday, the Pentagon confirmed Monday.

Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinUS extends security pact with Georgia for six years Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Raytheon Technologies — Nation mourns Colin Powell Powell death leads to bipartisan outpouring of grief MORE “did approve a Department of State request for assistance yesterday for the transport and temporary housing of Afghan Special Immigrant Visa applicants, their families and other individuals at risk,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters Monday. “In the United States, we are assessing facilities and support at two additional stateside installations.”

Garry Reid, who's heading Pentagon support to the State Department's Special Immigrant Visa efforts, later confirmed the two sites are Fort Bliss in Texas and Fort McCoy in Wisconsin.

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The two locations would add to the existing evacuation site at Fort Lee in Virginia. Between the three sites, the Pentagon expects to be able to house up to 22,000 Afghans “three to four weeks from now,” Kirby said.

“We will not have that capacity immediately, it will take some time to build it out,” Kirby said.

The military is also flying Afghans to a third-party “partner nation,” Kirby said, declining to name the country. 

“I'm not at liberty to identify at this point, but we are working with a country in the region and trying to secure arrangements with other third-party countries to at least serve as a way station as we get people out, so that we can do some sorting and then help with follow on transportation from these locations,” Kirby said, adding that some of the flights that have already left Kabul have gone to the unidentified third country.

A battalion-size unit of U.S. forces in the Middle East “is prepared to also assist with processing and medical care for up to 8,000 at-risk individuals there,” Kirby said.

Prior to the Taliban completing its takeover of Afghanistan on Sunday, the Biden administration had evacuated just about 2,000 Afghans who helped the U.S. military and their families to Fort Lee despite pressure from lawmakers and advocates to ramp up evacuations long before Kabul fell.

Nearly 20,000 Afghans and thousands more family members have been seeking a Special Immigrant Visa for fear of being targeted by the Taliban for helping the U.S. government during the war.

With the Taliban back in power, Afghans hoping to be evacuated flooded the Kabul airport Sunday and Monday, desperate to get on a U.S. military evacuation flight. Video circulating on social media showed Afghans clinging to U.S. military C-17 transport aircraft as it tried to take off, including one video allegedly showing people who grabbed a wheel falling to their deaths as the plane gained altitude.

The chaos at the airport has prompted the military to temporarily halt evacuation flights as the U.S. military works to regain control of the scene.

Updated at 5:29 p.m.