One person evacuated from Afghanistan to a U.S. military base in Germany is in custody after failing a security screening but is not believed to be a “high threat,” the top U.S. general in Europe said Thursday.
Speaking via video conference to reporters at the Pentagon, U.S. European Command chief Gen. Tod Wolters would not elaborate on the man in custody, saying such information is “protected.”
But the general said he is “currently in the appropriate custody of U.S. interagency officials, and Germany has been very, very cooperative, and we are still working his background investigation.”
In addition to the person in custody, 58 Afghans have been flagged for needing additional screening, but Wolters said he expects that “all 58 will probably clear.”
“If an individual pops red, we calmly take them out of the normal processing line, and we put them in a different location so that we can have some isolation and have a little bit of extra time to make sure that everybody is as safe and secure as possible,” he said.
Wolters was speaking days after U.S. forces completed their withdrawal from Afghanistan, ending both military evacuation operations and the 20-year U.S. war there.
Since Kabul fell to the Taliban last month, thousands of Afghans were evacuated to U.S. military bases across the globe to await further background checks before being allowed into the United States.
In Europe, those bases include Ramstein Air Base and Rhine Ordnance Barracks in Germany, Naval Air Station Sigonella in Italy and Naval Station Rota in Spain.
Since evacuation operations began in August, U.S. bases in Europe received 38,000 Afghans and sent 16,000 of them to the United States after processing, Wolters said.
While thousands of Afghans were evacuated, State Department officials have acknowledged very few applicants for Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) made it out of Afghanistan, raising questions about who the Afghans who were evacuated are. SIVs are reserved for Afghans who helped the U.S. government during the war.
Wolters said Thursday the processing includes initial screening of biometric and biographical information in Defense Department, Customs and Border Protection and FBI databases so that “we comprehensively scrutinize their background” before the evacuees are sent to sleeping quarters.
There’s also another biometric and biographical check before individuals leave the bases to ensure the evacuees “continue to remain in the green,” Wolters said.
“We've refined this process over the course of the last 10 days,” he said. “As you can well imagine, if we wind up in situations to where we are backed up with evacuees at certain locations, if the screening process is too exorbitant, too slow, we could wind up having some serious problems. When we initially started operations here in Europe, our average wait time in the in-processing line put us in a position to where we could in-process about 60 folks per hour. Today, we possess the capability to process 250 folks per hour.”