Afghan evacuation flights to resume in 'very near future'

Afghan evacuation flights to resume in 'very near future'
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The U.S. military next week will resume flights carrying Afghan evacuees to the United States following a three-week pause to administer measles shots, the head of U.S. Northern Command said Thursday.

“I would anticipate that the flights will start here in the very near future,” Gen. Glen VanHerck told reporters at the Pentagon.

“Potentially, next week we could see something” due to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requirement that evacuees wait for 21 days after vaccination so it can take effect. 

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The Biden administration earlier this month paused flights of Afghan evacuees to the U.S. after several measles outbreaks, leaving thousands waiting in bases abroad. The government set about vaccinating all evacuees against measles, mumps and rubella as well as the chicken pox. There have been 24 cases of measles, including 12 that are still active.

VanHerck said that 100 percent of the evacuees would be vaccinated against measles as of Thursday and about 84 percent are at least partially vaccinated against the coronavirus. He framed the three-week pause as beneficial to COVID-19 inoculation, as it gave evacuees enough time to get their second shot.

He also said there are “slightly over” 14,000 Afghans being housed at “lily pad” sites overseas who are expected to come to the United States. 

Nearly all of the 53,000 Afghan evacuees spread out among eight military bases in the U.S., meanwhile, have received their required vaccinations, including against COVID-19, VanHerck noted.

“The U.S. government continues to take every precaution to stop the spread of COVID and other diseases, consistent with CDC guidance,” VanHerck said. “The task forces have undertaken vaccination campaigns and they are rapidly approaching 100 percent completion of all required vaccines for 100 percent of the eligible Afghans.”

The Defense Department has a capacity to house 64,000 people, and the incoming Afghans would push the military over that limit. But with Afghans beginning to leave the bases and resettle, VanHerck didn’t anticipate additional bases would be needed.  

Slightly more than 4,000 evacuees have completed their medical and other screening processes at the U.S. bases and have been cleared to leave, while nother 2,400 have already been vetted and left.

“We’re relying on the output to ensure that we have enough capacity for the additional remaining Afghans coming this way,” he said.