US to evacuate some Afghan interpreters ahead of withdrawal: official

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US soldiers, like these seen near Bagram in Afghanistan in 2010, relied on Afghan interpreters during their 20 years in the country

The United States plans to evacuate at least some Afghan interpreters who have worked with US forces before the full withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, a senior official said Thursday.

The move would keep the interpreters, facing violent reprisal from Taliban forces, safe as their immigration visas are processed, the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.

"We have identified a group of SIV applicants who have served as interpreters and translators to be relocated to another location outside of Afghanistan before we complete our military drawdown by September, in order to complete the visa application process," the official said.

They did not specify the number of interpreters or destination, but said their visa applications were "already in the pipeline."

And they said that even after the withdrawal, visa processing will continue, "including for those who remain in Afghanistan."

"Should it become necessary, we will consider additional relocation or evacuation options," the official said.

Some 18,000 Afghans who have worked with US forces, including as interpreters, are hoping to move to the US, fearing violent revenge by Taliban militants if they return to power.

But the process is extremely lengthy and they risk being stranded without a visa if the Afghan government collapses soon after foreign troops leave.

Many congressional representatives and human rights organizations are urging the Biden administration to evacuate Afghans with pending cases to the Pacific island of Guam.

The Pentagon has signaled for several weeks that it has begun preparations for a mass evacuation that could, if necessary, slow the full withdrawal of US forces from the country.

President Joe Biden in April ordered the departure of the 2,500 remaining troops in Afghanistan by September 11, 2021, the anniversary of the 2001 attacks that triggered the US invasion.

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