Photo taken on July 2, 2021 shows the gate of Bagram Airfield after all U.S. and NATO forces evacuated in Parwan province, eastern Afghanistan. (Photo by Sayed Mominzadah/Xinhua)
The United States will launch "Operation Allies Refuge" in late July to evacuate Afghans who helped the U.S. military during the two-decade war, the White House said on Wednesday.
"Flights out of Afghanistan for SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) applicants who are already in the pipeline will begin in the last week of July and will continue," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters in a daily briefing. "Our objective is to get individuals who are eligible relocated out of the country in advance of the withdrawal of troops at the end of August."
She did not provide a specific number of qualified applicants, citing operational and security reasons.
"We are working closely with Congress to change the authorization legislation so that we can streamline the process of approving these visas," she said.
According to media reports, an estimated 18,000 applicants are already awaiting visas, with an estimated 53,000 family members seeking to accompany them, and the application process can take as long as 800 days.
The Biden administration has been facing pressure from lawmakers to work out a plan to evacuate Afghans who helped the U.S. military and are vulnerable to Taliban reprisals amid the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
President Joe Biden announced last week that U.S. military mission in Afghanistan will conclude on Aug. 31, days ahead of his original Sept. 11 deadline. U.S. Central Command said Tuesday that the U.S. military had completed over 95 percent of the withdrawal.
The security situation in the war-torn country has deteriorated as Taliban militants continue heavy fighting against government forces and gain ground since the drawdown of U.S. troops on May 1.