The United States this month will start moving thousands of Afghans who served as interpreters and in other support jobs along with their family members to locations outside of Afghanistan, where they can wait safely while their visas are processed.
But it still is unknown where they will go and what the evacuation process will be.
"Our message to those women and men is clear," President Joe Biden said Thursday. "There is a home for you in the United States if you so choose, and we will stand with you just as you stood with us."
In a White House address, Biden said that his administration has accelerated the process for approving Special Immigrant Visas for Afghan workers who assisted the U.S. The government has approved about 2,500 such visas since his inauguration, he said, adding that less than half have accepted the visas and flown to the United States. The others decided to stay in Afghanistan.
However, those numbers amount to less than 14% of the backlog of roughly 18,000 Afghans awaiting visa approval.
Biden said his administration is working with Congress to further streamline the visa approval process and has identified American facilities outside the continental United States, as well as locations in third countries, where thousands of Afghans can wait for their visas. Flights to relocate those who choose to leave, along with their family members, will begin later this month, he said.
Biden did not identify those facilities, but some advocates pushing the U.S. to act faster to relocate Afghans have urged the government to house them on Guam, where Andersen Air Force Base is located. Reuters reported last week that the U.S. is negotiating with Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan, all located near Afghanistan, to take in the Afghans temporarily.
In a briefing with reporters, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said the evacuations could begin in the next three weeks and might include the use of State Department-chartered or commercial aircraft. The military is also able to provide transportation capability, he said, adding there has been no indication that will be needed.
The government is looking at "a range of options" for housing the Afghans, Kirby said, but he declined to identify which overseas military installations are being considered. Some are on U.S. territory, he said, and others are facilities used by the U.S. in host nations. The government is also looking at locations in other countries that the U.S. is not currently using.