Quantico Rings Up $188 Million Bill for Afghan Refugees Housed in Tents

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Afghan womens' soccer team at Fort Pickett
Sgt. Amanda Claro-Bevsek plays a game of soccer with the Afghan womens' soccer team at Fort Pickett, Virginia on Dec. 15, 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. David Intriago)

Thousands of Afghans briefly called Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia home after fleeing a Taliban takeover in August.

The last of those 3,755 refugees were resettled elsewhere in the U.S. just days before Christmas, leaving only an empty, impromptu village of tents and barracks rooms on the base -- and a $188 million bill for the Marine Corps and the Pentagon.

The cost of the housing effort reported this week by the Defense Department inspector general is a snapshot of Operation Allies Welcome, the mission of eight stateside bases to host 67,000 Afghan refugees airlifted out of Kabul at the end of August when the U.S. military ended all operations in Afghanistan after a 20-year war.

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The U.S. embrace of Afghans was emotional, painful and uneven as service members and civilians grappled with the war's legacy, and many worried allies would be left behind to face Taliban retribution. But the financial cost is also set to soar into the billions of dollars, sparking political opposition on Capitol Hill.

Congress has already approved $13.3 billion for the resettlement effort, which includes money for the Pentagon as well as the State Department and Department of Homeland Security. But it repeatedly had to overcome Republican opposition.

The first half of the money was included in a stopgap budget measure in September to keep the government funded after challenges by Republicans who wanted to put restrictions on the refugee spending. The second installment of $7 billion was passed Dec. 3 in another stopgap bill.

"Now Democrats want another $7 billion for the Afghan resettlement process on top of the $6 billion they have already spent in the last three months. For reference, Oklahoma's total budget is $8.83 billion -- for a state of 4 million people," Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., said in a statement when the funding legislation was passed in December.

Quantico had been reimbursed $138 million of its $188 million cost by the Defense Department by the time the last bill passed Congress and was signed by President Joe Biden, according to the DoD inspector general report.

Seven additional bases provided housing for the refugees following the Aug. 30 withdrawal from Afghanistan: Fort Lee and Fort Pickett, Virginia; Fort McCoy, Wisconsin; Fort Bliss, Texas; Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey; Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico; and Camp Atterbury, Indiana.

Afghans are still staying at five of those bases, Maj. Meg Harper, media chief for U.S. Northern Command, wrote in an email Friday.

The DoD inspector general is planning to audit the department's entire housing effort, and the report this week is the first installment in a series.

The task force set up at Quantico included 924 DoD personnel, who had planned for a maximum of 5,000 refugees to move through the base on their way to permanent resettlement in communities across the U.S., according to the IG, which sent personnel to the base in September and followed up in December.

Afghans were moved into housing at Camp Upshur, an old officer candidate school used in the 1980s. The task force contracted for a second encampment of two massive tents, one capable of housing 2,000 refugees and the other, 1,000.

The "third encampment, named Pioneer City, consisted of 80 Marine Corps general purpose tents and was capable of housing 1,000 Afghan evacuees," the report found.

All the housing had electricity and internet services provided by a donated substation. The refugees who stayed there had four dining facilities that served three hot meals each day. Base civil affairs personnel and non-governmental organizations hosted Afghan-led classes on English, American culture, hygiene and women's health.

There were movie nights, dance nights, and soccer and volleyball tournaments.

The task force had three ambulances standing by and two landing zones for medical airlifts. Every day for the first month, it had to transport Afghans off base to civilian hospitals for medical emergencies, including pregnancies and a child's concussion.

About 150 Marines from 1st Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, provided security to the Afghan refugee village at Quantico.

"Quantico had one major criminal security incident and it involved an Afghan evacuee committing what appeared to be an unlawful act with a child," the IG reported.

Security personnel quickly decided the incident violated U.S. law and turned the refugee over to the FBI.

-- Travis Tritten can be reached at travis.tritten@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Tritten.

Related: Afghanistan War Vet Helps Afghan Refugees Resettle in US

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