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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States plans to evacuate a group of vulnerable Afghan interpreters before the U.S. military completes its withdrawal from Afghanistan so they can safely process visa applications, U.S. officials said Thursday.
The decision by the administration of President Joe Biden threatens to create a sense of crisis in Afghanistan a day before Biden meets Afghan President Ashraf Ghani for talks aimed at highlighting a sense of partnership despite the US military withdrawal.
The meeting at the White House comes at a time when Taliban fighters are launching a major offensive in Afghanistan, raising the concerns of the US Congress about Afghan interpreters who have worked for the US military over the past two decades and the Taliban launching reprisals after the departure of US forces.
Senior Republican Representative Mike McCaul told Reuters on Thursday that the evacuation of Afghan interpreters at risk would include their families, and that the total number could be as high as 50,000. McCaul, who discussed the evacuation plan with officials in the administration of President Joe Biden, said that the countries to which the evacuees may be transferred include the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait.
Fighting between US-backed Afghan forces and the Taliban has intensified over the past few weeks, with the militants seizing territory.
According to the Pentagon, the Taliban now control 81 percent of the country’s 419 provinces.
Political talks between the government and the Taliban have largely frozen and it is unclear how the Afghan security forces will perform their duties after the departure of the US forces. The Taliban reassured Afghans who worked with foreign forces for their safety.
But as the departure date approaches, Afghans who have applied for visas fear that they and their families will be targeted by insurgents to punish them for helping foreign forces during America’s longest war.
Former Afghan translator Sami Hunaryar, who was granted asylum in the United States after receiving a threat, told a news conference in the US capital on Thursday that time was running out for his compatriots.
“Please evacuate them. They are good people, help you,” he added.