Kabul: For 20 years in Afghanistan, Afghan nationals lent assistance to the military operations led by American service personnel. With operations in that country closing out by the end of August, the U.S. government has made plans to move those civilians and their families to other locations. As part of “Operation Allies Refuge,” by the end of the month the US is expected to begin relocation flights for eligible Afghan nationals and their families who are currently within the Special Immigrant Visa program, Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby said during a briefing today at the Pentagon.
Kirby said that the Defense Department has not been asked, as of now, to provide military flights to support that relocation effort. Instead, he said, the department is involved in identifying potential relocation options for those Afghan nationals.
“The department’s role in Operation Allies Refuge will continue to be one of providing options and support to the interagency effort that’s being led by the State Department,” Kirby said. “To date, we have identified overseas locations and we’re still examining possibilities for overseas locations, to include some departmental installations that would be capable of supporting planned relocation efforts with appropriate temporary residences and associated support infrastructure.”
While Kirby didn’t name specific locations, he did say “all options” are being looked at, to include locations overseas and within the U.S. “All options are being considered and that would include the potential for short-term use of CONUS-based U.S. installations,” he said. “We’re trying to provide as many options to the State Department-led effort as we can.”
As of now, he said, no final decisions have been made. Kirby also said the department has stood up an internal action group that will, in part, work with the State Department to help better identify which Afghan nationals might be considered for relocation under the special immigrant visa program. “We will do what we can to help the State Department in terms of the identification of those who should be validly considered as part of the SIV process,” Kirby said. “The department remains eager and committed to doing all that we can to support collective government efforts — U.S. government efforts — to help those who have helped us for so long.”
However, Australian defense minister Peter Dutton has fanned fears Afghan interpreters seeking safety in Australia may have switched allegiances to the Taliban. The defense minister is under growing pressure over delays in processing visa applications as the security situation in Afghanistan rapidly deteriorates.
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Hundreds of Afghan interpreters, contractors and security guards who worked for Australia are seeking protection as the Taliban reclaims control of the country.
Dutton said Australia needed to be wary about which Afghans were allowed into the country. “We will bend over backwards as we’ve done to support those people who have helped our defense personnel out but it’s not a blanket approval process,” he told 2GB radio on Thursday. “Somebody who was loyal and faithful to us in 2012 or 2013 might now be friends with the Taliban or switched allegiances.” The minister also raised concerns about the scope of some applications.
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Dutton raised the hypothetical prospect of bringing somebody out with question marks over their security, only for the individual to commit a terrorist attack in five or 10 years. “People would rightly condemn us and we’re just not going to compromise on the checks and balances we have got in place,” he said.
This comes even as at least 347 refugees from Afghanistan have crossed into the Central Asian country of Tajikistan over two days, fleeing sweeping gains by Taliban fighters as foreign forces withdraw. State information agency Khovar, citing Tajikistan border guards, said on Wednesday the refugees “fled from the Taliban to save their lives”, adding two babies died during the border crossing. The Afghan interior ministry, however, insisted the armed group’s attack was repelled and government forces had control.
Tajikistan said the refugees, who included about 64 boys and 113 girls, had crossed from Afghanistan’s Badakhshan province, bringing with them herds of livestock. “Tajik border guards, guided by humanistic principles and good neighborliness, allowed Afghan refugees to enter,” Khovar said in a statement. The border guards said the situation along the shared frontier with Afghanistan was under control.
Meanwhile, Pakistan Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Chaudhry Fawad Hussain on Wednesday said that Pakistan’s efforts had been continuing for peace and stability in Afghanistan. In a late night message, the minister said that Prime Minister Imran Khan had a telephone conversation with former Afghan president Hamid Karzai. Fawad said that Pakistan was hosting a special conference on the issue of Afghanistan, adding that Afghan top leadership, including Karzai, had been invited to the moot. He hoped that the development would help resolve Afghan imbroglio. Highly placed official sources in Islamabad told a foreign media outlet on Wednesday that the proposed conference is scheduled for “17 to 19 July” and several Afghan leaders have already confirmed their participation.
Afghan special presidential envoy for Pakistan Mohammed Umer Daudzai and former finance minister Omar Zakhilwal have both confirmed to VOA they will attend the meeting. However, Daudzai, said the meeting “dates are still being debated.” Hamid Karzai, a former Afghan president, Salahuddin Rabbani, a former foreign minister, Omar Zakhilwal, a former finance minister, Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq, a senior leader of ethnic Hazara community, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a former warlord-turned politician, and Ahmad Wali Masoud, are among the invitees, the sources said.
Also, Adviser to the Pakistan Prime Minister on National Security Dr. Moeed Yusuf said Pakistan’s perspective is very clear in promoting an inclusive political settlement with a view to ensure that Afghan territory is not used against Pakistan and Pakistan to ensure his commitment that its territory will not be used against any country.
On the other hand, the director general of MI5 has said US and NATO withdrawing from Afghanistan will allow terrorists to “seek to take advantage” of chances to “rebuild.” Ken McCallum believes it will be “challenging” to stop potential threats without “having our own forces on the ground”. The security agency’s boss made the comments after UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace is said to have indicated, during a visit to Washington, his disappointment at President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw US forces, saying the rest of the international community had little choice but to follow suit. Wallace reportedly said the UK is willing to work with the Taliban if it enters government in Afghanistan.
McCallum said, “In Afghanistan, 20 years of dedicated effort have had profound effect: the Al-Qaeda terrorist infrastructure we faced at scale in 2001 is long since gone.”
In his annual address on Wednesday, he added, “As we seek to illuminate potential threats and take disruptive action, we will no longer have the advantages or the risks of having our own forces on the ground. This form of counter-terrorism is not new to us – it’s how we’ve always operated in Somalia, for instance; but from our experience we know it is challenging.”
Asked whether there was a risk this could pose further terrorist threats for the UK, McCallum told reporters some might seek to re-establish “training facilities”, for example, if “pockets of ungoverned space open up” in the country. Although it “doesn’t automatically follow” that they would then go on to “direct attacks, terrorist attacks against the UK”, for example, it is “clearly a possibility” to which we “must be alert”, Mr McCallum added.
He described extremist terrorism as still MI5’s “largest operational mission” and a “potent, shape-shifting threat”, while confirming that Syria remains the “overseas location with the greatest influence on the UK threat”.