The plans were first reported by Fox News on Sunday after the news outlet obtained Department of Defense documents describing the relocation effort.
According to the documents, up to 30,000 Afghan refugees are slated to be transported to the U.S. and housed at military bases under the Special Immigrant Visa program, which grants asylum to foreign individuals who have worked for the U.S. government in some capacity.
“The situation in Afghanistan may lead to DoS [Department of State] allowing Afghan SIV applicants to be moved to temporary housing locations while still being vetted for parolee status,” the document reportedly said.
Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby confirmed the plans to Fox News on Sunday, adding that Fort McCoy in Wisconsin and Fort Bliss in Texas are in line to receive refugees.
“We want to have the capacity to get up to several thousand immediately, and want to be prepared for the potential of tens of thousands,” Kirby said. “Bliss and McCoy have the capability right now — and what’s advantageous is with a little bit of work, they could increase their capacity in very short order.” 🚨NEW, thread: Pentagon confirms to me the Department of Defense is preparing to house thousands of Afghan refugees… https://t.co/79y6tlWS9l
— Jacqui Heinrich (@Jacqui Heinrich)
Kirby also indicated that American citizens will not be given priority over the Afghan refugees in the evacuation from Kabul. Rather, the Defense Department will seemingly grab whoever they can, regardless of status, and then sort it out later.
“Once we get more airlift out of Kabul, we’re going to put as many people on those planes as we can,” he said. “There will be a mix, not just American citizens but perhaps some Afghan SIV applicants as well. We’re going to focus on getting people out of the country, then sorting it out at the next stop. It’s not going to be just Americans first, then SIV applicants. We’re going to focus on getting as many folks out as we can.”
Kirby’s description of the operation shows how chaotic the situation is on the ground in Afghanistan. Taliban forces have conquered the entire country in a matter of weeks alongside the U.S.’s botched withdrawal, despite President Joe Biden’s claims that such a takeover was “highly unlikely.”
Last Friday, in response to the rapid takeover, the Pentagon rushed 3,000 troops back to Afghanistan to aid the evacuation of American citizens from the embassy in Kabul. On Saturday, Biden deployed thousands more to ensure “an orderly and safe” evacuation.
The relocation of Afghan refugees marks a policy reversal by the Biden administration. In July, the administration reportedly claimed it could not evacuate a number of Afghan translators because the asylum process differed from the one that governs the U.S. southern border.
The reversal comes as 60 Western countries issued a joint statement determining that Afghans and other international citizens who want to leave Afghanistan should be allowed to depart amid the Taliban takeover.