WASHINGTON: More than 200 Afghan interpreters who helped US troops and diplomats arrived in the United States on Friday, the government said, the first of tens of thousands expected to immigrate to flee the threat of Taliban retaliation.

President Joe Biden announced the arrival of the first of several such flights expected through August, as the US withdraws its last troops and rushes to move to safety those Afghans who provided crucial help during the two decades of war.

“Today is an important milestone as we continue to fulfill our promise to the thousands of Afghan nationals who served shoulder-to-shoulder with American troops and diplomats over the last 20 years in Afghanistan,” Biden said in a statement. “I want to thank these brave Afghans for standing with the United States, and today, I am proud to say to them: ‘Welcome home,’” he added.

An estimated 20,000 Afghans worked for the United States following the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and are seeking evacuation under the State Department’s Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) programm. That includes not just interpreters but those providing intelligence support and other sensitive jobs to US and allied forces.

Including their families, the number that could be ferried to new homes in the United States under what has been dubbed “Operation Allies Refuge” could reach as much as 100,000, by some estimates.

Many fear retaliation from the Taliban, which has secured a vast swath of the country since foreign troops began the last stage of a withdrawal due to be complete by late August.

Published in Dawn, July 31st, 2021

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