The launch of the evacuation flights, bringing out former interpreters and others who fear retaliation from Afghanistan's Taliban for having worked with American troops and civilians, highlights American uncertainty about how Afghanistan's government and military will fare after the last U.S. combat forces leave that country in the coming weeks.
Family members are accompanying the interpreters, translators and others on the flights out. According to an internal U.S. government document, The Associated Press, the first evacuation flight carried 221 Afghans.
According to FlightAware, it touched down in Dulles, Virginia, just before Washington, D.C., at midnight.
Friday's flight was "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. He said he wanted to honor the military veterans, diplomats and others in the U.S. who have advocated for the Afghans.
Biden stated that "Most importantly," he said, "I want the United States to thank these brave Afghans who stood with us, and today, it is a proud moment to tell them: "Welcome home."
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken praised the Afghans' work with Americans and stated that their arrival shows the U.S. government’s support for them.
Friday's flight was about "keeping promises," according to Will Fischer, a veteran of the Iraq War and advocate for veteran's issues.
A refugee agency stated that the Biden administration was still trying to resettle thousands of Afghans. It urged Biden, however, to quickly bring them to the U.S., or to a U.S. territory like Guam.
Krish O'Mara Vignarajah of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service resettlement office stated that there was no plan for how the vast majority our allies would be safely brought to safety.
The official from resettlement stated that they cannot put them at risk in countries without reliable human rights records or where the Taliban might be able reach them.
Operation Allies Refuge is the Biden administration's name for the effort. Both Republican and Democratic legislators and veterans groups support the operation. Many instances have been cited by supporters of the operation where Taliban forces targeted Afghans who had worked with Americans or the Afghan government.
Congress on Thursday overwhelmingly approved legislation that would allow an additional 8,000 visas and $500 million in funding for the Afghan visa program.
The United States is in talks with Qatar and Kuwait to temporarily host thousands of Afghan interpreters, who are further behind than Friday's arrivals in the visa application process.
Officials from the United States spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss negotiations and said that they had not reached a deal with these two countries. Officials from the United States said that there are still obstacles to funding the massive relocation effort, including concerns about Afghans not having completed security screenings.
Biden announced earlier this year the U.S. would withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, honoring a withdrawal agreement struck by former President Donald Trump. He later said the U.S. military operation would end on Aug. 31, calling it "overdue." Some administration officials have expressed surprise at the extent and speed of Taliban gains of territory in the countryside since then.
Biden stated that, although U.S. troops have left Afghanistan, the U.S. will continue to support Afghanistan with security assistance for Afghan forces and humanitarian aid to the Afghan people.
The new Afghan immigrants will join the 70,000 other people who have settled in the United States under the special visa program since 2008.
The next flights will bring in more applicants, approximately 700 of whom are at the beginning of the visa process.
The first arrivals were screened for the coronavirus and received vaccines if they wanted them, said Tracey Jacobson, the U.S. diplomat running the effort. Jacobson stated that they would be staying at a Fort Lee hotel for seven days to complete medical examinations and other final steps. She said that they will be supported by resettlement agencies as they travel to the United States. Some of them are bound for relatives already in America.