The Pentagon has enlisted three more military bases to house Afghan refugees coming to America to escape the Taliban, spokesman John Kirby announced Friday.
Marine Corps Base Quantico and Fort Pickett in Virginia, and Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico were all added ‘to provide additional support to the U.S. mission to evacuate Afghans special immigrant visa applicants, their families, and other at-risk individuals,’ Kirby said.
Combined the bases will have capacity to house up to 70,000 Afghans and their families. Kirby said there are ‘just under 7,000’ people there as of Friday.
He added that the State and Homeland Security Departments along with Health and Human Services will assist the military in coordinating the accommodation.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that Homeland Security will lead oversight efforts of the federal government’s relocation efforts, including making sure all Afghans are ‘screened and vetted prior to being allowed into the United States.’
The map below shows where Afghan refugees, including special immigrant visa applicants and vulnerable civilians, are being taken after they are evacuated from Hamid Karzai International Airport by US and coalition flights.
Approximately 12,500 people were evacuated from Kabul within a 24-hour window ending as of early Friday morning. Since August 14 about 105,000 people – mostly Afghans – were flown from the airport to intermediate staging areas before going on to the US.
A map showing some of the locations Afghan refugees are being sent to including staging areas in Qatar, Bahrain and Germany, as well as some of the 14 ‘temporary safe haven’ locations (according to Axios) and the US bases where they will stay
Roughly 110,600 people were evacuated since President Joe Biden announced Operation Allies Refuge to get Afghan allies of the US out of the country amid now-realized fears the war-torn country would fall to the Taliban.
Thousands of people are still desperate to leave Afghanistan ahead of President Joe Biden’s August 31 withdrawal deadline.
The State Department wouldn’t say how many people who have been evacuated so far are Special Immigrant Visa holders.
‘We don’t have precise figures to provide,’ department spokesman Ned Price said.
An explosion rocked Kabul outside an airport checkpoint on Thursday afternoon local time, hours after the US State Department urged people to leave immediately over an imminent terrorist threat.
At least 170 people are confirmed dead, including 13 US troops.
An explosion rocked Kabul on Thursday, one going off at an airport checkpoint and the other outside of a hotel where foreign nationals are waiting to be evacuated. Pictured are Afghan men working to identify victims at a hospital
Until the blast, crowds of desperate Afghans and foreigners desperately tried to show their paperwork to US and NATO forces to be allowed through
Scenes of chaos were reported at the airport with stampedes at checkpoints and Taliban insurgents turning people away and even using violence to disperse crowds.
Isa Air Base in Bahrain, Ramstein Air Base in Germany and Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar are the main staging areas for refugees brought from Kabul.
As of Wednesday roughly 7,500 people were evacuated to Ramstein since August 14, where they are housed in tent cities and hangars.
More than 5,700 people are currently there. The base has a maximum capacity of 12,000, according to US European Command.
Bahrain officials have agreed to host 5,000 refugees, Reuters reports.
Because of delays in processing people and the subsequent overcrowding the Defense Department set up 14 additional ‘temporary safe havens’ to lessen the strain on existing staging areas.
Some of those are located in the United Arab Emirates, two more in Germany, two in Italy, two in Spain and an additional facility in Bahrain, among other places, according to Axios.
Afghan refugees arrive at Ali Al Salem Air Base, one of the temporary ‘safe havens’
Evacuees arrive at Sigonella Air Base in southern Italy, another ‘safe haven’ location
A tent city has been erected at Ramstein Air Base to house Afghan refugees
There, refugees are vetted by law enforcement and intelligence officials.
After they are cleared for passage to the US, people who are not US citizens or green card holders are taken to Dulles International Airport in Virginia and on to the seven military bases.
However recent reports of a bottleneck at Dulles emerged as the government struggles with the logistics behind evacuating thousands of people in a short amount of time.
Press Secretary Jen Psaki attributed the delay to the government’s thorough vetting of refugees.
“We implement multiple layers of check, including a confirmation in some cases on landing, and that is to check the manifest and in a limited number of cases, we have vetting processes that may be unresolved, very limited. But that may lead to at times a delay in an individual’s being held on the plane so that we can have that process seen through,” Psaki said at Friday’s White House briefing.
At the Pentagon Friday Kirby confirmed that crowding has resulted in Afghan refugees waiting hours on the tarmac to be processed.
On Monday it was reported that 650 people were housed at Fort Bliss in El Paso, according to a local ABC affiliate. As many as 10,000 people could be housed there.
In New Jersey, a nearly 25-acre parade ground at Fort Dix is now a ‘tent city’ in preparation for up to 9,500 Afghan refugees. They could live there for six month or up to a year, the Courier Post reports.
Fort Lee in Virginia is being aided by nearby Fort Pickett, which is also preparing to house refugees to aide with the large number of people coming in.
But signs the US government is struggling with the influx of thousands of refugees emerged in reports of unsanitary, overcrowded conditions at some facilities.
A memo from a US Central Command official that surfaced last week described Al Udeid Air Base, where the majority of people are transitioning through, as a ‘living hell’ where ‘trash, urine, fecal matter, spilled liquids and vomit cover the floors.’
Al Udeid is located in a desert and is the closest staging area to Afghanistan.
A Doha embassy official quoted in the memo claimed there was a rat problem as well.
The Pentagon acknowledged the ‘terrible sanitation conditions at Qatar’ and promised conditions were in the process of improving.
After leaving the staging areas and safe haven locations, Afghans are flying to Dulles Airport in Virginia before being sent to US military bases
Afghan refugees arrive at Dulles International Airport on August 27, 2021
Temporary housing is being built for Afghan refugees at the Dona Ana Housing Area near Fort Bliss in Texas
Pictured are a row of barracks at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin. Refugees began arriving there earlier this week
It’s not confirmed where the US is planning to send refugees after their stay at US military bases.
A number of governors, including Republican leaders in Utah, Maryland, Massachusetts, Vermont, South Carolina and Oklahoma, have signaled openness to taking in refugees.
The governors of New York, Virginia, New Mexico and Oregon are also among those stepping up to help.
Biden was scheduled to meet with the bipartisan group on Thursday afternoon, but the meeting was cancelled after the two explosions.
Thousands of Afghans are also fleeing to the border, but their bid to escape is being thwarted at Taliban-controlled crossings.
Even those who make it out of Afghanistan have discovered there is no escape because neighboring countries are sending them back to their home country.
Leaked memo contains accounts of Al Udeid Air Base from Doha embassy staff
“A humid day today. Where the Afghans are housed is a living hell. Trash, urine, fecal matter, spilled liquids and vomit cover the floors.”
“I spent an hour in there picking up trash… almost suffocated.”
“Another flight arrived and there’s no resources to solve the sanitation problem.”
“These human beings are in a living nightmare.”
“We’re in the middle of humanitarian crises [sic] that compounds itself with every flight that lands in Doha.”
“Hangar update. They now have a rat problem.”
Afghans were already fleeing on foot to neighboring countries such as Iran in a bid to escape after the UK told them to head to the border. Many countries have ended their airlift operations.
But for those who have made the exhausting journey to Afghanistan’s borders, freedom is not guaranteed.
The Taliban now control all of Afghanistan’s main border crossing points with neighboring countries and the Islamic militants have made clear they do not want Afghans to leave the country.
Only traders or those with valid travel visas or documents are being allowed to cross the borders, reports suggest.
For those who manage to cross the border into the neighbouring countries, many are being sent back to Afghanistan.
Adam Rutland, the Executive Director at the Centre for Information Resilience, told MailOnline: ‘Afghans have no good options right now. Even getting to potential exit points – the airport or land borders – is fraught with danger, particularly for those who have helped the UK and others.
‘Carrying the official documents that might help them gain a new life outside Afghanistan, could be a death sentence within.
‘We should also be deeply concerned that the more desperate will fall prey to human traffickers, with all the harm and misery that entails. Afghans wanting to leave are in an awful position. It’s heart-breaking.’
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has urged the neighboring countries to keep their borders open and let Afghans through.
‘The vast majority of Afghans are not able to leave the country through regular channels,’ a UNHCR spokesperson said last week. ‘We continue to urge all countries neighboring Afghanistan to maintain open borders, so that those seeking safety can find it.’
Meanwhile, thousands have been seen flocking to Spin Boldak in eastern Afghanistan in an attempt to cross the border into Chaman, Pakistan.
Others have been seen travelling to Torkham further south in an attempt to flee to Pakistan – but the Taliban controls the road from Kabul which makes the journey treacherous.
An image posted to Facebook shows the crowded conditions inside Al Udeid Air Base
Afghans struggle to reach the foreign forces to show their credentials to flee the country outside the Hamid Karzai International Airport before the blast that killed and injured numerous people
Journalist Harald Doornbos tweeted: ‘Kabul-Jalalabad-Torkham road (Pakistan border) is wholly owned by Taliban. Impossible to use for people wanted by the Taliban. If you’re in Kabul, really the only way out is to fly.’
Some desperate Afghans have turned to human traffickers to get them out of the country while others have managed to cross into Pakistan from Spin Boldak in Afghanistan in recent days, with the border crossing kept open only for those with valid documents.
Pakistan has vowed to keep out refugees and has fenced off its border but many are illegally crossing on foot, with many being taken by human traffickers to countries such as Turkey.
A people smuggler told The Guardian: It is impossible to fence the mountains and deserts,’ he said. ‘We have people at all entry points to receive the refugees and take them to the next destination.’
James Rogers, Director of Research at the Council on Geostrategy, told MailOnline: ‘Afghanistan is a landlocked country, so, logically, there should be many ways out. However, it is also a very rugged and inhospitable place, and difficult to move over – especially for groups or families.
‘The conditions at some of the border crossings are reportedly worse than at Kabul airport and many surrounding countries will not be keen to accept undocumented people – even if the Taliban allows them to cross. There have already been clashes along the Afghan-Pakistani border.’