Mountains at Bagram Airfield Afghanistan 011118 CREDIT US AIR FORCE 2
Afghanistan

First Evacuation Flight Of Afghan Interpreters To US Lands

Subsequent flights from Afghanistan to America are to follow, with 700 applicants and their families expected to make the journey.

Mountains at Bagram Airfield Afghanistan 011118 CREDIT US AIR FORCE 2

The first flight evacuating Afghan interpreters and others who worked alongside Americans in Afghanistan has landed in the US.

More than 200 people resettling in America were welcomed "home" by US President Joe Biden as the plane touched down in Virginia on Friday morning.

The evacuation flights are bringing out interpreters, translators and others who fear retaliation from Afghanistan’s Taliban for having worked with American service personnel and civilians.

It comes as the withdrawal of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan edges closer and a resurging Taliban.

The newly-arrived Afghan citizens, including family members and children, will join 70,000 others who have resettled in the US since 2008 under a special visa programme.

Mr Biden called the flight "an important milestone as we continue to fulfil 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".

He said he wanted to honour the military veterans, diplomats and others in the US who had advocated for the Afghans.

Sign at Bagram Airbase Afghanistan 011118 CREDIT US AIR FORCE
All American and NATO troops left Bagram, the biggest air base in Afghanistan, earlier this month with the withdrawal nearly complete (Picture: US Air Force).

"Most of all," Mr 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'."

The Biden administration calls the effort Operation Allies Refuge. The initiative has broad backing from Republican and Democratic politicians and from veterans groups.

Supporters cite repeated instances of Taliban forces targeting Afghans who worked with Americans or with the Afghan government.

Congress overwhelmingly approved legislation that would allow an additional 8,000 visas and 500 million US dollars (£358,000) in funding for the Afghan visa programme on Thursday.

Subsequent flights are due to bring more of the roughly 700 applicants and their families who are furthest along the process of getting visas, having already secured approval and cleared security screening.

In the UK, dozens of former senior military figures have written to the Government, calling for more Afghans who worked alongside British troops in the country to be allowed to resettle in the UK. 

Watch: Former head of the British Army, General The Lord Dannatt, says UK has "moral obligation" to look after Afghan interpreters. 

The letter - signed by five former Chiefs of the Defence Staff, two ex-heads of the British Army and one former Royal Navy chief, as well as a former National Security Adviser, senior retired officers, and ex-defence minister Johnny Mercer MP - called on the Government to "act immediately".

The letter's signatories said they "remain gravely concerned about the situation faced by our former interpreters and the supporting staff who stood shoulder to shoulder with us on the battlefield, despite recent initiatives from the Government".

Hashmat Nawabi worked as an interpreter for British forces in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2012 and arrived in the UK in recent weeks.

Speaking to Forces News, he said the Taliban are "looking for a reason to harm people and to kill people… especially whoever worked for the coalition forces".

Cover image: File photo of Afghanistan mountains (Picture: US Air Force).