The US Defense Department announced Monday that it is opening up two additional military bases for arriving citizens of Afghanistan fleeing from the Taliban’s takeover of the country.
Fort McCoy in the state of Wisconsin and Fort Bliss in Texas will join the previously announced Fort Lee in Virginia as temporary homes for about 22,000 projected Afghans who aided the US and its allies during the 20-year war. They are expected to arrive in three to four weeks.
Gary Reid, who heads the Pentagon's efforts to assist the Special Immigrant Visa program, said the three forts do not yet have the capacity to house that many Afghans, but "it will take some time to build out."
Reid also said the US was working with an unidentified country in the Afghanistan region and others to help serve as way stations "as we get people out, so that we can do some sorting and then help with.. transportation from these locations."
Once Afghan refugees arrive at the forts, resettlement agencies will start working on securing housing and employment, schooling for children and arranging doctors' appointments.
In Wisconsin, Jewish Social Services in the city of Madison, about an hour away from Fort McCoy, is preparing to accept families. The group has already resettled about two dozen Afghans in the last several months.
Nearly 20,000 Afghans who helped America in its war effort are seeking Special Immigrant Visas, but Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul has been overrun in the last 48 hours with ordinary citizens desperate to get out.
Defense Department spokesman John Kirby said Monday that officials are investigating reports of multiple people falling to their deaths from a departing transport plane at Hamid Karzai International Airport as well as a C-17 transport plane that was apparently packed with over 600 people, despite being designed to hold just over a hundred.
Kirby admitted that "we did not anticipate this happening so fast” in regard to the Taliban takeover but defended what planning was done, saying it actually made the evacuation less chaotic than it might have been.
"It's wrong to conclude that we did not include as a possibility the chance that the Taliban might overrun the country," Kirby said.
"We do plan for all manner of contingencies, but it's not a perfect process. Plans are not predictable. Plans don't often survive first contact."