Pentagon Steps Up Efforts to Evacuate Families of Defense Department Service Members from Afghanistan

In a memorandum, Defense Undersecretary for Policy Colin Kahl asked Defense service members and civilians to email relevant information about his immediate family still in Afghanistan, data that had previously been tracked by services. Elevating data collection to the purview of the undersecretary of defense will facilitate the transmission of this information to the State Department, which is leading the effort to evacuate US citizens, green card holders and others from the country.

“I think it’s safe to say … that we would expect dozens of service members to have concerns about family members,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said at a news conference Monday.

The memo first reported by NBC News, was written last Thursday and refers specifically to direct family members, defined as spouses or unmarried children under 21 years of age.

For the extended family, the Pentagon says it will assist the State Department and the coordinator of Afghanistan’s relocation efforts “as they develop mechanisms that can facilitate the safe departure of such people from Afghanistan in the future.”

“Given the current situation in Afghanistan and the absence of a US embassy in the country, there are a number of challenges related to the departure of Afghan citizens, including those of unique concern to the Department of Defense,” Kahl wrote. “However, the Department of Defense will continue to support this relocation effort to the fullest extent possible.”

The Pentagon’s efforts to evacuate US citizens and allies from Afghanistan officially ended with the withdrawal of US forces from Kabul in late August. Since then, the State Department has led evacuation efforts and worked with US allies like Qatar to continue them.

Biden administration to waive immigration application fees for thousands of evacuated Afghans

Last week, the State Department said it was in contact with 289 Americans who remain in Afghanistan. Of those, 81 are ready to leave the country, Assistant Secretary for Management Brian McKeon told House lawmakers.

The effort to evacuate family members of American service members and civilians from the Afghanistan Department of Defense is part of a much larger relocation and resettlement effort that has seen the US bring approximately 77,000 Afghans to the country as part of Operation Allies Welcome.

The Biden administration has struggled with the sudden influx of evacuees without a clear timeline for how long they can stay on military bases. More than 50,000 remain in military installations while they complete their visa processing.

On Monday, the Department of Homeland Security said the U.S. is planning waive fees for many of the Afghan evacuees to apply for work permits and legal permanent residence. The exemption means that evacuees, many of whom arrived in the United States with very little, will be exempt from paying expensive application fees to obtain work authorization or apply for lawful permanent residence.

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