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First evacuation flight carrying 200 Afghan aides, refugees arrives in U.S.

Security officials guard a check point in Guzara district in Herat, Afghanistan, on Friday. A resurgence by the militant Taliban and the U.S. withdrawal led about 200 Afghans to evacuate to the United States on Friday. Photo by Jalil Rezayee/EPA-EFE
Security officials guard a check point in Guzara district in Herat, Afghanistan, on Friday. A resurgence by the militant Taliban and the U.S. withdrawal led about 200 Afghans to evacuate to the United States on Friday. Photo by Jalil Rezayee/EPA-EFE

July 30 (UPI) -- The first evacuation flight carrying about 200 refugees who helped American forces in Afghanistan -- who feared retaliation by the Taliban -- arrived in the United States on Friday, the White House said.

The refugees included interpreters and other aides who helped the U.S. military during the war in Afghanistan between 2001 and this year arrived at Fort Lee in Virginia.

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The 200 evacuees who were transplanted to the United States as part of Operation Allies Refuge included women and small children.

The operation helped Afghans who were eligible for special immigrant visas and their families.

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"These first Afghans are able to come directly to the United States because they have already completed extensive background checks and security screening by the intelligence community and the Departments of State and Homeland Security," President Joe Biden said in a statement Friday.

"I want to honor all those in the United States who have spoken out on behalf of these brave Afghans, including the proud community of veterans, who have consistently advocated for the Afghans who were by their side in the field in Afghanistan, often serving as translators and interpreters."

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Senior Deputy Homeland Security adviser Russ Travers said he estimates about 2,500 Afghans will ultimately be evacuated. He said 700 Afghans with principal special immigrant visa applications who have completed detailed background checks and their families are among the first in the program.

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"Their arrival is the culmination of an enormous effort across the U.S. government and one that is a high moment of our careers," Travers told reporters at the White House on Thursday.

"So many of us have deep, personal connections here, whether we served at embassy [in] Kabul, worked alongside these Afghans as diplomats or service members, or worked to advance the Afghan peace process."

Travers said all the Afghans in the program will undergo a complete medical exam and be resettled to various U.S. cities through assistance with the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.

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State Department Afghanistan Coordination Task Force official Tracey Jacobson said the government has been working with Afghans interested in coming to the United States since April, one the full U.S. withdrawal was announced.

"I am immensely proud to announce our first group of Afghan special immigrants to be relocated under Operation Allies Refuge is now on their way to America," Jacobson said in a statement.

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"This flight represents a fulfillment of the U.S. commitment and honors these Afghans' brave service in helping support our mission in Afghanistan, in turn helping to keep our country safe."

Biden announced the total pullout in Afghanistan earlier this year and the Pentagon said earlier this month the withdrawal was almost 100% complete.

U.S. forces have been in Afghanistan since immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States. The militant Taliban, who helped rule the country before the U.S. arrival, has stepped up fighting in recent weeks and months.

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