Refugees are evacuated from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 26. The Department of Homeland Security announced Monday that relocation flights for Afghans in the United States will resume this week after more than 49,000 were inoculated against measles and other such diseases. Photo by Hassan Majeed/UPI | License Photo
Oct. 5 (UPI) -- The Department of Homeland Security announced that flights transporting Afghan evacuees from staging areas in the United States will resume this week after the operation was put on hold over concerns of a measles outbreak.
On Sept. 10, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that Operation Allies Welcome flights were "temporarily paused" at the request of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention after four Afghans who recently arrived in the country were diagnosed with measles, a highly contagious virus.
In a statement on Monday, the Department of Homelands Security said the flights would resume following the completion of "a historic and nationwide" campaign to vaccinate the 49,000 Afghan evacuees against measles, mumps, rubella and chickenpox. Evacuees in Europe and the Middle East are also being vaccinated, it said.
The Afghans are staying at eight military installations in the United States and are awaiting flights to more permanent locations.
"The success of this vaccination campaign demonstrates our commitment to the health and well-being of arriving Afghan evacuees, the personnel assisting this mission and the American people," said Dr. Pritesh Gandhi, the DHS chief medical officer and lead medical advisor of the operation.
The nearly 50,000 Afghans were among the more than 123,000 people the United States evacuated from the Middle Eastern country during its military withdrawal in August.
"The ultimate goal of Operation Allies Welcome is to successfully resettle our Afghan allies into local communities while prioritizing national security and public health," said Robert Fenton, senior response official for the operation. "This historic effort is part of our enduring commitment to those who supported or worked on behalf of our nation over the last 20 years."
The announcement came as 16 Republican senators sent the Biden administration a letter of concern over its "unclear and incomplete" vetting procedures to clear Afghans entering the United States.
"We urge that you pause relocating any more Afghan evacuees to the United States, except for fully vetted Afghans holding Special Immigration Visas, and complete all appropriate vetting procedures at safe locations abroad," the senators led by Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa said.
The senators accused the Biden administration of lacking preparation in its evacuation, stating the the reports of measles cases at military installations was not only putting all Afghans at risk but military servicemembers interacting with them.
"The vetting process must ensure the security, medical and criminal screening of each Afghan seeking admittance to the United States," they said.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III (L) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark A. Milley deliver remarks about the end of the 20-year military mission in Afghanistan at the Pentagon, in Arlington, Va., on September 1. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo