President Joe Biden has welcomed the first flight evacuating Afghan interpreters and their families who worked alongside U.S. troops in Afghanistan after they touched down in Washington.
The plane carrying 221 Afghan nationals, including 57 children and 15 infants, according to an internal document seen by AP, touched down at Washington Dulles International Airport early in the morning on July 30, according to tracking of the flight by FlightAware.
In a statement issued by the White House, Biden called the flight "an important milestone as we continue to fulfill 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.”
“Most of all,” 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.'"
According to U.S. officials, they were expected to stay at Fort Lee, Virginia for several days.
The evacuation flights are resettling former translators and others who fear retaliation from the Taliban for having worked with the foreign forces, amid the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan as U.S. troops continue their accelerated pull-out.
Operation Allies Refuge, as it's been dubbed by the U.S. administration, has broad backing from Republican and Democratic lawmakers and from veterans groups.
Congress on July 29 overwhelmingly approved legislation that would allow an additional 8,000 visas and $500 million in funding for the Afghan visa program.
The Taliban has killed hundreds of Afghans who had worked for international forces and their family members over the years.
Last month, the Taliban claimed that Afghans who worked with international troops in the past would not be targeted if they “show remorse for their past actions."
An estimated 300,000 Afghan civilians have worked for international forces in some capacity since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.
Subsequent flights are due to bring more of the applicants who are farthest along in the process of getting visas, having already won approval and cleared security screening.
In a related development, the Czech government on July 30 approved a program of help for Afghans who worked with Czech troops during their deployment in NATO missions.
The help meant for Afghan interpreters and their families includes their relocation, an offer of asylum, and financial aid, Defense Minister Lubomir Metnar said, without giving a number.
The Defense Ministry declined to provide further details about the program, which is classified in order to protect its recipients.
The move came days after Czech veterans, current service members, human rights organizations, and others urged the government to help resettle the Afghans amid the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan.
The last Czech service members pulled out from Afghanistan last month.
A total of 11,500 Czech soldiers were deployed in Afghanistan over the past 19 years. Fourteen Czechs were killed.