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State Department Says It Plans To Move Some Afghans Who Helped The U.S. To Safety

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

With U.S. troops now out of a key air base in Afghanistan, concern is growing on Capitol Hill about the fate of thousands of Afghans who worked with the U.S. military. The State Department says it's working on plans to move some of them to safer locations while they apply for U.S. visas. But lawmakers want details, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: State Department spokesperson Ned Price says the Biden administration is committed to helping those Afghans who helped the U.S. About 18,000 are applying for special immigrant visas, and there are tens of thousands more family members trying to leave with them.

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NED PRICE: We have identified a group of applicants who are already in train who will have the option to be relocated outside of Afghanistan before we complete our military withdrawal in September.

KELEMEN: President Biden had set a September 11 deadline for U.S. troops to leave, but most have already done so. And the State Department remains tight-lipped about how it intends to evacuate Afghans without the U.S. military's help. This week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken met his counterparts from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Both are neighbors of Afghanistan and potential hosts, though some human rights groups say those countries have poor records on refugee issues. About 650 U.S. troops are expected to stay in Afghanistan to protect the embassy, and the U.S. has asked Turkey to help secure the airport in Kabul. President Biden is brushing off concerns that U.S. troops are leaving more quickly than expected and that the Afghan government could soon fall to the Taliban.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We have worked out an over-the-horizon capacity. And we can be value added, but the Afghans are going to have to be able to do it themselves with the air force they have which we're helping them maintain.

KELEMEN: Sounding frustrated with the questions about Afghanistan, Biden insisted that after 20 years, this is a, quote, "rational drawdown." Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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