NJ military base ready for Afghan evacuees

As the world watches as Afghanistan crisis unfold, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey is now ready to receive Afghan evacuees, the Joint Staff deputy director for regional operations said and Gov. Phil Murphy said New Jersey would welcome refugees.

The Joint Base is the latest of four installations hosting eligible Afghans seeking a special immigrant visa, said Army Maj. Gen. William D. “Hank” Taylor at a press briefing this morning.

The other three are Fort McCoy, Wisconsin; Fort Bliss, Texas; and Fort Lee, Virginia, Taylor said.

U.S. Northern Command continues to build out capacity to ensure the Afghans are accommodated, said Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby, noting that the goal is to be able to receive about 25,000 in the coming days and weeks.

The Taliban’s takeover of Kabul on August 15 prompted hundreds of Afghans to rush to the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, in a bid to flee impending militant Islamic rule.

After Afghan evacuees are flown out of Kabul, they’re screened at temporary safe havens across Europe and the Middle East, including American military base installations in Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Italy, Spain and Germany. 

“We deeply appreciate the support from these countries. This is truly a testament to the importance of our alliances and our partnerships,” Taylor said.

Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby

As of this morning, 25 U.S. military C-17 aircraft, three U.S. military C-130 aircraft, and a combination of 61 charter commercial and other military flights had departed Kabul within the last 24 hours, he said. 

The total passenger count for those flights was about 16,000. Of that number, the U.S. military transported just under 11,000 personnel, he said.

“Our mission remains focused on ensuring a steady flow of evacuees out of Kabul,” Taylor added.

In a statement today, Navy Capt. William Urban, U.S. Central Command spokesman, said: “No U.S. or coalition forces were hurt during a brief exchange of gunfire last night outside the north gate of Hamid Karzai International Airport. The incident appeared to begin when an unknown hostile actor fired upon Afghan security forces involved in monitoring access to the gate. The Afghans returned fire and, in keeping with their right of self-defense, so, too, did U.S. and coalition troops.”

“One member of the Afghan forces was killed by the hostile actor and several Afghans were wounded during the exchange. The wounded are being treated at an airfield hospital and are reported to be in stable condition,” Urban said.  

Kirby said U.S. forces continue to maintain open communications with the Taliban to ensure coordination between the Taliban and the U.S. military and facilitate the safe passage of Americans and eligible Afghans to the airport, a process the military refers to as deconfliction.

U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Afghanistan on August 17, 2021

“What we have seen is that this deconfliction has worked well in terms of allowing access and flow to continue, as well as reducing the overall size of the crowds just outside the airport,” Kirby said.

In a Defense Department press announcement yesterday, Kirby said the U.S. Transportation Command will activate Stage I of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet. 

CRAF activation provides the department with access to commercial aircraft to augment support to the State Department during the evacuation of U.S. citizens and personnel, SIV applicants and other at-risk individuals from Afghanistan. 

The current activation is for 18 aircraft: three each from American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines and Omni Air; two from Hawaiian Airlines; and four from United Airlines. The department does not anticipate a major impact to commercial flights from this activation, Kirby said.

CRAF-activated aircraft will not fly into Hamid Karzai International Airport. They will be used to move passengers from temporary safe havens and interim staging bases. Activating CRAF increases passenger movement beyond organic capability and allows military aircraft to focus on operations in and out of Kabul, Kirby said.

The the UN Refugee Agency said video taken a few days ago of crowds at the airport has shocked the world, speaking powerfully to the sense of fear and uncertainty among many Afghans.

Some half a million Afghans have been displaced by violence this year alone. The vast majority of Afghans are not able to leave the country through regular channels.

Overall, at the end of 2020, 82.4 million people were displaced worldwide because of persecution, conflict, violence and human rights violations. A total of 68 percent of people displaced across borders belong to five countries — Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Myanmar.

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