Federal officials next month will officially end Operation Allies Welcome — the program to help move at-risk allies out of Afghanistan — and replace it with other efforts to help evacuees from the country, White House officials confirmed Thursday.
The move comes as outside advocates have criticized the administration for not doing enough to rescue thousands of Afghan allies still trapped overseas and threatened by Taliban forces controlling their country.
Department of Homeland Security officials said that since U.S. military forces left Afghanistan one year ago, Operation Allies Welcome has helped resettle about 86,000 Afghan nationals within the United States.
On Thursday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the replacement effort, which CNN reported will be called Operation Enduring Welcome, will focus on getting Afghans into programs with “long-term durable status, such as the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa” and other offerings.
“Our commitment to our Afghan allies is enduring,” she said. “At the same time, we have been undertaking a substantial effort to improve our relocation efforts and working to make them more efficient.”
CNN reported that more than 74,000 applications to the special immigrant visa program are currently pending, but State Department statistics show that fewer than 1,000 individuals have been granted that status since the start of the year.
Jean-Pierre said officials are working to improve the program, and are pushing Congress to pass legislation to increase the number of Afghans who could be admitted into America.
CBS news reported that when the current operation ends, the U.S. will shutter its final remaining Afghan evacuee housing facility in the U.S., located in Virginia.
White House officials said the new efforts will focus on putting Afghan immigrants into long-term housing instead of short-term shelters, and work with community officials to help them gain permanent residence status and establish new lives in America.
“We’re gonna do everything that we can to make sure that we take care of the families,” Jean-Pierre said.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.