NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – As the United States evacuates thousands of people from Afghanistan, a spokeswoman for Holloman Air Force Base confirmed Friday the base near Alamogordo will be used as a temporary housing site for Afghan refugees. Holloman will join six other U.S. military bases in the operation, including Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, according to a news release.
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The relocation is part of what the U.S. is calling “Operation Allies Refuge,” which will provide “temporary housing and support for up to 50,000 at-risk Afghans.” It’s unclear exactly how many refugees will be staying at Holloman Air Force base, or for how long. A spokeswoman for the base declined to answer Friday, referring questions to the State Department.
“We’re prepared to house them and feed them as long as it takes to get them through the (special immigrant visa) process and as long as the secretary approves that,” U.S. Northern Command’s leader General Glen VanHerck said during a Friday news conference about the refugee operation. “I agree with you, they’re coming here starting over with what they bring with the.
It’s unclear the exact reason why administration officials chose Holloman Air Force base as part of the refugee effort. However, Gen. VanHerck said the bases were all operationally ready for the mission.
“It was not necessarily for the specific location to an Afghan community,” Gen. VanHerck said. “The department took a look at each location to ensure they had sufficient capacity, that there was capability in the region to support that, the limits of readiness and training for the local infrastructure in the bases was also a consideration.”
Senior White House Administration officials said Friday individual refugees are being flown out of Kabul to third-party countries in Europe and Asia that have agreed to serve as “transit hubs” before undergoing security processing first. U.S. Biden Administration officials say that vetting process will happen before any refugees are flown to the U.S.
According to senior Biden Administration officials, all Afghan refugees will be subject to security screening, conducted by counter-terrorism professionals. Commander for the U.S. Northern Command, Air Force General Glen VanHerck addressed the screening process Friday.
“We’re doing biographical and biometric testing across the various agencies of the inter-agency to include our counter terrorism and intelligence communities,” General VanHerck said. “What we’re seeing is folks coming across cleared by that process, which I am comfortable with.”
Everyone arriving in the U.S. from Afghanistan will be required to take a COVID-19 test, according to White House and military officials. While COVID vaccinations will be offered, those aren’t mandatory at this point.
“The vaccines are offered to them, they’re offered at Dulles (International Airport in Washington D.C.,) we offer them as well at the task force locations, they are not mandatory,” Gen. VanHerck said. “We see many of them are taking the vaccine if they’ve not already had it.”
Officials grouped the Afghan evacuees into three categories, including American citizens and green card holders, applicants to the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program and their families, and other vulnerable or at-risk Afghans identified by the U.S. Government. After being tested for COVID-19 in the U.S., citizens and green card holders will be allowed to head to their destination.
Senior Biden Administration officials say others will head to military bases for a full medical evaluation, followed by receiving health care and other assistance for applying for things like work authorizations before moving on to their next destination. Each arriving family will be connected with refugee resettlement organizations, according to officials.
Administration officials did not say Friday which organizations would be working with refugees in New Mexico. They also said its unclear how long refugees would stay on base or where they would go, but said the goal was to not have refugees spend months on U.S. military bases. Holloman is said to be the fifth of seven bases to be stood up for refugee arrival.
“We are following through on America’s commitment to vulnerable Afghans and Afghan nationals who have helped us,” said Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, commander of Air Education and Training Command. “We are honored to provide the essential support where they and their families can complete processing safely.”
According to the news release, the task force at Holloman AFB will provide housing, medical, logistics, and transportation support. On Friday, the base published social media posts saying in part, “The security of our community, including our visitors, remains the number one priority, and we are taking the appropriate measures to ensure everyone remains safe and healthy. We understand many have the urge to help, we will send out information on where and how to provide donations or support once we’ve identified the proper avenues with the appropriate aid agencies.”