MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
As U.S. forces exit Afghanistan, the Biden administration has announced a plan to evacuate Afghans who worked for the U.S. as interpreters and translators. It is called Operation Allies Refuge, and it will begin this month. The plan involves flying those Afghans and their families - as many as 70,000 people - to a third country to process their visas. This as security continues to worsen in Afghanistan. NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman is here to tell us about it.
TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.
KELLY: All right. We've got a name for this operation now. Do we have any other detail?
BOWMAN: You know, not much. We don't know which countries they'll be flown to. Two senior officials told me they're looking at Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, countries in the Middle East, Europe as well and also the U.S. territory, Guam. And we're told the contract flights will begin the last week of July, and it will be overseen by Ambassador Tracey Jacobson, who served in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Kosovo.
Now, Mary Louise, such an effort has been pushed for months by both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill - a rare moment of bipartisanship. And there's a concern that many of these people who work for the U.S. will be left behind and threatened or killed by the Taliban. They say there's a moral obligation here. You know, already there have been some of these interpreters targeted. And I just spoke with one interpreter who made it to the United States last year. He said his friend, a fellow interpreter for the U.S. military, was shot and killed right in front of his house in Kunar Province just a couple of days ago. And his 5-year-old son was wounded.
KELLY: Oh, gosh. That's awful. I mean, the situation clearly is urgent. It's also clearly really complicated to fly as many as 70,000 people out. You said an ambassador is in charge, so the State Department. What is the U.S. military involvement here?
BOWMAN: Well, it's possible you could see some military involvement in this operation as it proceeds. You might need larger military cargo aircraft to move people, as opposed to a contract passenger aircraft. I know the U.S. military already is poised to help and has worked out the possibilities here. Now, of course, the Taliban is grabbing more and more territory all around the country. It gets, you know, large and unwieldy, this effort, and security the airport is threatened. That is a concern.
BOWMAN: I think what many are afraid of is a specter of Vietnam, where you had this hasty dash out of Saigon in 1975 and also an effort to evacuate Vietnamese to Guam. That was called Operation New Life.
KELLY: Go back to the interpreter you mentioned, Tom - the one who made it here last year and you managed to speak with. What is he hearing from friends still in Afghanistan?
BOWMAN: Well, this interpreter who lives in Virginia said the plan is wonderful, but he worries about the applicants outside Kabul in areas controlled by the Taliban or areas where there is a lot of fighting. How will they be able to get to Kabul airport to get out, and how will the U.S. embassy contact them? A lot of times, the Taliban turn off cell coverage. He told me his friends - some have been approved for a visa but haven't heard anything. Others have sent their paperwork in and haven't heard much as well. He said overall, they're hopeful but anxious and worried.
KELLY: That is NPR's Tom Bowman.
Thanks for your reporting.
BOWMAN: You're welcome.
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