More Afghan evacuees will begin arriving in US next week

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. military expects to begin receiving new Afghanistan evacuees in the United States next week, as thousands begin to wrap up a three-week pause in Europe and the Middle East to get measles shots.

Gen. Glen VanHerck, head of U.S. Northern Command, told reporters Thursday that there are about 14,000 Afghans overseas that are expected to come to the U.S. Right now, he said, there are about 53,000 scattered across eight U.S. military installations in America, which is nearing their total capacity of 64,000.

“I would anticipate that the flights will start here in the very near future,” said VanHerck. “Next week we could see something” because the 21-day vaccination process would be complete.

VanHerck said that there are 4,000 evacuees at the U.S. bases who have completed their medical and other screening processes and have been cleared to leave and resettle in the United States. As they begin to move to their new homes, that will free up room at the bases for those being flown in from overseas.

“We’re relying on the output to ensure that we’d have enough capacity for the additional remaining Afghans coming this way,” he said. An additional 2,400 Afghans already finished the screening process and have already moved on to their new homes.

Thousands of Afghans were airlifted out of Afghanistan in a chaotic evacuation effort in the wake of the U.S. military withdrawal and the swift takeover of the country by the Taliban.

But as Afghan refugees began arriving at bases around Europe and the Middle East, cases of measles were detected. Acting on the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Customs and Border Protection paused all flights of Afghan refugees around Sept. 10. The evacuees have been held at the bases while they get vaccinated and wait for 21 days so the vaccine can take effect.

Overall, VanHerck said there have been 24 cases of measles, including 12 cases that are currently active. He said that as of Thursday, all of the Afghans have been vaccinated for measles, and the 21-day waiting period will start ending early next week for some, depending on when they got the vaccine.

Asked about assaults and other problems at the U.S. bases, VanHerck said that two Afghans have been indicted in connection with sexual assaults at Fort McCoy, Wisc. There have been other incidents, including minor skirmishes and assaults, as well as eight reported cases of robbery and theft.

Federal authorities are still investigating the assault on a female service member by three to four men at Fort Bliss, Texas. So far, no one has been arrested or charged in that incident, and officials are still trying to identify the men.

VanHerck also said that about 84 percent of the evacuees are at least partially vaccinated for COVID-19. He said this recent three-week pause in movement has given many enough time to get their second shot. And some have received the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.