More than 7,000 Afghan evacuees have been processed through Ramstein Air Base, Germany, and Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy, where they’re expected to spend up to two weeks finalizing their visas before resettling in the U.S., the head of U.S. European Command told reporters on Wednesday.
Other bases are prepared to receive Afghans as the evacuation mission at Kabul’s airport over the next week include several in Germany, one in Spain and another in Kosovo, said Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters.
“For context, we received our first evacuation flights last Friday, the 20th of August,” Wolters said. “And three short days later, this last Monday, we had our first set of flights depart Ramstein for the continental United States.”
To date, he said, that’s 55 flights to Ramstein and three to Sigonella. There are currently 5,783 and 662 waiting to be processed at either base, respectively, with 1,500 having already headed on to Dulles Airport outside Washington, D.C.
In addition to the initial bases, Wolters said Rhine Ordnance Barracks, U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria ― including Hohenfels and Grafenwoehr ― and Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, are being made available to take evacuees, as are Naval Station Rota, Spain, and Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo.
“Right now, given the flow that we have, approximately 1,500 to 1,700 in per day, and approximately 1,800 to 2,000 who should be going out every day,” Wolters said, expecting between 10 and 14 days to process groups of evacuees.
Evacuees have undergone both health and security screenings, Wolters said. Fewer than 25 were sent to clinics for treatment, while all of the 52 initially flagged for security concerns by the Homeland Security Department have been cleared.
As far as COVID-19 mitigation, all evacuees coming out of Afghanistan are screened for symptoms and tested where infection is suspected. Wolters said evacuees are offered vaccines upon their arrival at Dulles, though they might soon have the opportunity in Germany.
“There is an effort underway, with [Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin] to examine the feasibility of being able to take a deeper look at our evacuees at Ramstein and potentially administer the vaccination there, if the evacuee needs it,” he said.
As of Wednesday morning, about 88,000 vulnerable Afghans, Americans and third-country nationals had been evacuated from the Kabul airport. The effort is expected to continue up until the final military flights out of the country on Aug. 31, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.