A group of 662 “qualified evacuees” from Afghanistan landed at Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy, on Sunday, the Navy announced.
The Afghans were flown out from the chaotic environs of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul to al-Udeid Air Base, Qatar, and then on to the Navy base in Sicily.
NAS Sigonella is being used as a transit location for evacuees en route to their final destination, though the Navy release announcing the arrival of the evacuees did not clarify where that final destination is or how long they would be aboard the Navy base.
Photos show the evacuees are a mix of men, women and children, and the Navy said that two barracks buildings have been set aside for temporary lodging.
Halal dining and religious areas have been stood up, as has medical care.
“This is a short-notice mission that is a national priority for NAS Sigonella and team,” Rear Adm. Scott Gray, commanding officer of Navy Region Europe, Africa, Central, said in a statement. “They have moved heaven and earth to be ready to take care of folks leaving a desperate situation and are treating them with dignity and respect.”
Roughly 42,000 have evacuated Kabul since late July, 37,000 of whom have escaped since the Taliban moved into the city on Aug. 15.
About 16,000 were flown out on Sunday alone, but tens of thousands more are seeking to escape the country amid the fall of the democratic government there and the return to Taliban rule.
U.S. forces are supposed to be completely gone from the country by Aug. 31, but President Joe Biden has signaled that the administration is considering remaining there until the evacuation mission is complete. Taliban officials have warned that U.S. military troops would be crossing a “red line” if they are not gone by the end of the month.
With nearly 700 more Afghans now safe at Sigonella, the base’s commanding officer praised the U.S. troops making the effort happen.
“The people we’re helping are going to be joining our American family,” Capt. Kevin Pickard said in a statement. “We’re proud to welcome them with open arms.”
Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.