By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Sept. 30, 2021) -- With as many as 53,000 Afghan civilians living across eight U.S. military installations, a certain amount of law enforcement issues are bound to arise -- and such incidents have happened, the commander of U.S. Northern Command said. But the numbers of incidents are similar to or less than comparably-sized U.S. populations across the nation.
"For a population of approximately 53,000 personnel -- I've done some research and how that compares to populations across the United States -- and what we're seeing is law enforcement violations that are on par, and in most cases, significantly lower than the rates that we're seeing in similar-sized populations across the United States," Air Force Gen. Glen D. VanHerck said during a briefing today at the Pentagon.
The general said that over a six-week period in the Operation Allies Welcome population, there were eight reported cases of robbery and theft, for instance. For an average six-week period in a similar-sized place in the U.S., there are typically more than 150 such reports.
"I'm extremely proud of our team," he said. "We have on average more than 600 security and law enforcement professionals at each task force, each and every day ... that is about three to four times the average of most cities around the globe."
As part of Operation Allies Welcome, the Defense Department is currently housing, feeding and providing medical services to 53,000 civilians who were evacuated from Afghanistan in late August. The Department of State and Department of Homeland Security are working to get those civilians resettled elsewhere in the U.S.
DOD locations housing those civilians include Fort Bliss, Texas; Fort McCoy, Wisconsin; Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey; Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico; Camp Atterbury, Indiana; and Fort Lee, Marine Corps Base Quantico and Fort Pickett, all in Virginia. The total capacity at these installations is enough to house more than 64,000 individuals.
Insofar as violent crimes are concerned, VanHerck said two Afghan civilians are currently detained in federal custody and will be charged through a federal process, not by the Defense Department.
The general also said that for the security issues that are being looked into at the eight Operation Allies Welcome locations, it's often due to those issues being reported by the Afghans themselves, and he sees this as a positive sign.
"That Afghans are reporting incidents is a good indicator of their commitment to keeping the community safe, as well as their confidence in our people," he said. "Our commitment to maintain safety and security for the entire population at each installation remains steadfast."
Living conditions at the eight locations, VanHerck said, are similar to what U.S. service members experience during exercises or training missions.
"The task force has stood up to build eight small cities under emergency conditions," VanHerck said. "While it hasn't been perfect, I have seen firsthand how committed our teams are to improving every single day."
Afghan civilians living at the eight Operation Allies Welcome locations, he said, are living in secure environments and in climate controlled billets. They are also offered three culturally appropriate meals each day -- which he confirmed as being Halal, or permissible according to Islamic law. Eating options also include a 24/7 "grab and go" option, he said.
The Operation Allies Welcome locations also include areas appropriate for religious needs, as well as recreational and classroom space.
"While areas for improvement are identified, either by the Afghan guests or task force teams, we work with our interagency partners, volunteers and Afghan guests to address them quickly," he said.
The DOD is also taking care of medical needs of Afghan guests as part of OAW, VanHerck said. That includes more than 1,700 medical professionals and staff providing family medicine, pediatric care, emergency medicine and dental care, as well as basic laboratory, radiology and pharmacy services.
As of today, 100% of Afghan civilians have been vaccinated against measles, while the vaccination rate for COVID-19 is currently at 84%, VanHerck said.
At U.S. installations now there are about 53,000 Afghans. An additional 14,000 Afghans are at locations in U.S. European Command and U.S. Central Command, awaiting a move to the U.S., VanHerck said. So far in the U.S., more than 2,600 Afghans have moved off military installations to a final destination, while more than 4,000 have completed processing and will be relocated once a location becomes available.
Northcom is ready to continue providing services for as long as directed to do so by the secretary of defense, VanHerck said.