Atterbury to house Afghan refugees

By Leeann Doerflein | For The Tribune

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Federal and state officials on Tuesday said Camp Atterbury will temporarily house Afghan refugees.

Camp Atterbury officials did not provide a number of refugees or a timeline. But Rep. Greg Pence, R-Columbus, said on Twitter the Department of Defense and U.S. Northern Command told him thousands of refugees would be arriving this week.

“Over the coming week, capacity at Camp Atterbury will build to support approximately 5,000 persons. U.S. Northern Command estimates that Camp Atterbury will reach initial operational capability in the next few days,” Pence said in the tweet.

Refugees also are being housed at Fort Pickett, Marine Corps Base Quantico and Fort Lee in Virginia; Fort Bliss, Texas; Fort McCoy, Wisconsin; Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico; and Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey. Together, these bases could house up to 50,000 refugees.

The DOD will provide transportation, temporary housing, sustainment and support inside the United States for Afghan special immigrant visa applicants, their families and other at-risk individuals at suitable facilities in permanent or temporary structures as quickly as possible, according to a Camp Atterbury news release.

Task Force Atterbury, which includes active duty and National Guard service members, will provide housing, medical, logistics and transportation when the refugees arrive, Atterbury officials said.

“Our Hoosier Guardsmen are honored to join our fellow Americans to help, assist and host Afghans who played an integral part and helped us for nearly 20 years,” Brig. Gen. Dale Lyles, Indiana National Guard adjutant general, said in a statement. “We also look forward to working alongside our active duty counterparts and members of national, state and local agencies as we support the Department of Homeland Security mission.”

Gov. Eric Holcomb expects the process to be smooth, he said in a statement.

“As Hoosiers, we are proud to do our part and provide a temporary home for Afghan evacuees who have supported this nation,” Holcomb said. “I have faith in the Indiana National Guard’s ability to support this federal mission.”

Camp Atterbury officials did not provide details on what security measures might be in place. Residents living nearby raised concerns on social media.

Johnson County Sheriff Duane Burgess said he was trying to get more information and had plans to meet with Atterbury officials Tuesday afternoon.

Area residents also have raised concerns about the vetting process.

Air Force Gen. Glen D. VanHerck, commander of U.S. Northern Command and NORAD, provided details about that process during a Friday news conference.

“Department of Homeland Security is working to conduct a screening and security vetting for all Special Immigrant Visa applicants and other vulnerable Afghans in the fastest way possible consistent with the dual goals of protecting national security and providing protection for vulnerable Afghans who supported the United States,” VanHerck said Friday.

The process involves biometric and biographic screenings conducted by intelligence, law enforcement and counterterrorism professionals from across the interagency community, he said.

VanHerck pointed out that refugees are individuals who helped the United States during the conflict in Afghanistan and are now fleeing to escape potential retribution by the Taliban.

“We are working around the clock to vet all Afghans being evacuated before allowing them into the United States,” he said. “During recent visits to Fort Lee, Fort McCoy and Fort Bliss, I saw the operation firsthand, and I proudly watched our U.S. personnel operating with compassion as they helped Afghans and their families who have done so much for the United States and our allies through two decades of conflict.”