Aug 24, 2021 - News
Fort Chaffee may be a temporary stop for Afghan refugees
A U.S.  Marine passes out water to evacuees during the evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport. Photo: Isaiah Campbell/U.S. Marine Corps via Getty Images
A U.S. Marine passes out water to evacuees during the evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport. Photo: Isaiah Campbell/U.S. Marine Corps via Getty Images

Fort Chaffee Joint Maneuver Training Center near Fort Smith could be the first U.S. soil some Afghan refugees get to touch.

What's happening: Officials are evaluating the 65,000-acre training site — which is under the jurisdiction of the Arkansas National Guard — as a possible processing location for refugees being evacuated from Afghanistan.

  • The Department of Defense is helping the State Department make an assessment, a DOD spokesperson told Axios.
  • There's no timeline yet for when a decision will be made.

Why it matters: Between 50,000 and 65,000 Afghans and their families await evacuation assistance from the U.S. ahead of an Aug. 31 Taliban "red line" to withdraw all military forces, writes Axios' Jacob Knutson.

Flashback: Fort Chaffee has a long history of helping refugees and others during crises, Arkansas National Guard spokesperson, Bob Oldham, told Axios.

  • In 2005, about 10,000 people from Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi took shelter there following Hurricane Katrina.
  • About 25,000 refugees from Cuba were processed there in the early 1980s.
  • And in 1975, about 51,000 refugees from Vietnam started their lives in the U.S. at Fort Chaffee.

Context: While the location had much larger capacity in years past, a fire in 2008 reduced barracks capacity to 4,400 beds in open bays, Oldham said.

Zoom out: The DOD already approved several locations for the temporary housing of Afghan refugees: Fort Lee, Virginia; Fort McCoy, Wisconsin; Fort Bliss, Texas; and Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey.

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