The first flight evacuating Afghans who worked alongside Americans in Afghanistan has landed in the US.
More than 200 people, including children and babies, resettling in America were welcomed “home” by US President Joe Biden.
The evacuation flights, bringing out former interpreters and others who fear retaliation from Afghanistan’s Taliban for having worked with American service personnel and civilians, highlight US uncertainty about how Afghanistan’s government and military will fare after the last American troops leave the country in the coming weeks.
Family members were accompanying the interpreters, translators and others on the flight out.
The commercial airliner was carrying 221 Afghans in the special visa programme, including 57 children and 15 babies, according to an internal US government document.
It touched down in Dulles, Virginia, just outside Washington DC, according to the FlightAware tracking service.
Mr Biden called the flight “an important milestone as we continue to fulfil our promise to the thousands of Afghan nationals who served shoulder-to-shoulder with American troops and diplomats over the last 20 years in Afghanistan”.
He said he wanted to honour the military veterans, diplomats and others in the US who had advocated for the Afghans.
“Most of all,” Mr Biden said in a statement, “I want to thank these brave Afghans for standing with the United States, and today, I am proud to say to them: ‘Welcome home’.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin praised the Afghans for their work alongside Americans and said their arrival demonstrated the US government’s commitment to them.
The Biden administration calls the effort Operation Allies Refuge. The initiative has broad backing from Republican and Democratic politicians and from veterans groups.
Supporters cite repeated instances of Taliban forces targeting Afghans who worked with Americans or with the Afghan government.
Congress overwhelmingly approved legislation that would allow an additional 8,000 visas and 500 million US dollars (£358,000) in funding for the Afghan visa programme on Thursday.
Mr Biden announced earlier this year that the US would withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan by September 11, honouring a withdrawal agreement struck by former president Donald Trump.
He later said the US military operation would end on August 31, calling it “overdue”.
Some administration officials have expressed surprise at the extent and speed of Taliban gains of territory in the countryside since then.
Mr Biden said that although US troops were leaving Afghanistan, America would keep supporting the country through security assistance to Afghan forces and humanitarian and development aid to the Afghan people.
The newly arrived Afghan people will join 70,000 others who have resettled in the United States since 2008 under the special visa programme.
Subsequent flights are due to bring more of the roughly 700 applicants who are furthest along the process of getting visas, having already secured approval and cleared security screening.