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Psaki declined to provide specifics on the number of Afghans who will be in the initial evacuation flights, citing unspecified ‘operational and security reasons’.

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A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the initial evacuation would include about 2,500 people and that they likely would be housed on US military facilities, possibly in the United States, while their visa applications were processed. No decision has been made on the specific bases to be used, the official said.

The Special Immigrant Visa programme is available to people who worked with the US government or the American-led military force during the Afghanistan war that began in 2001.

A similar programme was available for Iraqis who worked with the US government in that country after the 2003 American-led invasion, but no applications were accepted after September 2014.

President Joe Biden has set a formal end to the US military mission in Afghanistan from 31 August. The US general leading the mission, Austin Miller, relinquished command at a ceremony on Monday, a symbolic end to America's longest war.

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At a White House meeting on Wednesday, Biden planned to tell Miller the drawdown of US forces was a ‘testament to his leadership’, a senior White House official said.

It is expected that the initial evacuation will be carried out by civilian chartered aircraft and will include Afghans who are waiting for their visa applications to be processed and their families, according to sources familiar with the issue.

James Miervaldis, chairman of a group called No One Left Behind that has been pressing for the evacuation of US-affiliated Afghans, called the start of the evacuation "a very positive development."

Miervaldis said more efforts were needed as there were potentially tens of thousands of Afghans who may want to leave the country while they wait for visas to be processed.

A 12-13 July Reuters-Ipsos poll showed that the US occupation of Afghanistan is broadly unpopular among both Democrats and Republicans, with only about three in 10 Democrats and four in 10 Republicans saying the military should remain.

The national opinion survey found that only 29 per cent of the country agreed that “the United States continue its military operations in Afghanistan.”

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