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Camp Atterbury will provide temporary housing for Afghan evacuees

Posted at 10:34 AM, Aug 31, 2021

INDIANAPOLIS — Camp Atterbury in Johnson County will be used to provide temporary housing and support for people evacuated from Afghanistan.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin authorized the move Tuesday as part of Operation Allies Refuge, according to a statement from U.S. Northern Command.

A senior Biden administration official told WRTV they estimate evacuees will likely arrive at Camp Atterbury in days, not weeks. It's not yet clear how many people will be coming to the camp.

Camp Atterbury joins Fort Bliss in Texas, Fort McCoy in Wisconsin, Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey and Virginia sites Fort Pickett, Marine Corps Base Quantico and Fort Lee.

Special immigrant via applicants, their families and other people who are at-risk will receive "temporary housing, sustainment and support" at Camp Atterbury, according to U.S. Northern Command officials.

Before coming to the United States and military properties, evacuees are being tested for COVID-19 and will undergo biometric and biographic screenings, the senior administration official said. The administration is trying to determine how to offer COVID-19 vaccinations.

"As Hoosiers, we are proud to do our part and provide a temporary home for Afghan evacuees who have supported this nation," Gov. Eric J. Holcomb said in a statement. "Our federal partners are taking necessary and appropriate steps to establish that there is a smooth process to allow these men, women and children to quickly find their permanent home across the United States. I have faith in the Indiana National Guard's ability to support this federal mission."

Dan Cartwright, the town manager of Edinburgh, is a veteran. He said he has spoken with the post commander at Camp Atterbury and is ready to help in any way.

"I think it’s really important that we all remember that the Afghans are our allies," Cartwright said. "They are not our enemies they fight next to them for 20 years.”

U.S. Rep. Greg Pence, R-Indiana, said on Twitter that capacity at Camp Atterbury will be increased to support about 5,000 people in the next week and that U.S. Northern Command estimated it will reach initial operational capability in the next few days.

"I will continue to monitor this situation closely along with members of our IN Congressional Delegation, and state & federal agencies," Pence said. "I will make additional details public as they become available."

Evacuation efforts from Afghanistan began in July after President Joe Biden extended the U.S. deadline for evacuations from May until September earlier this year. However, those plans devolved into chaos in mid-August, when the U.S.-backed Afghan government was toppled by rapidly advancing Taliban fighters.

With the Taliban in control of the county, thousands of Afghan and American citizens rushed to the airport in Kabul in an effort to flee Taliban rule. For weeks, large crowds surrounded the gates of the airport, seeking a way out of the country.

The U.S. says approximately 123,000 people, including about 6,000 Americans, were flown out of Afghanistan throughout the evacuation process.

Camp Atterbury has been in use since the 1940s and has a history of training thousands of troops and handling large groups of people. Prisoners of war were sent to Indiana during World War II.

There were a number of years following World War II that the base was not used, but it has served as a National Guard and Army Reserve Training Center since 1969 and became a training site following the 9/11 attacks.

The final American troops left Afghanistan on Monday, ending the longest war in U.S. history.

Scripps National contributed to this report.