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What's next for Afghan allies who were evacuated to a U.S. military base in Kosovo


Many of the thousands of Afghans who worked for the U.S. in Afghanistan and were evacuated along with their family members are now living in military bases in and outside the U.S. One of those bases is Camp Bondsteel in the small Balkan country of Kosovo, one of the most loyal U.S. allies. The U.S. has said little about the Afghans in this camp and thus far has not allowed the news media to see them. Joanna Kakissis is on the line from the capital of Kosovo, Pristina. Hi, Joanna.


MCCAMMON: So tell us a little bit about the country where you are right now, first of all - Kosovo.

KAKISSIS: Sure, sure. Kosovo is in southeastern Europe. It's a very small country with less than two million people, most of whom are Albanian, and they are majority-Muslim. And it's been an independent country for just 13 years. It's a very young country. Kosovo used to be part of Yugoslavia, and it survived that country's very violent breakup in the 1990s because the U.S. and NATO bombed its foe, its enemy - Serbia. The U.S. continues to support Kosovo's economy and military to this day. There's a saying here - God in heaven and America on Earth. And it means that Kosovo has two saviors. I heard this from a prominent imam here named Labinot Maliqi.

LABINOT MALIQI: (Non-English language spoken).

KAKISSIS: So he's saying that the U.S. gave us our freedom. It made us independent. It ensured that we would have peace and stability. We are safe, he says, because of the U.S.

MCCAMMON: So given all of that, it's no surprise that Kosovo agreed right away to take in Afghans evacuated by the Americans.

KAKISSIS: Yeah, that's right. Kosovo raised its hand right away. The president here, Vjosa Osmani, told me that Kosovars can relate to the Afghans. She says that people here know what it's like to be displaced. They can feel it. Here she is.

VJOSA OSMANI: For people who go through war, for people who go through terror - these are things beyond human imagination. What is in common is the human suffering. And when you understand that, you can always find a way to make things happen and to help people.

KAKISSIS: So the goodwill is there. But the government struggled to find a place to house the Afghans. Kosovo is one of the poorest parts of Europe. So the government decided that the Americans should house the Afghans on Camp Bondsteel for, like, a year.

MCCAMMON: What do we know about this camp? It's a military camp, right?

KAKISSIS: Yep, that's right. So Camp Bondsteel's about an hour's drive from Pristina. It's the biggest U.S. military base in the Balkans. It can hold about 7,000 troops. And Camp Bondsteel also supports Kosovo's economy because many Kosovars actually work at the base. Right now, Bondsteel is also a temporary home to hundreds of Afghans. We're not exactly sure how many. The Afghans are not allowed off the base, and very few people can go in. So hardly anyone in Kosovo has seen the Afghans. One of the people who's actually seen them and met them and spent time with them is the imam we heard from earlier, Labinot Maliqi - he leads prayers there every Friday for the Afghans - and another is President Osmani, who we also heard from. And she recently visited the camp. But we have tried to visit ourselves for weeks now, but the U.S. has not let us in.

MCCAMMON: Why not? What reasons are you been given?

KAKISSIS: So officially, we've been told that there are health and safety issues or logistical issues. But two U.S. officials, who are not authorized to speak to the media, but who are involved with this group of Afghans, told us that a small number, maybe a few dozen - again, the number is not clear - were redirected to Kosovo because they triggered security issues during vetting at the Ramstein U.S. military base in Germany. And then there's this question about what to do with this group, like, where should they go if they don't pass vetting? Because, you know, no one wants this base in the middle of Europe to turn into anything resembling Guantanamo.

MCCAMMON: That's Joanna Kakissis reporting from Pristina, Kosovo. Thanks, Joanna.

KAKISSIS: You're welcome, Sarah. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joanna Kakissis is a foreign correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she reports poignant stories of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.