Countries to which evacuees could be flown include United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, and Kuwait, US official says as Taliban presses a major offensive in northern Afghanistan.

A US soldier walks with an Afghan interpreter before a mission near forward operating base Gamberi in Laghman province of Afghanistan on December 11, 2014. [FILE]
A US soldier walks with an Afghan interpreter before a mission near forward operating base Gamberi in Laghman province of Afghanistan on December 11, 2014. [FILE] (Reuters)

The United States is planning to evacuate vulnerable Afghan interpreters before the US military completes its withdrawal from Afghanistan so they can wrap up their visa applications from safety, US officials have said.

The evacuation will include their family members for a total of as many as 50,000 people, a senior Republican congressman told Reuters news agency on Thursday.

Representative Mike McCaul, who discussed the evacuation plan with officials of US President Joe Biden's administration, said countries to which the evacuees could be flown include the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, and Kuwait.

The decision by Biden's administration risks creating a sense of crisis in Afghanistan, just a day before Biden meets Afghan President Ashraf Ghani for talks aimed at projecting a sense of partnership despite the US military exit.

The evacuation of interpreters from Afghanistan may not require the use of US military aircraft, the Pentagon said on Thursday.

"It doesn't always have to entail US military aircraft to accommodate," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters.

READ MORE: US urged to evacuate Afghan allies to Guam as troops leave

Fears of Taliban revenge 

The White House meeting comes as Taliban insurgents press a major offensive in Afghanistan, triggering growing concern in Congress for Afghan interpreters who worked for the US military during its two-decade-long engagement and fear Taliban reprisals after American troops depart.

Fighting between US-backed Afghan forces and the Taliban has surged in recent weeks, with the insurgents gaining control of territory. 

The Pentagon now estimates the Taliban control 81 of the country's 419 district centres.

Political talks between the government and the Taliban have largely stalled and it is unclear how Afghan security forces will perform after US troops depart. 

The Taliban have assured Afghans who worked with foreign forces of their safety.

But as the clock ticks down, Afghans who have applied for visas increasingly fear that the insurgents will target them and their families, in retribution for helping foreign forces during America's longest war.

READ MORE: Afghan officials: Taliban waging war against own people, razing districts

Little time left for compatriots

Samey Honaryar, a former Afghan interpreter who was granted asylum in the United States after his life was threatened, said at a news conference at the US Capitol on Thursday that time was running short for his compatriots.

"Please evacuate them," he said. "They were good people, they helped you."

The US military has completed more than half of its withdrawal from Afghanistan and is set to finish in the coming weeks.

That leaves little time to process applications for special immigrant visas already filed by roughly 9,000 Afghans, or the thousands of others who have formally expressed interest.

Although the US State Department has increased staffing, US officials say there is a limit to how fast a 14-step, multiple-agency process that includes security vetting can move without changes to legislation.

If all goes well, a visa could normally be processed in nine to 12 months, officials say.

READ MORE: Afghan govt gathers local militias to halt advancing Taliban

Source: Reuters