As of Jan. 5, the resettlement of Afghan evacuees at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey has cost taxpayers at least $626 million since the effort began back in August 2021, says a new Defense Department report.
The base is one of eight domestic military bases responsible for resettling more than 75,000 Afghan evacuees in the U.S.
The report, released Feb. 2, says that the installation has incurred some $625 million in costs associated with “base operations support services contracts.” This includes approximately 500 contractor personnel responsible for “providing acute medical care” to the Afghan evacuee population. The remaining $1.5 million was spent on items that directly support the mission of evacuee resettlement, such as “office supplies, flashlights, safety vests, and winterization efforts.”
At the beginning of the Afghan evacuation, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst was initially supposed to host only 3,500 Afghan evacuees. However, on Sept. 1, it had expanded operations to accommodate 13,000 evacuees. By mid-November, the report states, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst had received 13,889 Afghans seeking a new life in the U.S. As of Nov. 20, 3,068 Afghan evacuees had departed Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. Of these, 1,154 “departed voluntarily” without completing the resettlement process, while another 1,914 departed after completing the resettlement process.
Additionally, the Department of Homeland Security announced on Feb. 2 the completion of resettlement operations located at Fort Pickett, Va. According to a DHS release, more than 10,300 Afghans were successfully resettled from Fort Pickett before operations concluded. Overall, more than 68,000 Afghan evacuees have been successfully resettled in the U.S. since operations began.
In November, Fort Lee in Virginia became the first domestic military base to be a destination for Afghans seeking resettlement, successfully resettled more than 3,000 Afghans in roughly three months.
Neither DHS nor D0D immediately responded to questions regarding the financial cost of resettlement operations.
Marine Corps Base Quantico concluded its resettlement program at the end of December when the last of 3,755 Afghans left the installation. A DoD Investigator General report noted that the resettlement cost that installation an estimated $188.4 million while it struggled to keep track of evacuees.
The Marines, according to the December IG report, “relied on Afghan leaders and interagency partners to inform the command when individuals went missing or did not show up for scheduled appointments.”
Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst has not experienced similar issues and has implemented accountability measures from day one. These include a wristband for each evacuee and a database that keeps track of information ranging from passport numbers and photos to the room that evacuees are assigned.
According to DHS, there are still 7,000 Afghans in the resettlement process, spread between Fort McCoy in Wisconsin and Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.
As 120,000 people were flown to safety from Afghanistan during the last two weeks of August, DoD, at the request of the State Department, provided both domestic military bases to temporarily house Afghans fleeing a Taliban takeover of the country. Dubbed “Operation Allies Welcome,” the interagency effort has gradually moved more than 75,000 Afghans through a network of domestic and international DOD bases towards the goal of resettling them in the U.S.
Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst was selected, according to the report, because its location is only an hour from a Philadelphia International Airport, which serves as a primary point of arrival for Afghan evacuees heading to the U.S.
According to the report, Officials at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst anticipate that as resettlement operations continue to wind down, they will be consolidated aboard their installation. It will be the last base with the mission of settling Afghan evacuees.
James R. Webb is a rapid response reporter for Military Times. He served as a US Marine infantryman in Iraq. Additionally, he has worked as a Legislative Assistant in the US Senate and as an embedded photographer in Afghanistan.