By WCCO-TV Staff

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Hundreds or even thousands of Afghan refugees could be headed to Fort McCoy in western Wisconsin for processing, according to Pentagon officials.

Afghans are scrambling to find ways to escape after the Taliban overran their country over the last week. The Taliban initiated the blitz with U.S. troops weeks away from the Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline.

Garry Reid, director of the Department of Defense’s Afghanistan Crisis Action Group, told reporters Monday that the U.S. Army is working to set up reception centers for Afghan refugees at Fort McCoy and Fort Bliss in Texas. He said the Army is preparing to receive as many as 22,000 refugees at the two bases as well as at Fort Lee in Virginia.

Fort McCoy spokeswoman Tonya Townsell told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Monday that the base, located between Tomah and Sparta, has been notified it will receive refugees and is prepared to house them in soldiers’ barracks as well as provide them with food and medical care.

Fort McCoy officials referred Associated Press inquiries Tuesday to the Department of Defense. DOD spokesman Lt. Col. Chris Mitchell said in an email to The Associated Press that the department hasn’t made a final decision on where refugees will be processed but teams are visiting Fort Bliss and Fort McCoy to determine if the bases will be adequate.

The last time Fort McCoy served as a refugee center was in 1980, when the base housed 14,000 Cubans who fled from Fidel Castro’s government.

Gov. Tony Evers released the following statement:

Many Afghan people now fleeing their homes have bravely contributed to work in Afghanistan over the past two decades. Just as they protected us in serving our country and helped keep our troops safe, we owe it to them to protect and keep them safe.

We have been in contact with federal partners about resettlement efforts for Afghan people who are seeking refuge at Fort McCoy. As we learn more information, Wisconsin is ready to assist these efforts and help these individuals who served our country and are now seeking refuge.

We also know some Wisconsinites who served in Afghanistan alongside these allies—as well as some of those who have sought safety in our state previously—may be experiencing trauma and anxiety as they watch these events unfold. We are thinking of them and are reminded today and in the days ahead to offer each other support, patience, and kindness and treat one another with empathy, respect, and compassion.

(© Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)