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Pentagon Exemptions to Immigration Ban Include Nationals From All Targeted Countries


House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland, left, greets Farah Al Khafaji, a former Iraqi interpreter for the U.S. military, on Capitol Hill in Washington before a House Democratic forum on President Donald Trump's executive order on immigration, Feb. 2, 2017.

The Pentagon says a list of exemptions to President Donald Trump's 90-day ban on immigration from seven countries identified by the White House as "sources of terror" will now include people who have aided the U.S. military from all of the targeted countries.

Navy Captain Jeff Davis, the Pentagon spokesman, said the Defense Department would continue to make sure that nationals "who have worked with us, most notably in Iraq but not exclusively in Iraq, have an ability to have their contributions to U.S. military operations reflected in this process."

On Monday, Davis told reporters the exemption list being compiled by the Pentagon was only for Iraqi nationals and not for those in the other nations affected by the ban: Iran, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Syria.

The executive order, signed Friday afternoon, bans travelers from the seven countries from entering the United States for 90 days and bans Syrian refugees indefinitely.

Watch: Congressional Democrats Tell Trump to End Travel Ban

Davis said the Pentagon was "pleased" that the U.S. government had determined it was in the nation's interest to allow Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa holders to continue to travel to the United States. He added that American embassies and consulates overseas were continuing to process and issue Special Immigrant Visas to qualified applicants.

"These partnerships are vital to the success of all our military efforts, and in many cases, are people who have ... put themselves at great risk in doing so," he said.

Categories vs. list of names

The Pentagon spokesman initially stated that the military had provided the White House with a list of names of Iraqi nationals who had helped U.S. forces in past and present fights.

Davis had to "walk back" those statements Thursday, explaining that the Pentagon was "helping to identify categories" of people rather than compiling a long list of names.

Pentagon officials have declined to comment on whether Secretary of Defense James Mattis asked for the exemptions, saying that the nature of his counsel to the president was "private."

Among the concerns raised by the immigration ban is the fate of Iraqi pilots trying to enter the U.S. for training at U.S. bases. Davis restated Thursday that his understanding of the situation was that Iraqi pilots enter the U.S. "on a different kind of visa that isn't affected by this" executive order.

While highly unpopular overseas, the 90-day entry ban on citizens of seven countries is supported by roughly one-half of all Americans, according to polls, and is consistent with repeated promises made by Trump during his election campaign.

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    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea.

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