Here’s What We Know About The Working Dogs Allegedly Left Behind By The US In Afghanistan
Social media posts and news stories about the U.S. military allegedly leaving behind working dogs at Kabul’s airport during the withdrawal from Afghanistan have circulated online in recent days. Photos of dogs in crates at the Hamid Karzai International Airport went viral on Twitter.
The picture of the dog crates appears to trace back to an Aug. 29 tweet from the veteran organization Veteran Sheepdogs of America, which said in the tweet it was “working on getting working dogs out.”
— Veteran Sheepdogs of America (@VetSheepdogsUS) August 29, 2021
The animal welfare group American Humane on Aug. 30 issued a statement condemning the U.S. government for allegedly leaving behind “military contract working dogs” at the Kabul airport. (RELATED: Image Claims To Show The Taliban Hanging A Man From A Helicopter)
“I am devastated by reports that the American government is pulling out of Kabul and leaving behind brave U.S. military contract working dogs to be tortured and killed at the hand of our enemies,” American Human President and CEO Dr. Robin R. Ganzert said, in part, in the statement. “These brave dogs do the same dangerous, lifesaving work as our military working dogs, and deserved a far better fate than the one to which they have been condemned.”
The following day, Department of Defense Press Secretary John Kirby on Twitter refuted claims that the U.S. military had left behind military working dogs. He said in the tweet that the animals pictured in “photos circulating online” were “under the care of the Kabul Small Animal Rescue, not dogs under our care.”
To correct erroneous reports, the U.S. Military did not leave any dogs in cages at Hamid Karzai International Airport, including the reported military working dogs. Photos circulating online were animals under the care of the Kabul Small Animal Rescue, not dogs under our care.
— John Kirby (@PentagonPresSec) August 31, 2021
“To correct erroneous reports, the U.S. Military did not leave any dogs in cages at Hamid Karzai International Airport, including the reported military working dogs. Photos circulating online were animals under the care of the Kabul Small Animal Rescue, not dogs under our care,” Kirby wrote.
The Marine Corps Forces Central Command also tweeted Aug. 31 that “Joint Task Force – Crisis Response did not leave any dogs” at Kabul’s airport, adding, “Photos circulating are not of military working dogs.”
Kabul Small Animal Rescue (KSAR), an animal rescue organization, has been attempting to evacuate rescues and other animals from Afghanistan, according to The Stars and Stripes. The group’s founder, Charlotte Maxwell-Jones, chose to remain in Afghanistan after the U.S.’s withdrawal to continue trying to get the animals out of the country, the outlet reported.
USA Today White House reporter Matt Brown tweeted Aug. 31 that the Defense Department said the animals in the viral picture were “strays” and “could not be flown out via US MIL flights because of customs.” The Pentagon also said it was prioritizing “evacuating people first,” according to Brown’s tweet.
UPDATE: The @DeptofDefense says that the dogs in the viral photo were strays who “could not be flown out via US MIL flights because of customs … Again, we prioritized evacuating people first.”
— Matt Brown (@mrbrownsir) August 31, 2021
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suspended, starting July 14, the importation of dogs from countries “classified by CDC as high risk for dog rabies” and countries “that are NOT at high risk if the dogs have been in high-risk countries during the previous 6 months.” The CDC lists Afghanistan as a country considered to be high-risk for rabies, according to the agency’s website.
KSAR previously tweeted Aug. 20 that it needed “awareness and financial help” to evacuate “dogs and cats left behind as people flee.” The animal rescue had taken in animals from owners such as other rescue organizations, embassy workers and defense contractors who couldn’t take their animals with them, NPR reported Aug. 25. On Aug. 27, before the photo of the dogs in cages went viral, KSAR tweeted asking the U.S. military to “please allow these animals to get out incl 50+ service dogs.”
The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) International said in an Aug. 30 statement that KSAR had 130 dogs under its care, including 46 working dogs. Maxwell-Jones, the founder of KSAR, was forced to leave Kabul’s airport on Aug. 30, according to the statement.
“In the end, the dogs and their caretakers were explicitly NOT allowed to board military aircraft, and numerous private charter aircraft were not granted access to the airport either,” the SPCA International statement read in part. “Charlotte was informed that most of the KSAR dogs had to be released into the airport on August 30 as the airport was evacuated – turning once rescued shelter dogs into homeless strays. They were not given access to the flight we had secured to transport them out of the country.”
“They are within the airport in an area used for housing employees at the far end of the flight line,” the statement went on to say. “We haven’t been able to confirm the number of dogs released, nor can we confirm whether the U.S. Military evacuated the 46 working dogs that had been under KSAR’s care when they left.”
According to an Aug. 31 tweet from Brown, the Defense Department said, “Kabul Small Animal Rescue told us they had a contract plane coming, but that flight never showed up or contacted us. All our working dogs left with their handlers. We would not leave them behind. To suggest otherwise is ridiculous.”
In a Sept. 1 tweet, the SPCA International clarified that the 46 working dogs are “contract working dogs, NOT working dogs owned by the U.S. military,” explaining, “Contract working dogs are dogs owned and trained by private companies and are contracted for work that can include military and other operations.”
Defense Department spokesperson Eric Pahon told Military Times there were an estimated 150 contract dogs left in Kabul. He also said, “Despite an ongoing complicated and dangerous retrograde mission, U.S. forces went to great lengths to assist the Kabul Small Animal Rescue as much as possible,” according to the outlet.
Military contracting company GardaWorld said in a statement to Military Times that it is working to get its dogs and “all animals” under KSAR’s care out of Afghanistan. (RELATED: No, This Video Does Not Show The People Of Kabul Welcoming The Taliban Into The City)
American Humane spokesperson Laura Sheehan said to The Washington Post that there are an estimated “50 contract-working dogs left” who would have been “contracted to the U.S. military to provide support.” She also told the outlet, “Given the status of the contractor dogs, the U.S. government doesn’t view those animals as its responsibility.”
Jason Johnson, founder of the charity Project K-9 Hero, also told The Washington Post that there were an estimated 50 contract working dogs still left in Afghanistan as well as some 150 pets owned by Americans and strays. He said, “We have no confirmation those dogs are still in crates and still alive.”
Check Your Fact reached out to both the Defense Department and Kabul Small Animal Rescue and will update this article if a response is provided.