Pentagon Admits Family Members of Troops are Stuck in Afghanistan

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Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby speaks at a press briefing on the Afghanistan withdrawal at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., Aug. 16, 2021. (DOD Photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Carlos M. Vazquez II)

In a briefing on November 10, John F. Kirby, Pentagon Press Secretary, shared shocking news about America: There are many family members of US soldiers still in Afghanistan.

Specifically, when asked, “John, can you please update us on — on the number of immediate family members of U.S. service members in Afghanistan?” he first attempted to dodge the question by saying “I don’t have a whole number on that, no.” 

However, his questioner was not His questioner refused to be deterred and pressed, saying “OK. So, I mean, the withdrawal ended on August 30th, and it’s — today is November 10th. I mean, how is it possible that — that the department doesn’t know how many immediate family members are still left…” 

At that moment, Kirby snapped back and said:

I– I didn’t say we didn’t know; I said I don’t have a number for you. We believe it’s certainly most likely in the dozens, but one of the reasons we put the memo out last week was to encourage service members to come forward.

It’s a dynamic thing, Fadi. I mean, you make it sound like a snap on a chalk line, and boom! You’ve got to know all the — you’ve got to know every number. That’s not even true for American citizens, as others — as American citizens in Afghanistan continue to come forward, because maybe they’ve changed their minds. Maybe they didn’t want out by August 30th, and maybe now they do. And so the number has — is changed a little bit.

We’re working on this as hard as we can. We take the obligation seriously to our people and to their families. And we’re — and that’s why we put the advisory out to the services last week, to give them a place, a portal where they can go to put information on — on — on there that we can then share with our State Department colleagues to get them out. We’re going to stay at this.

I’ve said it before but I think it bears repeating — the military mission in Afghanistan is over but the mission itself, to continue to — to get our people out — out of Afghanistan and back home or to their new homes in the United States, is not over, and we’re going to continue to work inside the interagency to do that.

Kirby tried to avoid the question by saying that he didn’t know the exact number. However, he revealed that he knew the number to be in the dozens but not how many. This fake commitment to absolute accuracy is typical of government apparatchiks like Mr. Kirby. But his inquisitor caught Kirby and stopped him. He shamed him into revealing the shocking fact that dozens of family members of US military personnel are still in Afghanistan.

Kirby was then interrogated by Fadi, a reporter who asked him why Afghanis were evacuated prior to the families of the servicemen.

I understand and appreciate all of that but my question remains — these are — these are the immediate family members of U.S. service members in Afghanistan. While many Afghans who have no relatives in the U.S. were evacuated a long time ago, the department, up until last week, did not issue a memo or considered this issue. I mean, don’t you think it’s…

Kirby, frustrated, responded by saying:

I — I know that I get it, but we did take it as a serious priority back then. We were working it. Just because there wasn’t a memo on the streets doesn’t mean that we weren’t focused on it or that we weren’t talking to people about it.

But more and more people were coming forward and wanted help for how to organize this effort, and now that the State Department has set up a — an interagency process over there, we now want to more discreetly, more carefully funnel these requests and that information to the care coordinator, as appropriate.

So it’s an ongoing process, it’s somewhat iterative, we’re getting better at it over time, and the fact that — you — you — you know, you’re — you — that we didn’t issue a memo earlier doesn’t mean that we weren’t thinking about it, wasn’t focused on it, weren’t hearing from troops or concerned about family members.

I mean, I — I have to take issue, I think, with the tone of your question, which seems to be that we just didn’t care until last week, and that’s just not true.

And you know what, Fadi? We’re probably going to be talking about that issue for some time to come, and that has to be OK. It doesn’t mean that we’re not taking it seriously. In fact, quite the contrary.

It is true that, despite Kirby’s claims that it’s “just not true” that the government hasn’t been concerned about this issue up to now, there are many family members of servicemen still in Afghanistan and Kirby says there are concerns about their safety. They hope that more is being done than the missionaries kept captive in Haiti.