US military says it did not leave working dogs behind at airport in Kabul after group claimed they were given a ‘death sentence’

A US service member with a US military working dog in Afghanistan.
A US service member with a US military working dog in Afghanistan.
  • Photos of dogs in cages at the airport in Kabul have led to allegations the US left service dogs behind.
  • An animal welfare group said that the US gave a "death sentence" to US military contract working dogs.
  • The Pentagon insists that it did not leave working dogs in its charge at Hamid Karzai International Airport.
  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

The Pentagon is pushing back on claims the US military left working dogs behind when it departed the airport in Kabul after photos of dogs in cages at the airport went viral and an animal welfare organization accused the military of sentencing them to death by abandoning them.

"To correct erroneous reports, the US Military did not leave any dogs in cages at Hamid Karzai International Airport, including the reported military working dogs," said Pentagon press secretary John Kirby on Tuesday.

"Photos circulating online were animals under the care of the Kabul Small Animal Rescue, not dogs under our care," he explained, referring to a veterinary and animal rescue operation in the Afghan capital.

Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon said in a statement that "despite an ongoing complicated and dangerous retrograde mission, US forces went to great lengths to assist the Kabul Small Animal Rescue as much as possible," adding that the dogs the group cared for were, to his knowledge, strays from Kabul.

Joint Task Force - Crisis Response, which helped facilitate evacuations out of Kabul, "did not leave any dogs at [Hamid Karzai International Airport]. Photos circulating are not of military working dogs," Marine Corps Forces Central Command tweeted Tuesday. A defense official reiterated the same thing to Insider.

A State Department spokesperson told Defense One that all of its working dogs were also evacuated. "None were left behind," they said.

A defense official told Insider that claims the US left military working dogs behind are "absolutely false."

Another official told USA Today's Matt Brown that "all our working dogs left with their handlers. We would not leave them behind. To suggest otherwise is ridiculous."

The military statements follow a strongly-worded statement on Monday from president and CEO of the animal rights group American Humane, Robin Ganzert, condemning what she called a "death sentence" for contract working dogs.

She said that she is "devastated by reports that the American government is pulling out of Kabul and leaving behind brave US military contract working dogs to be tortured and killed at the hand of our enemies."

"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," Ganzert wrote.

An American Humane spokesperson explained to Insider that reports the group received from individuals on the ground in Kabul, including members of the US military, were that the group of animals being left behind included contract working dogs, a claim the military believes to be inaccurate.

A statement from SPCA International, citing information provided by Charlotte Maxwell-Jones, who founded Kabul Small Animal Rescue, said that "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 statement appeared to suggest that military working dogs were in the mix but did not provide clarity on their specific status.

"Charlotte," the group said, "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."

Over the past two weeks, the US and its international allies carried out a massive airlift operation to evacuate tens of thousands of people, including American citizens, Afghan partners and their families, and other foreign nationals, from Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban takeover. Over 120,000 people were evacuated, but there were people who did not make it out.

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