People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) urged President Joe Biden personally on Tuesday to intervene to help dozens of dogs affiliated with America’s presence in Afghanistan to evacuate the country in light of the Taliban’s seizure of power this month.
PETA’s statement noted that among the dogs abandoned by the Biden administration may be as many as 60 bomb-sniffing dogs and a similar number of working dogs “kenneled in an airport hangar.” A larger number of animals left behind are reportedly pets belonging to Americans that have since been evacuated.
Biden removed all American military forces from Afghanistan shortly before midnight on August 31 local Kabul time. Biden had previously extended the 20-year Afghan War by four months, overriding the May 1 deadline agreed upon by former President Donald Trump, the former Afghan government, and senior Taliban officials. In those four months, the Taliban conquered nearly the entirety of the country before surrounding Kabul on August 15, prompting now-former President Ashraf Ghani to flee the country.
The Taliban considers itself the official government of a new “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.”
Animal rights groups sounded the alarm on Monday after the founder of Kabul Small Animal Rescue, American Charlotte Maxwell-Jones, chose to stay in the country after failing to rescue the dogs in her care. According to the International Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ISPCA), Maxwell-Jones was “forced to leave the airport with one puppy under her arm as final military evacuations occurred.”
— Kabul Small Animal Rescue (@KSAnimalRescue) August 29, 2021
“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,” ISPCA said in a press release. “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.”
The total number of working dogs, American family pets, and other rescues the U.S. military left in Kabul remains unclear at press time. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby commented on the story via Twitter on Tuesday, addressing rumors that the dogs left in Kabul were left to starve in cages fueled by photos of surfacing on social media.
“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,” Kirby said. “Photos circulating online were animals under the care of the Kabul Small Animal Rescue, not dogs under our care.”
Kirby did not address reports of U.S. officials blocking private charter aircraft from taking the dogs or blocking the dogs from the airport. He only specifically denied that the military left dogs in cages.”
PETA said in a statement Tuesday that dozens of the dogs in question may have military training backgrounds, suggesting that, while Kirby may be technically correct that the dogs are not under the Pentagon’s care, they may have served the military.
“Inside sources have told PETA that the allegedly abandoned animals may include approximately 60 bomb-sniffing dogs who sat in cages on the tarmac at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul for days, their exit blocked by the U.S. Department of State,” PETA detailed, “and an estimated 60 working dogs who were kenneled in an airport hangar, suffering in the heat without adequate access to food or water.”
“In addition, dozens of companion animals belonging to evacuated American families — including the little pug companion of an embassy worker — have apparently been ‘released’ onto the streets to fend for themselves, with little chance of survival,” the organization noted.
PETA appealed specifically to the head of the Pentagon’s Central Command (CENTCOM), Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. – who runs Afghanistan operations – and the U.S. Department of State’s acting assistant secretary, Dean Thompson, in addition to Biden to help save the animals. PETA urged “immediate action … to intervene in the fate of dozens of dogs and other animals — including U.S. military working dogs and companion animals belonging to evacuated Americans — to ensure that as many of them as possible are safely evacuated, along with their human caretakers.”
The Biden administration has offered little clarity on the situation, particularly the allegations that the U.S. government barred private charter planes from taking the dogs – not just refused to evacuate the dogs along with human escapees. One animal rights group, Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals International (SPCAI), accused the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) of being behind the abandonment, strictly implementing policies banning the importation of dogs from countries like Afghanistan.
“The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recently enacted policy suspending transports of dogs from Afghanistan and more than 100 other nations into the U.S., was another terrible impediment, despite our negotiations and pleadings,” the SPCAI lamented. “We applied for an Emergency Exemption so that Charlotte and the dogs could get out on our chartered flight this week. But the CDC’s adherence to its import policy during this time of crisis put animals and people at risk.”
The organization described itself as “alarmed” at the CDC’s behavior, “especially after the U.S. House of Representatives rebuked CDC on this issue and passed an amendment to restore a proper screening process.”
The CDC has not at press time commented on the situation.
Also entirely silent on the developing story so far is the Taliban, which now controls Kabul. SPCAI claimed that Maxwell-Jones escaped the chaotic Kabul international airport safely with Taliban escorts, who took her to her organization’s headquarters outside of the capital city. Other animal rights activists in the country have not documented similarly cordial behavior. Former Royal Marine Paul “Pen” Farthing, who was working to rescue dogs in Afghanistan when the Taliban took over the country, told British media that Taliban jihadis had stabbed at least one of his dogs and he feared they would all be shot if he did not get them out of the country. Farthing has reportedly since left the country, but attempted a final appeal to Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen last week before doing so.
Dear Sir; my team & my animals are stuck at airport circle. We have a flight waiting. Can you please facilitate safe passage into the airport for our convoy? @suhailshaheen1 We are an NGO who will come back to Afghanistan but right now I want to get everyone out safely. 🙏🏼
— Pen Farthing (@PenFarthing) August 26, 2021
In a statement on the situation, PETA Senior Vice President Daphna Nachminovitch noted that dogs and other animals are often “among the worst” casualties of war in American history.
“Animals don’t wage wars, yet they are often—along with innocent civilians—among the worst affected by them. Thousands of dogs ‘served’ in Vietnam only to be abandoned during withdrawal, and it appears that history is repeating itself,” Nachminovitch said. “Many of the brave, loyal dogs stranded in Afghanistan risked their lives to save humans while others are beloved members of already traumatized families, and they must all—along with their caretakers—be evacuated.”
“They appear to have been abandoned, and this cannot be allowed to stand. PETA is calling on President Biden to get these individuals out now. They don’t need another memorial or museum—they need a plane ride,” Nachminovitch urged.