The Pentagon said on Nov. 10 that “dozens” of family members of U.S. troops still remain in Afghanistan nearly three months after the Taliban takeover of Kabul and after President Joe Biden withdrew all soldiers from the country.
“I don’t have a whole number on that,” Kirby said. “We believe it’s certainly most likely in the dozens.”
He also said the department is “working this as hard as we can” to bring those family members back to the United States.
“We take the obligation seriously to our people and to their families,” Kirby said. “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 there that we can then share with our State Department colleagues to get them out. We’re going to stay at this.”
Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl issued a memo on Nov. 4 stating that the Biden administration is currently putting together a database of relatives. The memo asks all U.S. military personnel and civilian employees with immediate family members in Afghanistan who wish to be evacuated to contact a department-associated email address.
The Pentagon “places a high priority on facilitating the departure of Afghan nationals who are immediate family members,” the memo states, noting that defense officials will “continue to provide support in this relocation effort to the greatest possible extent.”
“Given the current situation in Afghanistan and the absence of an in-country U.S. embassy presence, there are a number of challenges related to departures of Afghan nationals, including those of unique interest to DoD,” the memo reads.
The mission to evacuate Americans out of Afghanistan “is not over,” Kirby said, noting that defense officials are “going to continue to work inside the interagency to do that.”
When asked whether there’s any concern about the safety of family members of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Kirby responded, “Of course there is.”
The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan was set into motion by then-President Donald Trump. But the Biden administration extended the withdrawal deadline and has been widely criticized for how it handled the evacuation.
Critics have focused on several major aspects of the withdrawal: how Americans were left behind when the last U.S. troops left on Aug. 30; how 13 U.S. service members were killed by a suicide bombing attack while helping evacuate Americans and others; and why the evacuations were so chaotic, especially with regard to forcing Americans to brave Taliban checkpoints to reach the U.S.-held airport in Kabul.
Military leaders have mostly portrayed the withdrawal as successful, noting that it was the largest airlift in U.S. history.
Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.