The U.S. Department of Defense has moved to conceal the identities of Afghan citizens, and their family members, who aided the United States during the 20 years of war in Afghanistan that cost more than 172,000 lives.
A Pentagon official said the department had removed images and videos, taken during the U.S. military occupation, from a publicly accessible platform.
The U.S. troop withdrawal leading up to Aug. 31 was followed shortly by the collapse of the Afghan government and the takeover of the country by the Taliban.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters on Nov. 1: “We were concerned that [the Taliban] were going to seek out people who helped us over time, or relatives and families.
“I think those concerns were valid and we make no apology whatsoever for making this decision. I still believe it was the right thing to do.”
Kirby said it was his decision, delegated to leadership at the Defense Media Activity, to remove 124,000 photographs and 17,000 videos from the Defense Department’s publicly accessible Defense Visual Information Service (DVIDS).
He said the images have not been deleted from the record, but archived “out of an abundance of caution” until the department believes it is the appropriate time to put them back up.
Kirby added the process of removing the images went on throughout the course of the withdrawal from Afghanistan and continued well into September.
He described the effort as a “mammoth undertaking” that took about two months. The removal of images was not publicly announced while the process was underway.
“It wouldn’t make much sense to tell the world we were archiving these images before we were done archiving them,” said Kirby.
He noted the effort to get all Afghan allies and U.S. citizens out of Afghanistan is still ongoing. The Pentagon’s latest estimate counts nearly 450 American citizens remaining in Afghanistan.
Originally, on Aug. 30, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Biden administration believed there to be “under 200, and likely closer to 100, who remain in Afghanistan and want to leave”.
No country has formally recognized the Taliban government since the insurgents took over the country in August.
With international aid to Afghanistan largely cut off, experts predict little or no economic growth in the country and a likely increase in poverty in the coming years.