In 2015, a heart-breaking photo circulated online. It was a picture of a broken and exhausted German Shepherd sitting on top of a grave in Serbia. The internet came to the conclusion that the dog was trying to dig a hole to stay close to her late owner. However, this was far from the truth.
When the story was first reported, the public made the assumption that this animal was someone’s pet. Dogs are famous for their loyalty and they have been known as “man’s best friend” for centuries. The story was widely shared on social media sites, people were overcome with sympathy for the grieving animal.
But the real truth behind the viral photo is something no one expected. These photographs were taken in Serbia by an amazing woman named Vesna Mihajloski who is an animal activist and rescuer. She was moved by what she saw but, as…
Charlotte Maxwell-Jones is organizing this fundraiser to benefit Kabul Small Animal Rescue (Ksar). In August of this year, the Kabul Small Animal Rescue tried to evacuate, and like tens of thousands of others, we were not able to. Worse, our dogs were seized against our will by the US military, troops we believed were there to protect us, and released onto the grounds of the Kabul airport, which they knew would be taken over hours later by the Taliban forces they had been fighting for two decades. We did not give up, and despite the unforgivable and unnecessary deaths of many of our animals on the airport grounds, deaths that will always break our hearts, our staff worked constantly to recover the animals we were able to, provide care for those taken into custody at the airport, and sustain the many dogs, cats, tortoises, peacocks, and parrots that came into our shelter over the last three months. We have mustered our courage and made cordial relationships with the Taliban-led government, from whom we have seen far more compassion and humanity for our animals than was extended to us during the August withdrawal. With the help of many people who don’t sleep, we were granted an OFAC license to continue our work as a non-profit in Afghanistan, and we will continue working here for as long as it is safe to do so. To continue this life-saving work, we must evacuate the animals filling our shelter to their homes and rescues worldwide. The majority of the funds raised for the planned August-withdrawal were saved for the evacuation flights, but much has been spent in these three months as prices for all food and medicine have tripled, and we have hired surge staffing to assist with the increased animal population. We are now asking that you help us with the final costs needed for our animal evacuation flights, $400,000 USD, which will go directly to the costs of the long-haul flight and the transit care for our 300+ animals in Dubai. With enormous gratitude to the Taliban leadership for kindness, compassion, and patience, KSAR has been granted permission to export the dogs and cats in our care, and we plan on wheels up within the next two weeks. We need your help to complete this massive effort. We will not leave behind those that cannot protect themselves, those we are responsible for. DonateShare
“We have recovered a number of our dogs, including one of the working dogs. We have lost others. We have found the bodies of some, we have been shown gruesome photos of others. pic.twitter.com/oh9BMfAcu5
PETITION TARGET: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin
Dogs in Kabul, Afghanistan, with reported paid tickets to safety in the United States, were instead released into the chaotic aftermath and an uncertain future following the Taliban’s takeover and the U.S. evacuation of the country.
On-the-ground rescues had worked desperately to secure safe passage for the dogs but in the final hours were forced by the U.S. Department of Defense to release all animals denied access to evacuation flights at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.
The heart-wrenching decision meant that rescue dogs and cats — long cared for by American, British, and Afghani veterinarians and animal advocates and others — are now on the war-torn streets of Kabul.
It’s not known how many animals are affected by the DOD’s “blanket decision,” but all animals left behind now are at the hands of the Taliban — a group that views animals as “unclean” and that banned pet ownership during its previous rule.
Pen Farthing, a British former marine who safely evacuated with more than 150 rescue dogs and cats prior to a U.S.-imposed, Aug. 31 evacuation deadline, told international media that he believes one of his animals was stabbed — and died — while passing through a Taliban-controlled checkpoint.
Other rescues that have remained behind, including the Kabul Small Animal Rescue, have been trying to track down the released dogs, including those who appear to be stuck on the airport grounds.
Sign this petition urging U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to grant permission to all animal rescues in Kabul to evacuate their animals to countries that welcome them, and do everything in their power to ensure no animals — or their caretakers — are left behind.
This is Muffin. She was rescued in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida by @LASPCA. They’ve been working nonstop to rescue displaced animals and provide vet care to affected communities. They desperately need donations through the link below. 14/10 for allhttps://t.co/EoI5ou6wDwpic.twitter.com/PfphSGH2Kq
The U.S. Central Command has denied leaving any dogs in cages at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul, or abandoning any U.S. military working dogs, as the last American troops made their final historic exit from the country. A picture of rescue dogs in carriers in a hangar at the airport has been circulating online and has prompted a firestorm of criticism. However, questions do remain about the ultimate fate of these non-U.S. working dogs.
U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Karen Roxberry, a spokesperson for Central Command (CENTCOM), issued an official statement on the matter today. Various animal welfare organizations in Afghanistan and outside of the country had been working to evacuate dozens of dogs and cats from the country as part of the larger evacuation operations at the airport in Kabul over the past two weeks. The work of the Kabul Small Animal Rescue (KSAR), a non-profit organization, and Nowzad, an animal rescue charity, have drawn particular media attention.
“The U.S. priority mission was the evacuation of U.S. citizens, SIV and vulnerable Afghans,” Roxberry’s statement reads, referring to, in part, Afghans eligible for Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) due to the risks they face from the Taliban due to having worked with the U.S. government. “However, to correct erroneous reports, the US military did not leave any dogs in cages at Hamid Karzai International Airport, to include the reported ‘military working dogs.'”
“Photos circulating online were animals under the care of the Kabul Small Animal Rescue, not dogs under the care of the U.S. military,” the statement continues. “Despite an ongoing complicated and dangerous retrograde mission, U.S. forces went to great lengths to assist the Kabul Small Animal Rescue as much as possible.”
The U.S. military is known to have evacuated its own working dogs previously. The U.S. State Department has also denied that any of its working dogs were left behind in Afghanistan.
The CENTCOM statement, however, does not speak directly to some of the other allegations leveled by KSAR and other animal welfare organizations regarding the fate of approximately 130 other dogs that had been at Hamid Karzai International Airport. This group of animals is understood to have included some number of former Afghan security forces working dogs. KSAR had been working to get them out of the country as part of an effort dubbed Operation Hercules.
“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,” according to a lengthy statement issued yesterday bySPCA International, which cited information provided by KSAR founder Charlotte Maxwell-Jones. “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.”
At the time of that statement, Maxwell-Jones remained in Afghanistan and had reportedly been escorted from the airport back to her shelter, which is situated approximately seven miles outside of Kabul, by the Taliban. Other KSAR staff, along with an unspecified number of rescue cats, were described as being “at another location in Kabul.”
The exact particulars of why the animals were reportedly not allowed to board military evacuations flights and why chartered aircraft arranged on behalf of KSAR may not have been allowed to land at the airport in Kabul are still murky. “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,” according to the SPCA International statement.
“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,” it continued. “We are alarmed that leaders at the CDC are not bringing a more balanced perspective to the importation of dogs, especially after the U.S. House of Representatives rebuked CDC on this issue and passed an amendment to restore a proper screening process.”
There could also have been similar issues at play with regards to the importation of animals into countries other than the United States. U.S. military evacuation flights did not head straight to the United States after leaving Afghanistan.
In addition, in a now-deleted Tweet yesterday, KSAR had also mentioned “we have so much $ awaiting refunds in canceled flights,” raising questions about the actual status of the expected charter flight. As of Aug. 29, there had been word that another non-profit organization called Veteran Sheepdogs of America had offered to take KSAR’s animals out on a plane it had chartered, but that there were concerns about whether that aircraft could even get to Kabul. Tweets today between Veteran Sheepdogs of America and Gray Television personality Greta Van Susteren indicate that there may be an emerging legal tussle over the whole situation.
Regardless, everything we know and continue to learn about the last few days of the evacuation operations indicates that it was full of mad scrambles to get people to the airport in Kabul and onto planes on the ground to get them out. It would not necessarily be surprising that many charter aviation companies, whether they believed they could get approval to land or not, might have been hesitant to make the trip.
The U.S. military had separately stressed that in the final stages of the evacuations it would prioritize people above all else, as CENTCOM’s statement today reiterates. It is not hard to see how American officials at Hamid Karzai International Airport would have been more preoccupied with finding space on any remaining flights for humans, rather than animals. At the same time, there were reports of official evacuation flights leaving Kabul with room to spare in the leadup to the final American withdrawal. As it stands, the United States was not able to evacuate everyone it had wanted to in the end, regardless, and is now exploring other options to get remaining American citizens and at-risk Afghans out of the country.
“We’ll continue to do everything we can to evacuate Kabul Small Animal Rescue’s staff and animals from the country after August 31,” Lori Kalef, Director of Programs at SPCA International, had said in the statement from that organization yesterday, highlighting that people, as well as animals, are also part of this particular equation. “We cannot thank our supporters enough for everything they’ve done to help the dogs and cats of Kabul and their caretakers.”
“Charlotte here! I want to apologize for the quiet social media,” according to a post just today on KSAR’s official Facebook page. “We are busy making plans, checking them twice, sorting out details, and keeping things quiet to maintain our own and the animals’ security.”
This is not the only instance of disputes between animal welfare organizations operating in Afghanistan and government officials during the recent evacuations from Afghanistan, either. Nowzad, which is based in the United Kingdom and is run by Paul “Pen” Farthing, a former Royal Marine, drew criticism in the past week over its own rescue effort.
Critics in the United Kingdom, including government officials, had implied that Farthing’s activities had taken up valuable resources that could have been used to help people get inside to safety before and after that attack. Farthing disputed that U.K. authorities had provided any assistance to him, at all. “I did that with the Taliban… Nobody facilitated my entry… any interpreters or anybody else, there was me and the truck full of dogs and cats,” he said in a subsequent interview.
However, he also thanked the U.K. government for its support in the end. That statement came after The Times newspaper reported that it had obtained an audio recording of him leaving an expletive-laden voicemail for a special adviser to the country’s Defense Secretary Ben Wallace over allegations that his animal evacuation flight was being blocked.
All told, the exact fate of KSAR’s dogs that were at the airport in Kabul remains unknown. Beyond that, only time will tell what will now happen to that organization, its staff, and its remaining cats, as well as Nowzad staff.
The Taliban have since confirmed that the dogs in question were released into the airport and are still on the loose. They say they are trying to round them up now and may be interested in putting any working dogs among them to use in the future.
Stars and Stripes has also published an interview with Charlotte Maxwell-Jones about the entire situation.
You can read more about all of this and other new developments in our continuing coverage of this story here.
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