Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby, in a press briefing on November 10th, had shocking news for America: there are dozens of family members of US troops stuck in Afghanistan.
Specifically, when asked, “John, can you please update us on — on the number of immediate family members of U.S. service members in Afghanistan?” he first attempted to dodge the question by saying “I don’t have a whole number on that, no.”
However, his questioner was not to be dissuaded and pressed, saying “OK. So, I mean, the withdrawal ended on August 30th, and it’s — today is November 10th. I mean, how is it possible that — that the department doesn’t know how many immediate family members are still left…”
At that point, Mr. Kirby snapped back, saying:
I– I didn’t say we didn’t know; I said I don’t have a number for you. We believe it’s certainly most likely in the dozens, but one of the reasons we put the memo out last week was to encourage service members to come forward.
It’s a dynamic thing, Fadi. I mean, you make it sound like a snap on a chalk line, and boom! You’ve got to know all the — you’ve got to know every number. That’s not even true for American citizens, as other — as American citizens in Afghanistan continue to come forward, because maybe they’ve changed their mind. Maybe they didn’t want out by August 30th, and maybe now they do. And so the number has — is changed a little bit.
We’re working this as hard as we can. We take the obligation seriously to our people and to their families. And we’re — 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 — on — on there that we can then share with our State Department colleagues to get them out. We’re going to stay at this.
I’ve said it before but I think it bears repeating — the military mission in Afghanistan is over but the mission itself, to continue to — to get our people out — out of Afghanistan and back home or to their new homes in the United States, is not over, and we’re going to continue to work inside the interagency to do that.
So, Kirby tried to dodge the question by saying he didn’t have an exact number, only to reveal that he knows the number to be somewhere in the dozens, just not exactly how many dozens. That faux commitment to absolute accuracy is a typical tactic of government apparatchiks such as Mr. Kirby, but luckily his inquisitor caught him and stopped him, shaming him into revealing the horrifying fact that dozens of family members of US servicemen are stuck in Afghanistan.
Kirby was then questioned yet further, with Fadi, the same reporter, pressing him on why Afghanis were evacuated before the families of servicemen:
I understand and appreciate all of that but my question remains — these are — these are the immediate family members of U.S. service members in Afghanistan. While many Afghans who have no relatives in the U.S. were evacuated a long time ago, the department, up until last week, did not issue a memo or considered this issue. I mean, don’t you think it’s…
At which point a frustrated Kirby responded by saying:
I — I know that, I get it, but we did take it as a serious priority back then. We were working it. Just because there wasn’t a memo on the streets doesn’t mean that we weren’t focused on it or that we weren’t talking to people about it.
But more and more people were coming forward and wanted help for how to organize this effort, and now that the State Department has set up a — an interagency process over there, we now want to more discreetly, more carefully funnel these requests and that information to the care coordinator, as appropriate.
So it’s an ongoing process, it’s somewhat iterative, we’re getting better at it over time, and the fact that — you — you — you know, you’re — you — that we didn’t issue a memo earlier doesn’t mean that we weren’t thinking about it, weren’t focused on it, weren’t hearing from troops or concerned about family members.
I mean, I — I have to take issue, I think, with the tone of your question, which seems to be that we just didn’t care until last week, and that’s just not true.
And you know what, Fadi? We’re probably going to be talking about that issue for some time to come, and that has to be OK. It doesn’t mean that we’re not taking it seriously. In fact, quite the contrary.
The fact remains that, despite Kirby’s assurances that it’s “just not true” that the government hasn’t cared about this issue until now, there are dozens of family members of servicemen stuck in Afghanistan, and, according to Kirby, there are concerns for their safety. Hopefully, more is being done to help them than the missionaries held captive in Haiti.