The Department of Defense on Tuesday pushed back on reports that military working dogs were left behind in Afghanistan amid U.S. military evacuations in Kabul earlier this week. However, animals activists groups say that working dogs not owned by the military are in peril.
The Pentagon's denial comes as photos circulate on social media that claim to show military working dogs in crates left behind at the Kabul airport.
In a statement, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said that photos were not military working dogs and were instead animals under the care of a local animal shelter in Kabul.
"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 tweeted Tuesday night. "Photos circulating online were animals under the care of the Kabul Small Animal Rescue, not dogs under our care."
Eric Pahon, another spokesperson for the Defense Department, told the Military Times that it was a priority to bring its dogs home.
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. Photos circulating online were animals under the care of the Kabul Small Animal Rescue, not dogs under our care.— John Kirby (@PentagonPresSec) August 31, 2021
"We invest hundreds of thousands of dollars into these dogs," Pahon told the Military Times. "We wouldn't leave them behind."
But while the Pentagon says it was able to bring its own dogs home, other groups say withdrawal has left some animals in peril.
On Monday, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) reported that the dogs in the care of the Kabul Small Animal Rescue (KSAR) and some of their caretakers were not allowed to board military planes for evacuation. The SPCA says some of the dogs in the care of KSAR were released as the airport was evacuated.
The group could not confirm how many dogs had been released or if any of those dogs released were military working dogs.
The SPCA says that officials with the KSAR hope to return to the airport when it is safe and with the cooperation of the Taliban to retrieve and re-rescue the released dogs.
Earlier this month, NBC News reported that Taliban militants were pressuring the KSAR to leave the country without the animals, noting that "the Taliban are notoriously unfriendly to both those who work with foreigners or animals, which they view as unclean."
Earlier this week, the American Humane Society claimed that some of the dogs left behind were not military working dogs but working dogs owned by private contractors who worked with the U.S. military.
"I am devastated by reports that the American government is pulling out of Kabul and leaving behind brave U.S. military contract working dogs to be tortured and killed at the hand of our enemies," Dr. Robin R. Ganzert. the president and CEO of AHS said in a statement. "These brave dogs do the same dangerous, lifesaving work as our military working dogs, and deserved a far better fate than the one to which they have been condemned."