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U.S. military does not own dogs photographed at Kabul airport

September 1, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: Photo shows the U.S. military “abandoned” its service dogs in cages at an airport hangar in Afghanistan after the U.S. officially withdrew troops.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: Missing context. The dogs seen in the widely-shared photo were not owned by the U.S. military, nor did the military leave them in cages at the airport, according to the Department of Defense. An official at the agency told The Associated Press that some of the dogs were strays, and others were owned by contract companies who were responsible for their care and safety.

THE FACTS: A photo showing more than a dozen kennels in front of a battered U.S. military helicopter began circulating on social media late Monday. One of the most shared posts claimed the photo captured “our helpless service dogs, caged and abandoned at the Kabul airport, left to starve to death.”

But allegations that U.S. officials left military working dogs caged in the Kabul airport are misleading. While some of the dogs in the photo were at some point contracted to work with U.S. troops, they were not owned by the military.

“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,” Department of Defense press secretary John Kirby tweeted Tuesday. “Photos circulating online were animals under the care of the Kabul Small Animal Rescue, not dogs under our care.”

Charlotte Maxwell-Jones, the founder of Kabul Small Animal Rescue, confirmed to the AP in a text message from Afghanistan that outside contracting companies own the dogs in the viral photo — not the military. She said the companies enlisted her organization to help move the animals as American citizens and others fled.

Maxwell-Jones said the companies “are aware of the situation and our ongoing efforts to recover them on their behalf.”

A defense official told the AP, “U.S. forces went to great lengths to assist the Kabul Small Animal Rescue as much as possible” but were unable to fly the animals out of Kabul. The same official said the military was at no time responsible for the dogs’ care.

Animal advocacy group Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals International said in a statement Monday that they had also been working with Kabul Small Animal Rescue to help facilitate animal evacuations. SPCAI is not affiliated with the U.S.-based nonprofit American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

SPCAI said it was unable to get the animals onto U.S. military planes or private charter planes, citing Centers for Disease Control import policies and other roadblocks that prevented the animals from being brought into the U.S.

Maxwell-Jones confirmed that Kabul Small Animal Rescue had multiple charter flights booked to get the animals out on private planes, but those flights were canceled “for a variety of complicated bureaucratic reasons.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, Maxwell-Jones said it is believed the dogs had been let go from their cages and released onto the airport grounds.

“We assume they are still there and we are working to recover them,” she wrote.

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This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.