In a memo, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl asked Defense service members and civilians to submit via email relevant information about their immediate family still in Afghanistan — data that had previously been tracked by the services. Elevating the data collection to within the purview of the under secretary of defense will make it easier to pass this information on to the State Department, which leads the effort to evacuate American citizens, green card holders and others from the country.
“I think it’s safe to say … that we would expect dozens of service members would have concerns over family members,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said at a news briefing Monday.
The number of extended family members of US troops and Defense Department civilians remains unclear, a defense official told CNN, and it could be a much higher number than immediate family members. For extended family, the Pentagon says it will assist the State Department and the coordinator for Afghanistan relocation efforts “as they develop mechanisms that may facilitate the safe departures for such individuals from Afghanistan in the future.”
“Given the current situation in Afghanistan and the absence of an in-country US embassy presence, there are a number of challenges related to departures of Afghan nationals, including those of unique interest to DoD,” Kahl wrote. “However, DoD, will continue to provide support in this relocation effort to the greatest possible extent.”
The Pentagon’s efforts to evacuate American citizens and allies from Afghanistan officially ended with the withdrawal of US forces from Kabul at the end of August. Since then, the State Department has led the evacuation effort and worked with US allies such as Qatar to continue them.
Last week, the State Department said it was in touch with 289 Americans who remain in Afghanistan. Of those, 81 are ready to leave the country, Deputy Secretary for Management Brian McKeon told House lawmakers.
The effort to evacuate the family members of US service members and Defense Department civilians from Afghanistan is part of a much broader relocation and resettlement effort that has seen the US bring approximately 77,000 Afghans into the country as part of Operation Allies Welcome.
The Biden administration has struggled with the sudden influx of evacuees with no clear timeline on how long they may stay at military bases. More than 50,000 remain at military facilities as they complete their visa processing.