On Thursday, more than two months after the U.S. military withdrew completely from Afghanistan, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl issued a memo asking any U.S. military personnel and DOD civilians with immediate family members who need help leaving Afghanistan to email his office.
The memo, obtained by NBC News, instructs service members and Defense Department civilians to email a specific address with the subject “immediate family member.” In addition to names, the emails will need to include passport, contact and other personal information about the family members so they can be added to the database.
There are still several dozen immediate family members of U.S. service members in Afghanistan, according to defense officials. Those include children, sisters and brothers, and parents. There are well over 100 extended family members still in Afghanistan, but it’s not clear how many of them want to leave the country, the officials said.
Until now, said defense officials, the individual military services had been tracking cases of U.S. military personnel with family still stuck in Afghanistan.
The branches will continue their efforts, but a defense official said the memo shows “a more deliberate effort at the DOD level” to keep track of how many people are impacted. The official said there is real momentum to help get immediate family members out. “There is an increased desire to make sure that as we make this push that we have every situation accounted for,” the official said, adding that they are trying to “expand the reach” to make sure DOD personnel and their families are getting help.
The official said once the information is consolidated, the Pentagon will work with the State Department to extract family members who want to leave. The U.S. military will not have a role in actually getting the people out of the country, the official said.
The Pentagon does not have a good accounting of how many DOD civilians still have immediate family members in Afghanistan, the officials said.
Many of the service members with family still in Afghanistan are Afghan born, say defense officials, and some served as interpreters during the war and moved to the U.S. and enlisted before the U.S. military withdrawal.
Members of Congress have been pushing the Pentagon to do more to help service members with family stuck in Afghanistan. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, sent a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken in September asking them to get involved.
“Over the past month, I have been contacted by hundreds of Texans who are desperately trying to get friends and family members safe out of the country,” he wrote. “That includes the family members of several Texans who currently serve in the military.”
“The federal government has turned their backs on them. If we abandon the family members of our service men and women in Afghanistan, they will certainly be slaughtered by the Taliban,” he wrote.