WASHINGTON – Thousands of Americans and Afghans stranded in Afghanistan are at risk of Taliban retribution, but one group stands out: employees of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, a federal agency funded by Congress that operates Voice of America and other media outlets dedicated to promoting American-style democracy around the world.
Any individual affiliated with a U.S.-based organization — let alone one that promotes American democracy and a free press — is vulnerable to possible reprisals. The Taliban, which now controls Afghanistan, has been openly hostile to Western journalists.
“It is absolutely disgraceful the U.S. State Department claimed they evacuated their local employees when in reality they abandoned hundreds of USAGM journalists and their families,” Rep. Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement Tuesday.
McCaul, R-Texas, said 500 employees and family members of the agency were left behind.
“My office was working with one of these journalists and tried for two weeks to get attention brought to his case so he, his wife, and his infant child could be saved – but our pleas were ignored,” McCaul said.
According to GOP staff on the Foreign Affairs Committee, the U.S.-employed journalists were supposed to be treated as locally employed staff for the U.S. Embassy, and they were added to a CENTCOM high priority list. But they still couldn’t get out because of a series of problems, including the security situation, poor communication and a failure by the Taliban to clear them, said an aide, who was not authorized to speak about the matter publicly.
The committee source said that 50 USAMG journalists were able to leave but only with help from other governments.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said the U.S. remains committed to getting the USAGM employees and their families out of Afghanistan as quickly as possible.
“We did not forget about USAGM employees and their families, nor will we,” Price said. “We remain keenly focused on getting them out safely just as soon as we can.”
Price said they worked with the group to facilitate their departure before the withdrawal, first through the U.S. military evacuation campaign and then via a charter aircraft. But as the threat of a terrorist attack at the airport in Kabul escalated, the State Department advised potential evacuees to shelter in place.
A spokesperson for USAGM did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In early August, Dawa Khan Menapal, the head of Afghanistan’s media and information center, was reportedly murdered by the Taliban. He had previously been a journalist for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Afghan service.
The BBC said he was gunned down in Kabul and quoted the Taliban as saying he was “punished for his deeds.”