Key Point: “We should all be cautious about such things in the fog of war, but many simply aren’t being nearly so careful — or are deliberately spreading misinformation. And many of them are the same people who are asking you to trust them when it comes to this extremely complicated situation.”
Washington Post: GOP douses Afghanistan withdrawal with misinformation
By Aaron Blake
September 1, 2021
The lure of misinformation has proved irresistible to its GOP critics.
They’ve trafficked repeatedly in recent days in false, misleading or unproved allegations involving the Taliban hanging someone from an American helicopter, President Biden skipping a ceremony for 13 Americans killed last week, military dogs being left behind, and $80 billion in military equipment being left for use by the Taliban. With the assistance of some high-profile conservatives and even congressional Republicans, these reports have proliferated on social media.
The process really kicked into gear over the weekend when conservatives accused Biden of skipping the ceremony at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
The problem was that when the allegation was lodged, the plane bearing the service members’ remains had yet to land. And when the ceremony began the next day, Biden was there. But the likes of Fox News’s Laura Ingraham, former Trump administration acting director of national intelligence Ric Grenell, a California GOP congressional candidate and others promoted the claim that Biden had been absent. They have since deleted their tweets.
More recently, Republican members of Congress promoted a video that supposedly showed the Taliban hanging someone from an American helicopter, for all around to see.
“This horrifying image encapsulates Joe Biden’s Afghanistan catastrophe: The Taliban hanging a man from an American Blackhawk helicopter,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) said. “Tragic. Unimaginable.” Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Tex.) promoted the same tweet, alleging it was a hanging. Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo.), Fox News personalities Sean Hannity and Gregg Jarrett, and Grenell all cited the supposed hanging, as CNN’s Daniel Dale notes.
It is unimaginable, in the sense that it doesn’t appear to have actually happened. (Cruz later deleted the tweet, acknowledging it “may be inaccurate.” The others remain up.)
As The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler reported, the claim began with a counterterrorism expert posting the video and saying he didn’t know what was going on. A self-identified comedian soon promoted it as a supposed hanging by the Taliban, with both Cruz and Crenshaw retweeting the claim as if it were fact. It racked up more than 2 million views. The BBC fact-checked it, saying it was an attempt by a man who was very much alive to put a Taliban flag on a building.
Relatedly, some promoting that video (including Cruz in his corrected tweet) have focused more on U.S. military equipment like Black Hawk helicopters falling into the hands of the Taliban — which is far from ideal. Often, though, the claim is that the withdrawal has left the Taliban with more than $80 billion of U.S. military equipment. Republican members of Congress have been all over this.
But Kessler again provided some crucial context. He wrote Tuesday that the dollar amount is grossly inflated — it includes the cost of training and sustaining the Afghan military for the past two decades — and that even the equipment left over in that total is largely unusable by the Taliban:
The latest [Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction] report shows that 167 aircraft out of an inventory of 211 were usable — but the Afghan Air Force (AAF) still lacked enough qualified pilots. One issue was that the Taliban targeted pilots for assassination.
Even more problematic, there were not enough maintenance crews to maintain the aircraft. “Without continued contractor support, none of the AAF’s airframes can be sustained as combat effective for more than a few months, depending on the stock of equipment parts in-country, the maintenance capability on each airframe, and the timing of contractor support withdrawal,” the report said.
With great fanfare, the Taliban has seized a number of Black Hawk helicopters, including ones that the United States had just shipped this year at the request of former Afghan president Ashraf Ghani. But only the first crew of Black Hawk mechanics had been trained, so the military “can field no more than one UH-60 per night for helicopter missions,” SIGAR said.
Even after Kessler’s fact check early Tuesday, Republicans proceeded wrongly placing the dollar amount north of $80 billion.
And Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, added Tuesday that the U.S. military had “demilitarized” many of the vehicles, including 73 aircraft. “They’ll never be able to be operated by anyone,” McKenzie said. “Most of them were non-mission capable to begin with.”
The final claim, which has cropped up with perhaps understandable gusto over the past 24 hours, is the idea that the U.S. military abandoned its service dogs in Afghanistan.
“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,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said. “Photos circulating online were animals under the care of the Kabul Small Animal Rescue, not dogs under our care.”
The crux of the matter appears to be whether the dogs were actually U.S. military dogs or other dogs, including those belonging to Afghans or those contracted for work. American Humane told The Post that it was referring to contract dogs.
But much of the pushback from the Biden administration’s conservative critics cast these as U.S. military dogs, including the New York Post tweet. And some inflated the figure used by American Humane.
“They even left the military dogs behind,” Donald Trump Jr. said Tuesday.
The leading GOP candidate in the California gubernatorial recall, Larry Elder, shared a story claiming there were “150 US Military Dogs Abandoned.” (American Humane has put the actual number of contract dogs around 50.)
Hannity shared a headline from a conservative site labeling them “U.S. Military Dogs.”
One prominent conservative blogger stated that dogs pictured in a video she saw “sure look like U.S. military dogs.” But a report from the same blogger cites the Military Working Dog Team Support Association, a nonprofit supporting military dogs and their handlers, saying such dogs were not left behind.
“This photo went viral yesterday and we want to clear up some misinformation surrounding it,” the organization said on Facebook. “We are 100% certain that there are zero US military working dogs abandoned in Kabul. Zero. The US military did not leave a single MWD behind.”
And many of the claims about the alleged abandonment of dogs have clearly gone beyond the evidence — as have many of the claims promoted on the right amid the chaotic withdrawal. Even as the GOP has been served up a cudgel to use against Biden, it has for some reason spent its time exaggerating the situation.
We should all be cautious about such things in the fog of war, but many simply aren’t being nearly so careful — or are deliberately spreading misinformation. And many of them are the same people who are asking you to trust them when it comes to this extremely complicated situation.