Service members who still have family stranded in Afghanistan may have new reason for hope after the Pentagon declared those relatives eligible for assisted evacuation and asked for help identifying them.
A memo sent out last week by the Defense Department’s policy office said that troops can help by reporting names of those family members, which will be shared with the State Department as the Biden administration struggles to evacuate remaining Americans and others more than two months after a total U.S. withdrawal.
Last month, veterans groups and alarmed lawmakers in Congress worked frantically to help at least 48 service members in the Army and Marine Corps who had 509 relatives stuck in the country, now ruled by the Taliban. Many of the troops were interpreters who immigrated to the U.S. and enlisted.
"I think it's safe to say that we would expect dozens of service members would have concerns over family members," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said. "The reason we put the memo out was to encourage them if they have family members that they believe qualify that we want them to come forward, let us know who they are, give us as much information as you can."
The move comes after the Pentagon spent weeks in talks with the State Department and other agencies, as well as veteran groups involved in the continued evacuation.
Getting relatives out became dramatically more difficult after the last U.S. service member left Kabul on Aug. 30 because the military no longer had any presence at the Kabul international airport or any other base in Afghanistan.
Military-led flights beginning in July evacuated 122,000 people, including 5,400 Americans. Most of those evacuees left in August in a historic airlift as the U.S.-backed Afghan government collapsed and suicide bombers waged deadly terrorist attacks that killed 13 troops.
The evacuation has continued but at a much slower pace since then, using commercial and charter flights.
On Friday, the State Department said it had assisted 377 U.S. citizens and 279 lawful permanent residents to leave Afghanistan following the withdrawal. "That's in addition to a number of Afghans to whom we have a special commitment," Ned Price, a State Department spokesman, told reporters.
That effort included two flights from Afghanistan on Thursday.
"Our goal is to routinize these operations, so that those who wish to leave Afghanistan have additional options to do so," Price said at the Friday press briefing.
-- Travis Tritten can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Tritten.