The U.S. military on Tuesday denied reports in the wake of its departure from Afghanistan that it had left working dogs behind at the airport in Kabul, or that it had abandoned dogs in cages.
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said in a tweet that U.S. troops did not leave dogs in cages at Hamid Karzai International Airport when its last flights took off Monday afternoon, East Coast time.
Photos circulating on social media showing 150 dogs in cages lined up at the airport are of animals belonging to a group called Kabul Small Animal Rescue, the Pentagon said. They were not military working dogs or under the care of U.S. troops. As of Tuesday the dogs pictured were still in Afghanistan.
Read Next: The Last US Soldier Out of Afghanistan
Kabul Small Animal Rescue was founded by an American, Charlotte Maxwell-Jones, in 2018; the group helped U.S. troops bring home cats and dogs they had befriended while deployed to Afghanistan. The Taliban ordered Maxwell-Jones to leave the country after it took over earlier this month, and she scrambled to get her employees, their family members and up to 250 animals out as well, Stars and Stripes reported.
The Pentagon said that Maxwell-Jones brought the dogs to the airport in kennels and asked troops to get them on military evacuation flights.
The military denied her request because of customs prohibitions and the need to reserve all space on flights for people needing evacuation. Maxwell-Jones then tried to charter a civilian aircraft to pick the dogs up, but the plane never arrived, according to the Pentagon.
It added that troops moved the dogs from the runway to a compound that had been used by the former Afghan army. Service members then let the animals out into an enclosed area, where they remained when the final U.S. flights departed. Maxwell-Jones stayed with the dogs to try to get them onto a later flight, officials said.
Sunday afternoon, before the final U.S. departure, the animal rescue group tweeted photos of some of the dogs it was trying to help, with the hashtag #OperationHercules. The post went viral. About an hour later, the group posted on Twitter again, urging people to stop tweeting at the State Department and U.S. Central Command and saying its team was handling the situation. The group's last full tweet came Monday afternoon and urged followers to "PLEASE LET THE PROCESS WORK."
But by Tuesday, photos of the canines continued to rocket across social media, along with claims they were abandoned working dogs, prompting the Pentagon to issue a denial.