U.S. Global Media Agency Vows to Help Locally Employed Staff Left in Afghanistan
Republican lawmaker says it is “disgraceful” that about 140 locally-employed media agency staff, plus their families, are still in the country after U.S. troops finished their withdrawal.
The U.S. Agency for Global Media on Tuesday redoubled its commitment to doing what it can to help evacuate locally-employed staff and family members in Afghanistan, after a top Republican lawmaker said it’s “disgraceful” the Biden administration did not do more to assist them in leaving the country.
The Republican staff on the House Foreign Affairs Committee was told by the media agency that about 140 locally-employed staff, plus their families—totaling about 500 people— did not get out of Afghanistan prior to the completion of the U.S. troop withdrawal. Only 50 employees were evacuated, “thanks to efforts by our allies – not the United States government,” said a press release from Republicans on the committee on Tuesday.
“It is absolutely disgraceful the U.S. State Department claimed they evacuated their local employees when in reality they abandoned hundreds of [U.S. Agency for Global Media] journalists and their families,” said Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in the press release.
“Some of these journalists were given express assurances by the Biden administration that they would be treated as locally employed staff – but were not,” McCaul continued. “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. I am calling on the president and the State Department to rapidly find ways to get these people to safety and away from the threats President Biden and Secretary [Antony] Blinken enabled.”
A media agency spokesperson said in a statement to Government Executive on Wednesday afternoon, “We can confirm that our journalists and their families are among many on the ground who have not yet been evacuated, but we will not discuss numbers, locations, affiliations, and specific situations due to safety concerns.”
Getting people to safety “remains our highest priority” and the agency continues to work with the State Department and others on this, said the spokesperson.
During a briefing on Tuesday, Ned Price, State Department spokesman, said “the department is committed to the safety of those who have done service on behalf of the American people and that certainly includes those who have worked for [the U.S. Agency for Global Media], the commitment, the dedication they have shown to the United States.”
The State and Defense departments have “worked around the clock to facilitate and to evacuate as many individuals as we could over this two-week period,” Price said. “As the situation outside of the airport grew increasingly dangerous, we advised individuals to shelter in place, as we continued to develop departure options. We did not forget about [global media agency] employees and their families, nor will we.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked about the situation for global media agency personnel during the briefing on Wednesday. She said the White House is still committed to helping those who want to evacuate leave and recapped the administration's efforts thus far. Psaki did not give any information specific to the media agency.
“You would have expected that the United States government, which helped create the space for journalism and civil society in Afghanistan over the last 20 years, would have tried to do more over the last several weeks to assist journalists who made a decision that it was best for them to leave the country,” Jamie Fly, president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, housed within the global media agency, told The Washington Post in an opinion article published on Tuesday. “But they consistently failed to do that.”
TV Anchor Greta Van Susteren, who joined Voice of America, one of the agency’s networks, as a contributor in 2017, tweeted on Wednesday morning the situation is “disgraceful” and “horrible.”
The USAGM Association, an employee-led nonprofit, is raising money to buy clothes and other necessities for their colleagues and their families who have fled Afghanistan.
“While efforts continue to find a safe path out of Afghanistan for many, a small amount of our colleagues were able to find a way out of the country,” the donation page reads. “Most of those who left Afghanistan had to leave their personal belongings behind, arriving with nothing. The Association is working with [Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Voice of America and U.S. Agency for Global Media] colleagues on an effort to provide urgent assistance for these colleagues — to allow them to be able to buy clothing and other necessities that they need for their new locations.”
Shortly after the Taliban took over Afghanistan, Government Executive reported on how the U.S. Agency for Global Media and its sub-networks were working to keep employees safe as well as cover the quick-changing news in the dangerous environment.
“We’re preparing for the worst-case scenarios and focused right now on just getting our people to secure locations where they can continue their work,” Fly said on August 17.