Numerous federal agencies that worked in Afghanistan with Afghan citizens have been quick to purge their websites. They removed articles and photos that could pose a threat to the Afghan civilians who had interacted with them. Now, they fear retribution by the Taliban.
Late last week, it was clear that Afghan security forces were in complete collapse and that the Taliban would be taking over the country much faster than any official forecasts. It is possible that the Taliban and its supporters will search the internet to identify Afghans who have worked with or just benefited from the services of the Americans.
Ned Price, spokesperson for the State Department, said that the department advised personnel to remove any social media or website content featuring civilians as the safety of Afghan contacts was “of utmost importance”.
“The State Department policy is not to remove content except in extraordinary situations such as this. Price stated that department personnel follow records retention requirements by doing this.
According to the U.S. Agency for International Development, agencies operating in Afghanistan started clearing websites on Friday last Friday after it was decided to send the U.S. military to protect Kabul’s airport.
“Given Afghanistan’s security situation, and out of an excess of caution for our staff, partners and beneficiaries, we are reviewing USAID social media and public websites to archive content that could present a risk to some individuals and groups,” stated the agency in an email to The Associated Press.
A representative from the Agriculture Department stated that similar efforts were underway in their area. The official spoke under condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to discuss the matter.
Associated Press reviewed the USDA website and found at least seven links to Afghanistan-related blog posts or press releases. Clicking on these links led to a page that stated “Access denied: You’re not authorized to access this webpage.”
Although much of the attention has been on Afghan interpreters and other U.S. military personnel, only a small percentage of those who served in Afghanistan during the past two decades were soldiers.
USAID and other elements of the Agriculture Department, among others, arrived in Afghanistan as soon as 2002. This was within months of the fall of the Taliban government. They were focused on the development of Afghanistan’s infrastructure, education, and agriculture sectors.
USAID reported that the U.S. had provided more than $266 million in humanitarian aid to Afghanistan as recently as June. According to USAID’s press release, Afghanistan received more than $543million in humanitarian assistance since fiscal year 2020.
According to the release, this money has brought the U.S. total humanitarian assistance to almost $3.9 billion since 2002.
The Associated Press viewed some of the posts from the Agriculture Department. Some contained details that could be seen by the Taliban as evidence of cooperation, including photos and names of Afghan agricultural experts and governmental officials who had visited the U.S. as part of multiple USDA-sponsored delegations and fellowships.
Some were less innocuous than others, like the article on Minnesota farmers who donated more than 2,500 bushels worth of soybean seeds to Afghan counterparts. They have been removed from the site as well, which could indicate the amount of care taken or that entire sections of Afghan-related material were hurriedly deleted.
One article shows that Afghan civilians and officials were at risk of being retaliated for low-level connections with the U.S government.
This report details the USDA’s relationship with members of a regional agricultural authority in a provincial near Kabul. USDA coordinated a shura (townhall meeting), between council members and local farmers. The article includes a photo of that meeting and mentions that more than 250 farmers attended despite threats of violence against any farmer or official from the government who planned to attend the meeting.
The author praises government officials who risk their lives every day to bring about progress and opportunity for their Afghan counterparts.