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As President Joe Biden stuck to a deadline for pulling U.S. forces out of Afghanistan, he was criticized for leaving some Americans and thousands of Afghan allies behind and for not responding fast enough to the Taliban’s takeover.
Biden was also lashed over several things he didn’t do or that just didn’t happen.
Influential GOP senators and Fox News promoted false and misleading claims about the scale of U.S. weaponry now in the Taliban’s hands, the abandonment of military K-9s, and Biden’s treatment of the families of 13 U.S. soldiers who died in the Aug. 26 Kabul airport attack, which killed more than 200 people.
These claims were among the recurring themes of misinformation that we fact-checked as the two-decade war came to a chaotic close.
Claims about the U.S. giving Taliban weapons surfaced following reports about Taliban fighters seizing some U.S. attack planes, Black Hawk helicopters and other vehicles and equipment. But trending posts about the Taliban’s new "arsenal" relied on outdated spending and purported to cite precise accounting where there is none yet.
That estimate is False. The U.S. spent about $88.6 billion on security in Afghanistan over the course of two decades, but just a fraction of it went toward military hardware. Defense expert John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, told us that aircraft and other military equipment remaining are likely worth less than $10 billion.
Another misleading post about weapons in the Taliban’s hands listed 19 categories of military equipment, including 358,530 assault rifles, 22,174 Humvees and 33 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters.
This is also exaggerated. There has been no accounting of how much military equipment was left in Afghanistan. The figures cited are inflated and outdated, with most of the equipment being provided over many years to the Afghan forces.
The "358,530 assault rifles" figure, for example, appears to be from a 2017 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office that counted the number of rifles, including AK-47s and sniper rifles, provided from 2004 to 2016.
And none of the figures show how many items remained in Afghanistan and were usable when the Taliban took control in mid-August.
Overall, most of the weaponry and equipment were provided over many years to the Afghan forces that opposed the Taliban, while some remained in control of the U.S. military.
The baseless allegation was made by various conservatives — notably Republican political adviser Blair Brandt, and Buzz Patterson, a GOP candidate for Congress in California. They said in now-deleted tweets that Biden skipped the dignified transfer ceremony at Dover Air Force Base for the remains of the 13 U.S. military service members who died in the Aug. 26 attack.
But the plane carrying the remains of the service members hadn’t yet arrived at the base when the tweets were posted. The ceremony took place the next day, on Aug. 29. Biden attended. He and first lady Jill Biden met with the families of the service members at Dover’s Center for Families of the Fallen.
A viral photo of dog crates in front of a battered and empty U.S. helicopter sparked outrage among fans of dogs and the military. Prominent Republicans like Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., said that they were military dogs abandoned at the Kabul airport during the U.S. evacuation.
But that isn’t right. The federal government said the dogs pictured do not work for the military and that its working dogs were evacuated from the country in mid-August.
"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 tweeted on Aug. 31. "Photos circulating online were animals under the care of the Kabul Small Animal Rescue, not dogs under our care."
Some of the animals in the images likely belonged to independent defense contractors and could be characterized as "contract working dogs."
Some animal welfare groups like American Humane dismissed any distinction between the dogs' contract or military status and called on Congress to start classifying contract dogs the same way it does military dogs.
Multiple groups involved in evacuating the dogs cited a series of setbacks, including chartered flights falling through, unrest at the airport and stringent U.S. safety regulations. Advocates said the dogs are safe, but what happens to them now is uncertain.
Conservative bloggers, pundits and politicians like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz shared a short, blurry video of a helicopter flying with a person dangling from a rope.
"This horrifying image encapsulates Joe Biden’s Afghanistan catastrophe: The Taliban hanging a man from an American Blackhawk helicopter," Cruz tweeted.
That explanation is False. Various other images and videos reviewed by PolitiFact show that the person dangling from the chopper was alive, moving and waving his arms. The person was suspended by a harness that wrapped under his arms, not a noose around the neck.
Several news outlets and fact-checkers reached the same conclusion, determining that the video did not depict an execution, and that the person had been tasked with trying to fix a flag on a public building.
Aśvaka News Agency, an Afghan news outlet, later confirmed to PolitiFact that the person was controlled and was hanging from the helicopter to fix the flag at the governor’s building in Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city.
Cruz later acknowledged that his tweet "may be inaccurate" and deleted it. But others, like Fox News host Sean Hannity, continued to give the false story air after it was widely debunked.
Tom Kertscher, Gabrielle Settles and Bill McCarthy contributed reporting.
PolitiFact, No proof Biden left Taliban $80B in weapons, or that he wants Americans’ pistols, Aug. 20, 2021
PolitiFact, Claim overstates military weapons, equipment US left to Taliban in Afghanistan, Sept. 1, 2021
PolitiFact, Person hanging from helicopter in Afghanistan appears to be wearing a harness, Aug. 31, 2021
PolitiFact, Crated dogs in Kabul airport photo didn’t belong to US military. What’s going on?, Sept. 2, 2021
PolitiFact, The Bidens, Cabinet members were present at Dover Air Force Base to honor fallen soldiers, Aug. 30, 2021