Pentagon ‘aware’ of reports Wisconsin military base’s struggle to feed, heat Afghan refugees


Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is aware of reports that Fort McCoy, Wis., personnel are struggling to feed and provide clean clothes and heat for Afghan refugees at the base, according to the Pentagon’s top spokesman.

“We’re certainly aware of these reports . . . and we take it very, very seriously,” press secretary John Kirby told reporters on Wednesday, but did not offer details on solutions to the matter.

The Wisconsin State Journal last week reported a host of problems at the military base, located nearly 40 miles east of La Crosse in rural Wisconsin, where some 12,500 Afghans are awaiting processing before being allowed to begin a life in the United States.

Included in the issues is a lack of food, heat in several buildings where Afghans are living, and no access to clean clothing, with some wearing the same garments they have had on since arriving in the United States weeks ago. In addition, women reported being harassed by former Afghan soldiers that had been trained by U.S. forces.

One woman recounted how many Afghans had to wait hours in line for food, sometimes up to six, before reaching the front and finding none left.

A lack of heat in some buildings is also troubling as temperatures dip with fall approaching.

U.S. Northern Command, which oversees the eight U.S. military bases that are housing 53,000 Afghan refugees, “is very mindful of the needs of the weather and the climate and making sure that the evacuees have a safe, clean, warm living environment while they continue this processing,” Kirby said.

“We’re mindful about this at all eight installations here domestically, that we have a responsibility to provide that kind of environment for these individuals and their families,” while they work through the immigration process, Kirby added.

Pressed on the report that two barracks where the Afghans are being housed have no heat, Kirby said the bases has “taken steps to correct that.”

Amid the reports, Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) last week pressed Austin to investigate claims of mistreatment of refugees.

Kirby said Wednesday he knows of no specific request to conduct an investigation into the conditions at Fort McCoy, but that Austin “is certainly mindful of the reports” and is comfortable that Northcom head Air Force Gen. Glen VanHerck “also is mindful of these issues and will continue to work closely with our interagency partners to alleviate any concerns there might be.”

No additional Afghan refugees have entered the United States since earlier this month when the U.S. government halted incoming flights after discovering several cases of measles.

Tags Gwen Moore Ilhan Omar John Kirby Lloyd Austin

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