The Very Latest on Afghanistan

From Crooked Media’s political newsletter:

Monday’s harrowing scenes out of Karzai airport in Kabul have given way to less-sensational, logistical challenges to completing the evacuation from Afghanistan by August 31, and the media’s verdict is clear: Can’t it still be Monday?

At a White House press conference Friday, President Biden offered a comprehensive update on the withdrawal effort, which he noted has evacuated 13,000 citizens, allied Afghans, and others since the airlift began on August 14. Biden said he still believes the U.S. can complete the evacuation by August 31, notwithstanding operational setbacks. He acknowledged that though the Taliban has committed to allowing U.S. citizens through checkpoints into the airport, many have been stuck in bottlenecks of would-be refugees outside the gates, and that service members have thus pulled over 100 of them in over the airport walls. He also acknowledged that he can’t promise the evacuation will end without loss of life. 

The U.S. had to pause evacuation flights out of Kabul on Friday, not because too many evacuees are stranded outside the airport, but because pilots had nowhere to fly them, after Qatar refused to accept more refugees and asylum seekers. That touched off a multi-hour effort to find new destinations and clear evacuees past transit points, after which the airlift operation resumed. All of these challenges have raised questions about why we couldn’t fly non-Americans to U.S. territory, and house them there while screening them, just as we did for Vietnamese and Iraqi Kurdish refugees. 

There are other reasons 10,000-or-so people are awaiting departure. The Trump administration all but halted processing Special Immigrant Visas, creating a paperwork bottleneck when the Biden administration ramped the processing back up. Washington Post columnist David Ignatius reports further that when now-ousted Afghan President Ashraf Ghani visited the White House in June, he asked Biden to slow the departure of American-allied Afghans “to avoid the destabilizing appearance of a rush for the exit.” Lastly, existing law required evacuees to pay for evacuation assistance (essentially airfare), but the government has now reportedly waived that requirement.

Facing such a big challenge on a compressed time frame, many national political reporters want to know why Biden didn’t do a better job predicting the future.

A diplomatic cable sent through the State Department’s internal dissent channel, and which reportedly reached Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, warned “of the potential collapse of Kabul soon after the U.S.’s Aug. 31 troop withdrawal deadline in Afghanistan,” according to the Wall Street Journal, which broke the story. Astute readers will note that it is currently August 20, meaning that even those who believed the Afghan government would fall very quickly didn’t anticipate that it would actually collapse in mid-August, while the evacuation was ongoing. 

Nevertheless, journalists primed to join the pile-on over the ensuing crisis characterized the report as if it showed the Biden administration had clear warning that Kabul might fall before the evacuation was complete. The Journal reported that the memo “undercut[] the notion that the speed of the collapse caught the administration by surprise. Politico opined that the cable “cast perhaps the harshest light yet on the administration’s performance.”

In their haste to prove they can be tough on “both sides,” many journalists have misplaced their reading comprehension, but so far nothing we’ve learned has contradicted what we initially understood: The Afghan government collapsed faster than anticipated, requiring the ongoing evacuation to occur under Taliban control of the country. We should all hope it continues without violence and that the U.S. makes good on its obligation to those who risked their lives to help us.