US Racing to Meet Withdrawal Deadline

The evacuation could soon become a terrorist target.

U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Evelyn Chavez

While I was drawn in by the misleading headline, “US military gives Biden a deadline to decide on extending Afghanistan evacuations,” the actual report from CNN‘s Nicole Gaouette, Barbara Starr, Jennifer Hansler and Kylie Atwood is more interesting than a minor civil-military relations crisis.

The US military is advising President Joe Biden that he must decide by Tuesday whether to extend the evacuation in Afghanistan beyond August 31, according to a defense official directly familiar with the discussions, though Biden has yet to make a decision.

Military advisers have told the White House that the decision must be made by Tuesday in order to have enough time to withdraw the 5,800 troops currently on the ground, as well as their equipment and weapons. If the President agrees, the military anticipates “a few more days” of trying to evacuate as many people as possible before the drawdown of US forces begins, possibly at the end of this week.

So, no, the brass isn’t giving the commander-in-chief a “deadline” to make a decision but rather telling him that they’ll need to start drawing down the forces necessary to support an extended mission today. To the extent that we still need to get more folks out, why the dithering? It turns out that there are real concerns about force protection.

As of Monday, Biden was still deciding whether to extend the deadline for removing all US troops, CNN has learned. Several of the President’s advisers have advised against an extension, citing the security situation on the ground. Officials have spent recent days monitoring potential terrorist threats, citing “persistent” and credible information that the chaotic situation outside the airfield has created a target for ISIS-K and other organizations.

Who are these “ISIS-K” people? The NYT’s Eric Schmit is glad you asked.

President Biden’s national security adviser warned on Sunday that the threat of a terrorist attack by the Islamic State posed a serious danger to the administration’s evacuation of thousands of Americans and Afghan allies from the international airport in Kabul.

“The threat is real. It is acute. It is persistent. And it is something that we are focused on with every tool in our arsenal,” Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

[…]

Neither Mr. Sullivan nor other senior American military or intelligence officials provided details about the threats or their specificity. Current and former officials say, however, that they range from a missile attack against a transport plane taking off or landing at Hamid Karzai International Airport to a bomb-laden truck or suicide bombers infiltrating the crowd outside the airport.

Mr. Biden said on Friday that U.S. military and counterterrorism officials were closely watching for threatened ISIS attacks, noting that thousands of prisoners had been released in Kabul and other locations. While the Taliban is unlikely to have consciously let out the Islamic State fighters, the chaos in Afghanistan in recent weeks allowed all manner of prisoners to be freed from custody, including the Taliban’s enemies.

“ISIS-K has been waiting for an opportunity like this, where its fighters can exploit the chaos of the situation on the ground for a chance to kill American soldiers,” said Colin P. Clarke, a counterterrorism analyst at the Soufan Group, a New York-based security consulting firm, referring to the Islamic State’s Khorasan affiliate in Afghanistan.

U.N. counterterrorism officials said in June that ISIS had carried out 77 attacks in Afghanistan in the first four months of this year, up from 21 in the same period in 2020. The attacks last year included a strike against Kabul University in November and a rocket barrage against the airport in Kabul a month later. Some analysts say the group also has links to the Haqqani network, another militant organization.

[…]

An attack on the airport, current and former officials said, would be a strategic blow against both the United States and the Taliban, who are trying to demonstrate that they can control the country.

The Taliban have fought ISIS in recent years, and leaders of the Islamic State in Afghanistan denounced the Taliban takeover of the country, criticizing their version of Islamic rule as insufficiently hard-line.

So yay.

Mr. Sullivan said that American commanders on the ground were using “a wide variety of capabilities” to defend the airfield against an attack, and were working closely with spy agencies to identify and defeat any threats. He did not provide details.

Well, I would sure as fuck hope not.

Back to CNN:

National security adviser Jake Sullivan expressed optimism that the US will be able to get all Americans who want to leave the country out before the August 31 deadline. “In the days remaining, we believe we have the wherewithal to get out the American citizens who want to leave Kabul,” Sullivan said during a White House news briefing on Monday.

With the clock ticking down, the Pentagon said Monday that US and coalition aircraft had evacuated approximately 16,000 people from Kabul within the last 24 hours, with the US military transporting just under 11,000 of them.

US officials have declined to say how many Americans have been evacuated, but according to a source familiar with an administration “SitRep” report, as of 7:30 a.m. ET Monday the evacuation operation had flown 4,293 American citizens out of Afghanistan since the US flights began.

SitRep, by the way, as a shorthand for “situation report.”

The source said the report shows 369 Americans had been “manifested since midnight Kabul time” that day, speaking to the 24-hour nature of the effort. The report also notes that 1,000 US citizens have been contacted about traveling to the airport for processing, “but a portion may be outside of Afghanistan.”

Sullivan told reporters Monday that one reason the US can’t be certain how many Americans are in Afghanistan is that they’re not required to register their presence with the embassy when they enter the country or to advise the embassy when they leave.

The source familiar said the report says that “since beginning of operations” 20,156 Afghans have been evacuated along with 642 third country nationals or people of unknown origin. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Monday that they are not sharing this information publicly because they do not want to give out rough or outdated information.

Of course, that means we’re getting rougher guestimates from multiple press outlets. Still, 20,000+ Afghans and 1000+ Americans is a rather impressive turnaround considering the fiasco this began as.

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Steve says:

    Do we have any idea who are the remaining Americans? I assume some are embassy people but who are the rest and why did they stay against advice?

    Steve

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  2. Scott says:

    You got to wonder what this conversation was about.

    CIA Director William Burns held secret meeting in Kabul with Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar

    CIA Director William J. Burns held a secret meeting in Kabul on Monday with the Taliban’s de facto leader Abdul Ghani Baradar in the highest-level face-to-face encounter between the Taliban and the Biden administration since the militants seized the Afghan capital, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive diplomacy.

    The CIA declined to comment on the Taliban meeting, but the discussions likely involved an impending Aug. 31 deadline for the U.S. military to conclude its airlift of U.S. citizens and Afghan allies.

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  3. rachel says:

    @Steve: Yes, I’d like to know that and why they stayed there in spite of the Dept. of State advising Americans t0 get out of Afghanistan 4 months ago.

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  4. gVOR08 says:

    @Steve: Are some number of the Americans still in Afghanistan “contractors”, which seems to be a euphemism for mercenaries?

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  5. Long Time Listener says:

    I’m willing to try to connect some dots: perhaps the evacuation is going relatively smoothly because the Administration has negotiating with the Taliban. I’d originally presumed that these negotiations were being brokered by the Pakistanis, but no-middleman exchanges are potentially better.

    Yes, folks will hang onto the ‘fiasco at the outset’ narrative, but history teaches us that not-for-the-media’s-entertainment diplomacy is more effective. I’ll check back on this post in 6 months’ time….

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  6. mattbernius says:

    @Long Time Listener:

    Yes, folks will hang onto the ‘fiasco at the outset’ narrative, but history teaches us that not-for-the-media’s-entertainment diplomacy is more effective. I’ll check back on this post in 6 months’ time….

    I think the problem is that everyone (including most commenters) are bringing pre-existing perspectives to this discussion that really don’t allow for “and” statements.

    Many Biden supporters are overly defensive and reject any blame. Trump supporters, and many anti-Trump folks, are ready to hang this around Biden’s head and reject any good news.

    I’m not enough of an expert to weigh in on the logistics of this. But I tend to try to embrace the possibilities of “and” which includes “Yes, for a lot of reasons this did start as a fiasco” AND “in a short bit of time they are getting to the point where they are evacuating over 10,000 people a day.”

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  7. Stormy Dragon says:

    Still, 20,000+ Afghans and 1000+ Americans is a rather impressive turnaround considering the fiasco this began as.

    It’s almost like the news media getting analysis of the evacuation from the same “foreign policy experts” responsible for the last 20 years was a mistake.

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  8. JohnSF says:

    @gVOR08:
    No, the contractors were not mercs as usually understood.
    Though they were there for the money, generally.
    And most have already left.

    Generally handled things like: aircraft maintenance, inventory control, supply warehousing operations, vehicle repair, electronic systems support etc etc etc
    All the multiple, unglamorous stuff that makes a military force functional.

    And whose being removed by Trump and Biden led to the predicatable and predicted collapse of the Afghan army.

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  9. JohnSF says:

    @Long Time Listener:
    The Talib’s are perfectly prepared to hold off.
    Why not?
    Their rule will be absolute soon enough.

    And they’ve had a score of years of having the basics of PR drilled into their heads by the ISI.
    “Kill them off-camera, you fool. As far as the westerners are concerned, if there are no pictures, it never happened.”

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  10. James Joyner says:

    @gVOR08:

    “contractors”, which seems to be a euphemism for mercenaries

    In some cases, yes. (But, as @JohnSF notes, most aren’t.) But State and other civilian agencies require personal security services for their personnel and don’t have the organic resources. State has the Diplomatic Security Service but they’re more security guards than paramilitaries.

    @mattbernius:

    I tend to try to embrace the possibilities of “and” which includes “Yes, for a lot of reasons this did start as a fiasco” AND “in a short bit of time they are getting to the point where they are evacuating over 10,000 people a day.”

    Yup, that’s pretty much where I am on this.

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  11. keef says:

    @Long Time Listener:

    March, 2022

    And in other news, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers appealed the Super Bowl results, noting that although they entered the 4th quarter trailing 56 – 0, they scored the last 21 points of the game. No word from the NFL as to whether the Lombardi Trophy would be taken from The KC Chiefs and given to Tampa………

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  12. dazedandconfused says:

    If I were in Biden’s shoes I would think announcing now that we intend to not honor the deadline, which the Talibs are still officially insisting we honor, would be not-an-option and dumb. The Talibs might use the 6 days mobilizing for a fight, might start grabbing hostages immediately.

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  13. steve says:

    The NYT had a story about a guy who took his family for a last minute visit to Afghanistan before it got shut down. So he took his family to Afghanistan at a time when it was announced we are leaving. We are supposed to feel sorry for this guy and risk our soldier’s lives to get his family out? I dont think so.

    I am willing to bet there are largely two groups there. One, the business people/contractors. They stayed as long as possible to make as much money as possible even though they were advised to leave. Not feeling that sorry for them. The other group is likely the do-gooders. Stayed so they could try to convert a few more people. Maybe provide medical care or teach a few more classes. I am a tiny bit more sympathetic to these, but not much. They went there knowing they were risking their lives. They were advised to leave. They took their chances.

    Steve

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  14. Matt Bernius says:

    @keef:
    Funny you mention that… Have you heard about Trump post 2020 election? You were noticably absent for the entire “I won that rigged election debacle… Especially if they stopped counting votes!!!”

    And now that you mention it, you have been noticably silent about it since your return.

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  15. Jim Brown 32 says:

    For those interested, last Friday’s podcast of Left, Right, and Center by KCRW had a discussion in which a professional directly involved in the conflict offered the nuances required to understand what happened beyond “20 years”, “Billions”, and “inevitable”

    It was refreshing to watch the shallow arguments of so-called journalists who give well articulated opinions about everything but have experience with almost nothing eviscerated.

    The key takeaway about all of this…is that we will never achieve our objectives in another military engagement because the public insists that military operations adhere to a timeline. The world now understands that you can wait America out for everything short of invading us.

    While that is of no consequence to many Liberals, I assure you there is baked in privilege for America and allies because of our Global military presence and securing of stable markets…privileged that no longer exists in a multi-polar Global economy.

    Much like the privilege we enjoy health-wise because of Vaccinations and public health policy, todays Americans are so insulated from the way life used to be that they take the status quo for granted. It all happened magically.

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  16. steve says:

    Will watch later when have time. We do have a civilian controlled military so we will always work under that constraint. Plus, my concern is that this argument could mean that we would never leave anywhere we go. How many outposts can we maintain and should we maintain?

    Steve

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  17. mattbernius says:

    For those who are interested in @Jim Brown 32 suggestion here’s a link to the podcast (it is really worth a listen):

    https://www.npr.org/podcasts/381444881/k-c-r-w-s-left-right-center

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  18. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @steve: We should be prepared to finish any that we start. I am for a high threshold for starting an operation. Frankly, I wouldn’t have started Afghanistan.

    But when we’re in–we’re in.

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