Desperate scenes outside the Kabul airport

AP Photo/Hamed Sarfarazi

It’s hard to read about it:

It’s harder to see it:

Are we sure this is an “evacuation crisis,” not just the first act of a major hostage crisis? Even if you assume that all Americans in Kabul will ultimately be granted safe passage to the airport — an optimistic assumption — what about the Americans in Afghanistan outside Kabul?

There’s no plan for them, per WaPo:

According to the aides, the administration officials — from the State and Defense departments, as well as the National Security Council and the Joint Chiefs of Staff — also told the assembled Senate staffers that there is no plan to evacuate Americans who are outside Kabul, as they do not have a way of getting through the Taliban checkpoints outside the Afghan capital.

Officials did not specify how many Americans are outside Kabul, the aides said. The briefing, which was held Tuesday morning and attended by aides representing a wide swath of Senate offices, lasted half an hour.

Congratulations to these new citizens of the caliphate, I guess. There’s no guarantee that Americans in Kabul can get to the airport either, by the way: Sen. Bill Hagerty says his office is hearing reports of U.S. citizens who are in safe houses near the facility and are waiting for an opportunity to “run for it.” As of this morning there still isn’t even a fully formed plan for how evacuations should proceed. CNN claims that the State Department will look to get Americans out first, then “Afghans with visas, Afghan SIV applicants with chief of mission approval and general Afghan SIV applicants.” That’s many thousands of people potentially.

Somehow we’re counting on the Taliban to be patient for weeks on end and let the “traitors” who helped the United States stroll right past them to a waiting jet on the tarmac instead of turning them back and dealing with them later. Having jihadis manning checkpoints outside the airport is like Dunkirk if the British army needed the Nazis’ permission to get to the beach.

The sheer numbers mean this fiasco is destined to go on through the end of the month *at least.* Tom Malinowski, a House Democrat, is already warning that it’s farcical to believe that everyone can get out by the deadline. “There is no way humanly possible that you can keep our promise, the one that the president has promised, by August 31,” he told CNN this morning. “The Taliban will want us to leave as soon as possible. If we tell them, ‘We ain’t doing that. If you want us to leave, cooperate with this evacuation effort. Do not impede it.’ That’s one way to get leverage.” Right, it’s in the Taliban’s interest to cooperate if what they really want is for us to leave ASAP.

But humiliating the U.S. in front of the world by blocking access to the airport after August 31 (or sooner) and taking hostages is in their interest too. They’ve already scored a great victory that’s inspired jihadists worldwide. Imagine their prestige among Islamists if they capitalized on it by embarrassing America again, daring Biden to order a military response after he’s spent so much political capital on withdrawal.

Even if we get an extension on the evacuation — and God only knows how much we’ll need to bribe them to arrange that — it’ll be unimaginably demoralizing if we’re still flying people out on the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Picture the split-screen coverage of U.S. troops hurriedly ushering people onto planes at Karzai airport while Biden speaks at Ground Zero or the Pentagon, mumbling bromides about American “resolve.” That may be the Taliban’s best incentive to let the evacuation play out, in fact. It’s a propaganda coup in the making if they can keep us pinned down and withdrawing in slow motion until September 11, 2021.

A question on many minds today is why we ditched Bagram last month knowing that we still had tens of thousands of people to evacuate:

Things would have gone a lot more quickly and securely, potentially:

The logistics of securing Bagram while the Taliban overran the country are above my pay grade, though. How many troops would have been needed to protect a corridor from Kabul to Bagram? What sort of transport would have been needed to get the tens of thousands of people who to be evacuated from the city to the base? Wouldn’t it have been relatively easy for the Taliban to seal off roads out of Kabul, halting the evacuation? If they did, were we supposed to send troops into the city to re-liberate it so that people could leave? How many casualties would that type of urban warfare have cost us?

All logical paths lead back to the fact that we should have begun evacuating people months ago, before the country fell. Which many critics, including members of Congress, urged Biden to do.

I’ll leave you with this, a reminder that life is desperate in Kabul beyond the airport now.