The conundrum we’re in at the Kabul airport is a microcosm of the entire war. There are no good options. If we push in, Americans are likely to die without fully achieving their objective. If we hold back and wait, we’re at the mercy of jihadis.
Sasse’s plan appeals to me on an emotional level but it’s easy to imagine how it would make things worse.
“Mr. President, wake up and lead. Your denial that Afghanistan will be back under Taliban rule on the upcoming 20th anniversary of 9/11 is bizarre. You’re still engaging in evasion, denial of reality, blame-shifting, false dichotomies, and delusional happy talk. You seem unable or unwilling to condemn the Taliban for just about anything, but very eager to criticize Afghans who fought with us against a common enemy. Take responsibility and lead.
“Dishonor is a choice. Naively hoping the Taliban gives Americans and our allies safe passage to Kabul’s airport is not a plan — it’s a hostage situation. We have better options. Give American troops the power to push back the airport perimeter and create safe, American-controlled corridors to the airport. We cannot wait for Americans to find their own way. Go get them. It’s the duty of the commander-in-chief.”
Let’s say Biden takes his advice and orders troops to break out from the airport and create a corridor. At that point the Taliban have no incentive not to murder every American civilian they come across, whether in Kabul or elsewhere. The U.S. military will have broken the truce with the new regime at the airport. The gloves could come off.
And how would this safe corridor operate, anyway? It’s an urban landscape. The Taliban could hide out in buildings around U.S. positions in the streets below and snipe at them. “Create a safe corridor” sounds suspiciously like “retake Kabul,” with all the casualties that would entail.
There’s another problem. Assume the military pushes the jihadis away from the airport and establishes a corridor. How do we get stranded Americans to that corridor? Do we know their locations around the city? Do we even know how many Americans are there?
We do not:
Amazingly incompetent moment as Defense Department spokesman John Kirby says they don't have a breakdown of the people who've been on flights out of Afghanistan AND they still have no idea how many Americans are still trapped in the country behind enemy lines. pic.twitter.com/jyV4Z2nZZe
— Curtis Houck (@CurtisHouck) August 19, 2021
Our other option is to sit tight, keep the evacuation moving at the airport, and hope that the Taliban means it when they say everyone who wants to leave will be allowed to do so. You trust them, don’t you?
Here are some of the phrases I've heard used to describe the situation outside the Kabul airport from professionals directly involved with helping: "absolute chaos," "horrific," "absolute insanity," "a shitshow of the highest order." The rest are too graphic for this space.
— Bill Roggio (@billroggio) August 19, 2021
The situation at the Kabul Airport is a disaster on top of a catastrophe. Chaos is an understatement.
Taliban is, in fact, attacking people at checkpoints on their way and to and from the airport.https://t.co/KBHx7voGyJ
— Betsy Fisher (@betsylfisher) August 19, 2021
I have personally been on the phone with multiple American citizens and Afghan allies *while* they were being beaten and threatened by Taliban fighters blocking route to airport.
Our government needs to face this reality and do whatever is necessary to bring our people home. https://t.co/3eQp1OFcpD
— Matthew Downer (@mpdowner) August 19, 2021
If you ignore the Sasse plan, the only thing preventing thousands of Americans from being taken hostage or killed is the goodwill of barbarians.
But if you follow the Sasse plan, it’s a guarantee that some Americans will be taken hostage or killed before U.S. troops can find and rescue them.
The Sasse plan would at least end the ongoing national humiliation of having to ask permission of the Taliban to operate. But it’s plausible that it’ll also lead to a higher American and Afghan body count. And it occurs to me that the Taliban could retaliate by firing mortars at the runway inside the airport preventing more flights from landing or taking off. The whole evacuation operation could crash.
For now, the Pentagon is resolved to try to talk their way out of Afghanistan. Even if they run up against the August 31 deadline:
Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said Thursday there “has been no decision to change the deadline” and indicated that an extension of the timetable for evacuations would need tacit approval from the Taliban in the form of a new agreement between U.S. officials and commanders of the militant group…
“I think it is just a fundamental fact of the reality of where we are that communications and a certain measure of agreement with the Taliban on what we’re trying to accomplish has to continue to occur,” Kirby said. “And again, I’m not going to speculate past Aug. 31.”
Still a few more weeks of humiliation to come, at least. In the meantime, reports are circulating that British and French forces have ventured out from the airport to collect stranded citizens in greater Kabul and shuttle them to the airport. If they can do that, why can’t American troops? Did the Taliban insist that U.S. soldiers remain inside the airport, whether to humiliate us or because they fear letting the United States extend its presence in the city? Or is it because we just don’t know where our own people are across the city and couldn’t find them even if our troops were driving around?
One would think that problem could be solved with a State Department mass email asking all U.S. citizens in the city to head to certain neighborhood rally points. And if our own troops can’t go out to get them per the deal the White House made, presumably the French and British could.
The only hopeful sign in Afghanistan right now is that small protests against Taliban rule have popped out in Kabul in elsewhere. They won’t last long, I expect, but every insurgency has to start somewhere. Panjshir, perhaps.
Here’s the latest desperate scene outside the airport.
A small Afghan girl was lifted up over the high perimeter wall and passed into the hands of an American soldier at Kabul airport, capturing the sense of desperation among many Afghans who are fleeing because of fear of persecution https://t.co/W2JUbGP0bq pic.twitter.com/yD6ixI3i2n
— Reuters (@Reuters) August 19, 2021