Body count outside Kabul airport rises. Again

AP Photo/Rahmat Gul

The latest group of people having expired in the crush of humanity trying to enter the airport outside of Kabul doesn’t seem to be a result of the arrival of ISIS-K in the capital. Or at least… not yet. The report last night came from the British military, which is still somehow ferrying its own people into the airport from outlying parts of the city and surrounding provinces. They report at least seven additional bodies being found outside of the walls of the airport, though at least initially it doesn’t appear that any of them fell to the occasional Taliban gunfire which is still being heard regularly as they try to disperse some of the crowds. Most likely, the victims were either crushed by the mob, suffered fatal medical emergencies, or simply died of exposure and dehydration.

A panicked crush of people trying to enter Kabul’s international airport killed seven Afghan civilians in the crowds, the British military said Sunday, showing the danger still posed to those trying to flee the Taliban’s takeover of the country.

The deaths come as a new, perceived threat from the Islamic State group affiliate in Afghanistan has seen U.S. military planes do rapid, diving combat landings at the airport surrounded by Taliban fighters. Other aircraft have shot off flares on takeoff, an effort to confuse possible heat-seeking missiles targeting the planes.

The changes come as the U.S. Embassy issued a new security warning Saturday telling citizens not to travel to the Kabul airport without individual instruction from a U.S. government representative.

Despite the White House’s continued assertions that Americans can get to the airport if they wish, reports from most sources on the ground demonstrate that it’s simply not true. To be sure, there are still flights taking off and refugees are arriving at some third-country destinations, such as Germany. But those are almost entirely filled by people who made it inside the airport before things really went to hell in a handbasket outside the walls. The number of Americans still in the country remains unknown.

Perhaps even more disturbing are the reports that the planes that do manage to land and take-off have been seen firing flares. This is obviously being done as an aerial infrared countermeasure intended to throw off heat-seeking missiles. Whether they are worried about ISIS bringing in their own missiles or the Taliban picking up the weapons the former Afghan army abandoned is unknown, but one US official speaking to reporters off the record described the ISIS threat as “significant.” While reporters regularly point to the fact that ISIS has battled the Taliban in the past, does anyone really believe that they would take them on now? Who are they more closely aligned with, the Taliban or the Great Satan of the United States? It’s another case of the enemy of my enemy being my friend. I have no doubt ISIS would be willing to let sleeping does lie with the Taliban if it meant having a shot at an American transport plane.

These developments definitely add a new plot twist to this toxic stew. Try to imagine what would happen if these fighters managed to take down one of the departing transport planes. The loss of life would be massive because of the huge number of people they are packing into each flight. But on top of that, we only have a limited number of those large transports in service over there. Removing even one would add yet another gap into the departure schedules.

Yesterday, the White House told reporters that Joe Biden is considering invoking the Civil Reserve Air Fleet program, which was established after the Berline airlift. While technically voluntary, that program would allow the White House to instruct commercial airlines to send passenger jets to third-country destinations where evacuees are being offloaded and take them from there to their final destinations. This frees up the military planes to more quickly return to Kabul for the next load. But at the same time, we’re already seeing huge numbers of flight cancellations domestically, and removing more planes from the lineup won’t improve that situation.

We have nine days left before the supposed deadline for the evacuation. That just seems like an alarmingly short amount of time considering the chaos in the city and around the airport. The Taliban has said that they will wait until the 31st to announce details of their new government. If we’re not out by then, those details may turn out to be deadly.