An Overnight Evacuation
In our August 29 SITREP, we reasoned that U.S. forces would want to complete their evacuation of Kabul in advance of the August 31 deadline.
On the afternoon of August 29 East Coast time, midnight local time in Afghanistan, at least 25 C-17s using callsigns “Moose” and “RCH” flew shuttle flights into Karzai Airport and evacuated the bulk of remaining U.S. forces from the county. Overwatch was provided by at least two B-52s using the callsign “Grimm.”
As they headed for southern Afghanistan, the Globemaster III transports were refueled by KC-135 tankers that maintained station all night. The Air Force Globemaster III aircraft flew from Qatar, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia into the Gulf of Oman on an easterly course and then turned north in the vicinity of Gwadar, Pakistan, for the long flight into Afghanistan. One even came directly from Ramstein, Germany.
To avoid detection from ground observers, the planes would have flown without lights and at altitudes of between 23,000 to 29,000 feet. They followed a northeasterly course that would position them about 50 miles east of Kabul for their run into the Karzai airport. On approach, they would arrive over the airport and then make a spiraling descent to the runway, rather than a long low approach that could expose them to fire from the ground.
As U.S. forces evacuated areas of the airport the remaining forces reduced their defensive perimeter. Taliban forces then occupied the evacuated areas. Taliban forces now occupy most of the commercial area of Karzai airport.
Local Afghans reported that jet engines could be heard orbiting over the airport after 2300hrs local time, whereas, previously, air operations had ended by that time.
By 0430 hours local time in Kabul, only a few C-17s remained en route to Afghanistan scrambling to make Kabul before sunrise at 0524 hrs. But the large increase in air traffic in the early morning hours strongly suggests the final and complete evacuation of remaining U.S. troops, along with valuable military equipment to prevent it from being abandoned to the Taliban. At the airport, U.S. troops had Humvees, Apache gunships, and Blackhawk helicopters. All of these can be loaded into the cavernous cargo bay of the Globemaster III.
The White House said that 26 U.S. military flights and two by coalition forces evacuated more than 1,200 people from 0300hrs on August 29 to 0300hrs this morning.
The C-17 can carry about 100 combat troops with their gear, so the relatively low count of passengers probably reflects that the 26 flights were primarily moving equipment out.
As of this morning, reports are coming out that the remaining U.S. Embassy personnel has been evacuated. The U.S. chargé d’affaires to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Ross Wilson will probably leave on the last plane out, along with air traffic control teams. He is the main conduit of information to the State Department.
The caravan of C-17s into Kabul continues.
We have also seen at least five Air Force KC-10 Extenders and KC-135 Stratotankers en route. These are normally used for aerial refueling but also have significant cargo capacity above the fuel tanks in their belly. The KC-10, for example, can haul 75 passengers and up to 170,000 pounds of cargo.
Did White House Make a Deal With Taliban to Get More Afghans Out?
The fate of the remaining Afghans friendly to the U.S., who have not yet left the country, may be subject to an agreement announced on August 29 by the State Department, 97 other countries, and the Taliban. According to the agreement, those who wish to leave the war-torn country after U.S. forces have left will be allowed to do so.
The State Department issued the following statement in concert with the other 97 countries,
“We are all committed to ensuring that our citizens, nationals and residents, employees, Afghans who have worked with us and those who are at risk can continue to travel freely to destinations outside Afghanistan. We have received assurances from the Taliban that all foreign nationals and any Afghan citizen with travel authorization from our countries will be allowed to proceed in a safe and orderly manner to points of departure and travel outside the country. We will continue issuing travel documentation to designated Afghans, and we have the clear expectation of and commitment from the Taliban that they can travel to our respective countries. We note the public statements of the Taliban confirming this understanding.”
This agreement may have come after negotiations between the White House and the Taliban that will see the release of Afghan government funds held in U.S. banks.
Richard Grennell, the former U.S. ambassador to Germany and director of National Intelligence in the Trump administration tweeted this shortly before the State Department announcement on Sunday,
The Taliban have offered Joe Biden a deal: unfreeze the Afghan funds and they will extend the deadline.
— Richard Grenell (@RichardGrenell) August 29, 2021
Top Bin Laden Aid Returns to Afghanistan
Amin ul-Haq, who was a top aid of Osama Bin Laden, has reportedly returned to Tora Bora after years of residing in Pakistan.
Contrary to Taliban and U.S. assurances that Afghanistan is no longer a haven for terrorists, the emergence of ISIS-K and now al-Qaeda’s Amin ul-Haq speaks to this not being true in even the smallest way.
It would be one thing for rank-and-file al-Qaeda fighters to come back from the shelter and protection of the Pakistan border region. Yet, it is quite another for terrorists like ul-Haq, who are the leaders of al-Qaeda now, to do so. They apparently feel they have nothing to fear from the Taliban government in Kabul.
‘Over the Horizon’ Drone Strikes Already Proving a Political Nightmare
The Pentagon claims a drone strike has killed an ISIS-K “facilitator” and a “planner.”
So far, the Pentagon has not provided any evidence that its drone strike in a residential neighborhood in Kabul killed an ISIS-K “planner” and a “facilitator.”
There does appear to be evidence though that the strike killed several civilians, among them seven children. If this turns out to be true, the White House’s media buzz phrase “Over the Horizon” will be a political nightmare for an administration already badly mangled for the humiliating way it has handled our evacuation from Kabul.
As we said earlier, drone strikes based primarily on signal intelligence, absent the presence of special operations troops for confirmation prior to the strike and for bomb damage assessments afterward all but assure unwanted civilian casualties. It would be very easy for the Taliban to feed us false intelligence on an ISIS-K cell to get us to target their own political rivals in a drone strike.
This administration will not continue this “Over the Horizon” strategy if it leads to civilians being killed. It’s a political disaster for an administration that is very much about the polls.
Chinese Rockets Used in Latest Attack on US Forces in Kabul
The AFP News Agency tweeted a photo of the vehicle used in last night’s attack on Kabul’s airport. The Pentagon claims the rockets were intercepted by a C-Ram system at the airport.
The rockets fired against the airport seem to be 107mm Type 63. The launcher normally arrays the launch tubes in a circular manner, but car launchers using a system with the tubes side-by-side and firing out of the back of a car trunk are fairly common. The backblast from the rockets generally torches the car as well. Type 63 launchers are old stock Chinese and Russian military equipment no longer in active service with either military. An examination of the shell fragments would tell us who made the rockets. Most likely China in this case.
— AFP News Agency (@AFP) August 30, 2021
Russia Seeking Angle of Influence Over Taliban
Russia has evacuated 500 personnel from Afghanistan. Russian media claims that 100 Russian-built Mi-17 helicopters are in the possession of the Taliban.
Russian Ambassador to Afghanistan Dmitry Zhirnov stated that the Taliban want Russia to develop the country’s mineral resources.
Further, Russia has called on the U.S. to release some $9.4 billion in Afghan funds held in U.S. banks.
Russia is trying very hard to ingratiate itself to the Taliban while competing with China which is also trying to make inroads. Both are eyeing the country’s rich mineral resources like gold, copper, cobalt, iron, barite, sulfur, lead, silver, zinc, niobium.
Estimates of the total amount of rare earth elements in the mountains of Afghanistan run as high as 1.5 million metric tons. Russia, probably, has more to offer than China in this regard given its proximity to and a road network into the country. It could also provide technical personnel and pilots to keep their helicopters and planes flying in return for parts of captured U.S. equipment that Russia could manufacture itself.