Until August 31, we will attempt to provide our readers with a daily SITREP on Afghanistan, based on information we believe is credible, along with a brief analysis providing some measure of context.
Explosions Outside Kabul’s Airport
An explosion took place a few minutes ago today, outside Kabul’s airport. Unconfirmed reports speak of three wounded U.S. servicemembers.
The Taliban’s spokesperson said that 13 people have been killed, including “many” Taliban guards. There are also reports of foreigners among the victims.
Pentagon Press Secretary said, “We can confirm an explosion outside Kabul airport. Casualties are unclear at this time. We will provide additional details when we can.”
Shortly after the first explosion, a second occurred near Baron Hotel which is across Kabul’s airport.
Last Group of American Citizens Evacuated Today?
According to Jennifer Griffen at Fox News, in the last 24 hours,
- 13,400 people were evacuated;
- 17 U.S. military flights (14 C-17s and three C-130s) evacuated 5,100 people from Kabul;
- 74 coalition aircraft evacuated approximately 8,300 people;
- The total number evacuated by the U.S. is at 95,700.
Further, according to CNN, the last 140 American civilians are evacuating as this SITREP is being written. This is at variance with claims that the actual number of Americans in Afghanistan is as high as 4,100.
The higher estimate may be taking into account dual American-Afghan citizens, Americans married to Afghan citizens, or U.S. passport holders who are in the interior of the country and cannot reach Kabul. The number may also reflect people who have already left the country and have not informed the State Department of their return to the United States.
Credible Threat of a Terrorist Attack on Karzai Airport
The U.K. Ministry of Defense confirms that they have credible information that Islamic State militants in Kabul intend to attack crowds outside the Karzai airport. There are reports that car bombs have been positioned outside several of the entry gates.
The difference between Taliban and ISIS fighters is simply a matter of them changing flags. Thus, it is very likely that after August 31 the Taliban will attack the airport and U.S. forces there by then blaming the attack on ISIS militants.
Taliban Ask Turkey’s Help
Reuters reports that the Taliban have asked Turkey to help them run the airport in Kabul but insist that their military be out of the country by August 31.
It is interesting to note that the Taliban did not invite Pakistan to do this. Pakistan has openly supported the Taliban for 20 years with weapons, advisors, training, and sanctuary inside Pakistan. There are, however, two Taliban organizations, one that is organic to Afghanistan and another that comes out of Pakistan. As usual in the tribal politics of Afghanistan, the two are rivals.
This Taliban request may signal that the organic Taliban are trying to nudge out the Pakistan-backed Taliban faction from Kabul.
$40 Bottles of Water
According to claims surfacing on Twitter a bottle of water at Kabul airport costs $40 and one plate of rice $75.
It is difficult to imagine that the Taliban would shoo away crowds at the airport but not food and water vendors. While there is no doubt that food and water are scarce in the Afghan capital right now, it is also the practice of the Taliban to extort money from anyone unable to violently resist that extortion. It is very likely that the food vendors allowed near the airport are paying the Taliban a cut of what they make, which would explain the price gouging.
Afghan Evacuee Imprisoned Days After Arrival in France
The Daily Mail reports that an Afghan evacuee has been given a 10-month jail sentence just days after arriving in the country. His crime was breaking the terms of a surveillance order that required him to stay in the Noisy-le-Grand suburb of Paris. The Afghan national, identified as Ahmat M., is not suspected of Taliban ties but another Afghan evacuee is. This resulted in a restrictive surveillance order on the evacuee suspected of Taliban ties along with those believed to be close associates of his, which included Ahmet M.
This is not good news for those expressing concern that Afghan evacuees be vetted for terrorist ties before they are evacuated. In this case, France evacuated an Afghan with Taliban affiliations and imagined that keeping him under surveillance would be enough to mitigate the risk of Taliban, al-Qaeda, or ISIS terrorists entering western countries mixed in with the evacuees. It is not known at this point if the Department of Homeland Security is admitting Afghans with suspected ties to the Taliban and surveilling them in a similar way.
Afghan Women Turned Away From Boarding Flights With Empty Seats
The Wall Street Journal and other outlets are mystified that Muslim women are being denied boarding on some flights with empty seats on them. In one instance, a flight to Ukraine took off with 70 empty seats out of 240 total.
Islam is a religion that practices gender segregation and Afghan Muslims take their religion very seriously. Men and women not closely related by marriage or birth don’t sit next to each other in the kind of close proximity that occurs on an airplane. It is very possible that on mixed flights including unmarried men and women a requirement of the evacuees themselves is that an empty seat be between men and women. This might explain the empty seats.
Air Force Planes Taking Off Empty or Mostly Empty
There are reports of Air Force C-17s and C-130s and charter flights leaving Karzai AirPort empty or mostly empty.
Karzai Airport has a single runway for planes to land on and take off from. Further, the 7,000 troops on the ground are being supplied from the air. This means the delivery of some 21,000 meals and 30,000 gallons of water a day, plus fuel, ammunition, medical supplies, batteries, etc. The Air Force has diverted C-17s to Afghanistan configured for passengers flights with seats. It probably has enough of them to evacuate passengers safely. It is not safe however to evacuate passengers on C-17s with bare cargo decks. Hundreds of un-belted passengers represent an unsecured cargo load that weighs tens of tons. At take-off, when the plane’s nose comes up, the unsecured passengers could slide to the rear of the aircraft unbalancing the Globemaster and making it tail heavy, which could result in a crash.
These empty planes are likely just Globemasters configured for cargo rather than passengers.
The empty charter flights may be caused by something else: Landing aircraft are probably being limited to very little time on the ground, just enough to unload, refuel, reload, and then take off. An aircraft with a single bullet hole in the right place can become unflyable, so they are probably being kept well away from the fences and in a secure area to load and unload. If the clearing authorities don’t have passengers ready to go when that plane lands, it’s going to be sent off anyway to keep the schedule and clear the apron for the next plane coming in.
Pentagon Keeps Tight Lid on Images Coming out of Afghanistan
The Department of Defence’s media website, Defence Information Distribution Service, is keeping tight control over any pictures from Kabul Airport. Its media focus is on the arrival points of evacuees like Qatar, Saudi Arabia. DoD releases are weighted towards covering the placement of evacuees rather than the evacuation itself. The DoD takes its orders from the administration on what photos they are allowed to release and what narrative is put out in front of the public. The current media narrative is of a historic and successful humanitarian evacuation; this attempts to refocus attention away from how this evacuation happened in the first place.