Multiple Explosions at Karzai Airport Yesterday
Marines at the Abbey Gate at Karzai airport were briefed that credible bomb threats had been received but they continued to process Afghans seeking evacuation. At the nearby Baron Hotel, the British were processing evacuees for their own airlift effort. And then the attack happened.
The first suicide bomber exploded at the Abbey Gate and the second in front of the Baron Hotel across the street from the Airport. So far, the casualties are 92 killed — among them 13 U.S. servicemembers — and another 200 wounded.
The Taliban have denied responsibility or involvement. They instead blamed the United States by saying it was in charge at the airport gates and that the U.S. and NATO occupation of the country was the root cause of the attack.
Here is the thing most refuting to Taliban claims of denial; If ordinary Afghans couldn’t get past numerous Taliban security checkpoints set up around the airport, how did three or more suicide bombers do it?
The attack was claimed by ISIS-K. The terrorist group is also known as IS-K, Daesh-Khorasan, and, more formally, as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Khorasan Province. They recruit mostly in Uzbekistan and Pakistan and also accept significant support from Afghans who defect from the Taliban.
While ISIS-K opposes the Taliban, it should be remembered that both oppose U.S. and NATO forces being in Afghanistan. It is not impossible to imagine that the Taliban would turn a blind eye to ISIS-K plans to strike at U.S. forces and disloyal Afghans, even if their own guards in the crowd were among the dead. There are many ways to be a martyr, after all.
As for direct Taliban responsibility, they control access to the gates U..S and NATO forces control. The explosions occurred in their area of responsibility.
Last year, under U.S. pressure, the Afghan government released 5,000 prisoners that included members of the Taliban and ISIS-K, as part of the withdrawal agreement made with President Trump.
President Biden Walks Back Earlier Threat Against Taliban
Just a week ago, at a White House press conference President Biden said, “We made clear to the Taliban that any attack, any attack on our forces or disruption of our operations at the airport will be met with a swift and forceful response,”
Then at his press conference yesterday he appeared to excuse the Taliban from culpability saying,
“We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay.”
“Over the past few weeks — I know you’re — many of you are probably tired of hearing me say it — we’ve been made aware by our intelligence community that the ISIS-K — an arch-enemy of the Taliban; people who were freed when both those prisons were opened — has been planning a complex set of attacks on the United States personnel and others.”
“I’ve also ordered my commanders to develop operational plans to strike ISIS-K assets, leadership, and facilities. We will respond with force and precision at our time, at the place we choose, and the moment of our choosing.”
We take the meaning of “any” in President Biden’s remarks to the Taliban last week to mean exactly that the administration would hold the Taliban responsible for “any” attack on U.S. forces at the airport no matter who was behind them.
His remarks yesterday specifically excused the Taliban along with any notion that the response would be “swift and forceful.” Walking back his original threat probably puts our forces there at even greater risk now. Had President Biden held the Taliban directly responsible and taken immediate retribution against them as he had promised to do, the Taliban would know he was serious and they would take steps against ISIS-K elements in their midst.
ISIS-K now has a significant advantage in Kabul. They have U.S. targets available to them at the airport and face only a promise of being “hunted down” within a country that U.S. troops will no longer be in. President Biden is also extraordinarily cautious about operations that are not nigh certain of success. He seems to weigh the political risk of failure more heavily than the national security rewards of taking such risks. He was against President Obama approving the raid that killed Bin Laden in Pakistan. President Biden has since denied that he was against the raid going forward but he is on video saying of the decision to launch the raid, “Mr. President, my suggestion is, don’t go.” That seems pretty clear.
It is also fair to question why, if President Biden had known for weeks that ISIS-K were planning attacks on U.S. forces in Kabul, he did not order strikes against ISIS-K assets, leadership, and facilities until after the bombings yesterday.
These observations are not meant as political criticism of President Biden, rather, they highlight the difference between what the president threatened to do if we were attacked and then his tepid response to the attack, something that the Taliban and ISIS-K must have realized.
ISIS-K has no disincentive to attack the airport again and the Taliban have no incentive to prevent such an attack.
As we said yesterday, this ISIS-K threat will be the means by which both the terrorist group and the Taliban will strike at U.S. forces at the airport while avoiding immediate and direct retaliation. The most intense attacks will likely be on the final day of the evacuation.
US Embassy Warns Americans Away From Karzai Airport
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul has alerted U.S. citizens to avoid traveling to the airport and to avoid airport gates at this time unless they receive individual instructions from a U.S. government representative to the contrary.
This probably means the U.S. Embassy s trying to bring Americans into the airport by some other means than the main gate. The main gates have been flooded by thousands of people all pressing to get at the entrances. It is likely that the embassy is communicating with Americans via text or email giving them entry instructions. This could mean being picked up by helicopter off a roof in Kabul or having U.S. citizens come for entry to some other area of the airport other than the main gates.
Pakistan Tries to Make a Deal With Afghan Resistance
Ahmad Massoud, the son of slain Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud tweeted that he had “a very productive meeting” with Pakistan’s Special Representative for Afghanistan Muhammad Sadiq and Pakistani Ambassador to Afghanistan Mansoor Ahmad Khan on August 25.
Pakistan represents the interests of their own Taliban group in Kabul and would likely attempt to try to buy off Massoud or see if he would be willing to be bought off. Failing in that, we imagine they would be trying to clear the way for Massoud to meet with the Taliban. This appears to be the case. Asvaka News in Afghanistan reports that four Taliban representatives have met with Massoud to discuss a power-sharing arrangement. We doubt Massoud would be willing to cooperate in such an arrangement. Massoud leads a resistance movement against the Taliban rule of the country — not a powersharing movement. Making a deal with the Taliban would be disastrous for him personally. Taliban sources confirm that a four-member Haqani Group-Taliban delegation was at Panjshir recently to speak to Massoud about joining a 12 member ruling council. Given the way that politics works in that country, the Taliban having the leaders of the most powerful rival factions all in one room would be an irresistible temptation. They would kill them.
The spokesman for the Massoud-led resistance states that they have had no communication with the Biden Administration. We have seen evidence that suggests other agencies of the U.S. government are in touch with Massoud.
Afghan Resistance on the March
According to local reporting from the Baghlan Province, Pol-e-Hesar, Deh Salah, and Banu districts have been captured by the Public’s Resistance Forces. Casualties to the Taliban and Resistance forces are not known.
The Taliban have to either defeat or subdue Massoud or he will surely defeat them. Panjshir is only about 70 miles from Kabul, a resistance movement securely based so close to Kabul would be suicide for the Taliban in the long term. The Taliban will have to keep a lot of their forces and weapons concentrated in Kabul which will make it harder for them to control the more remote and rebellious provinces in the country. There has been a flood of people and weapons into Panjshir province. Unlike Afghan Army troops, who melted before the advance of the Taliban in previous months, these troops have nowhere to retreat to except back to Panjshir.
This isn’t to say that Massoud’s forces will have an easy time.
As SOFREP Senior Editor Steve Balestrieri wrote of the Afghan resistance,
“The besieged province only has the Salang highway connecting it to the rest of the country and no airport, so supplying the resistance will be difficult. Massoud’s forces claim that they have blocked the highway but the Taliban deny this. Further, the Taliban, unlike in the late 1990s and early 2000s, are flush with American weapons and vehicles that had been supplied to the Afghan Army by the United States. Hundreds of millions of dollars of modern military equipment, which was turned over or abandoned, is now at the Taliban’s hands.”
Two days ago the Taliban launched an attack on the Panjshir Valley and were repulsed with heavy losses. The Resistance reported that the Taliban had withdrawn some two kilometers. This relatively short distance suggests the Resistance and the Taliban both lack heavy weapons like 60 mm mortars which have a range of more than three kilometers.
Afghan Air Force Planes in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan
As many as 46 aircraft of the Afghan Army Air Force were flown to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. The Afghan Air Force was comprised of:
23 A-29 Super Tocano light attack aircraft
10 AC-208 Combat Caravan
23 C-208 Caravan utility aircraft.
4 C-130 Hercules transports
56 Mi-17 transport helicopters
50 MD 530s light attack helicopters
45 UH-60 Blackhawks
The exact number and type of aircraft flown to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are not known at this time. In any event, their usefulness to either side is negligible.
All of these aircraft were being maintained by contractors who have now left the country. The Taliban might replace them with contractors from Turkey or Pakistan, but they would also need pilots to fly the aircraft. There is very little chance that the pilots who defected to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan would return and join the Taliban. If the sales contracts that provided these planes to Afghanistan were leases or full payment for them was not received, they may be impounded pending legal proceedings for their recovery by the seller.