Partial Release of Names of 13 Deceased US Servicemembers

Maxton Soviak, USN, age 22

Daegan Page USMC, age 23

Ryan Knauss USA, 23

Darin Taylor Hoover Jr USMC, age 31

Johanny Rosario USMC, age 25

Humberto Sanchez USMC, age 29

Hunter Lopez USMC, age 22

David Lee Espinoza USMC, age 20

Jared Schmitz USMC, age 20

Rylee McCollum USMC, age 20

Kareem Nikou USMC, age 20

We have no comment on this beyond the expression of our deepest sympathies extended to the families of the fallen.

 

What Is ‘Over-the-Horizon’ Counterterrorism?

CENTCOM press release states that an “over-the-horizon” counterterrorism operation against an ISIS-K “planner” was a success. There may have been more than one person killed in this strike. The unmanned aerial vehicle struck a target in the Nangarhar Province East of Kabul.

A single strike on a single subject (presumably) suggests an absence of actionable intelligence against ISIS-K elements within the country. We would point to remarks President Biden made at the White House on August 20 that suggested we had more information on ISIS-K in Afghanistan than this single strike would indicate we have.

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“We’re also keeping a close watch on any potential terrorist threat at or around the airport, including from the ISIS affiliates in Afghanistan,” the president had said.

It is possible the Taliban even gave us the information on the whereabouts of this unnamed person. The title “planner” is deliberate by the administration and seeks to link this individual directly to the suicide bombing(s) at Karzai airport. It also suggests that the Biden administration will limit its retaliation specifically to those they believe are responsible for the bombing(s). In reality, everyone involved in ISIS-K is a legitimate target of the United States.

This strike could signal that the administration intends to return to a defensive, law-centered counter-terrorism strategy reminiscent of the pre-9/11 posture of the Clinton administration. It should be remembered that this strategy did not deter attacks by al-Qaeda, which culminated finally in the 9/11 attacks.

We are also confused by the term “over-the-Horizon.” This drone did not launch a missile from long range and over the horizon which generally refers to the detection range of search radars on ships. In this type of over-the-horizon strike, an enemy vessel is detected, fixed, and attacked by missiles beyond the radar horizon of the target, thus concealing the presence of the attacking missile’s launch origin and spoiling a retaliatory attack by the targeted vessel.

The president says that the U.S. will retain “over the horizon” capabilities in terms of operations against terrorists in Afghanistan. We are skeptical of this working for the following reasons:

Firstly, we will have no special operations forces on the ground which provide much of the actionable intelligence that results in such strikes in the first place. Absent this SOF presence, the U.S. will be relying on signals intelligence. This helps to create actionable intelligence but generally does not provide a definitive intelligence confirmation needed to trigger military action.

Secondly, it is very difficult to take rapid action on intelligence using drones. It takes many hours of flight time to get UAVs over Afghanistan by which time, your target may have moved. Even a submarine-launched cruise missile would take several hours for the submarine to receive the tasking order, target the weapon, launch it and then have it arrive at the target.

Using it in this context, “over the horizon” is more of a buzzword for the press to latch onto than an actual counter-terrorism tactic unless you mean it to convey a greatly diminished capacity to respond.

Smoke billows from the airport area after a blast outside the Hamid Karzai International Airport, in Kabul. [Akhter Gulfam/EPA]
In the aftermath of the bombing, social media exploded with false images and videos of previous bomb blasts that were reported as being the bombing at the Kabul airport. This image by Akhter Gulfam/EPA is one of the few that appears to be authentic.

We Are Skeptical That Only One Bomb Went Off in Kabul

In the aftermath of the attack on the Karzai Airport on August 26, the Pentagon initially reported that two suicide bombs went off. One at the Abbey Gate and another in the area of the Baron Hotel which the British were using to process requests for evacuation.

Pentagon Spokesman John Kirby said the attacks were a “complex attack.”

Other reports came in claiming as many as seven explosions in the area of the airport. Then the next day, the Pentagon walked back its original claim stating that a single suicide bomber killed upwards of 100 (Now 170) civilians including 13 U.S. military personnel, and wounded another 200. The Pentagon also stated that there was no second bomb and several “controlled demolitions” explained the additional reports of explosions. Perhaps in anticipation of skepticism that a single bomb vest could cause so many deaths and injuries the Pentagon claims the bomb was at least 25lbs of military-grade high explosives with embedded shrapnel to maximize its effects.

We are skeptical of the revised claim that a single suicide bomber was involved for the following reasons.

  1. This number of casualties by a single bomber wearing a vest is extraordinarily high.
  2. There are credible press reports on the scene that reported a second bombing.
  3. While ISIS-K stated that only a single suicide bomber was used, we doubt they would admit to a second premature or accidental detonation by a failed second bomber. We also reason that both the Taliban and the administration have a political interest in downplaying the bombing.
  4. The Biden administration has been anything but transparent with the American people since it took office in January. It appears to be obsessed with the politics of how this evacuation looks rather than the actual problem of the evacuation itself. White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain, took to Twitter to try and reframe the disastrous hit to U.S. prestige by trying to refocus the attention on the supposed success of the evacuation itself. He re-tweeted CNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell and a remark that cast the evacuation as, “the best run evacuation from a war America lost.” In the effort to recast what is widely seen as a debacle as a historic humanitarian mission instead, the Democrat National Committee on Tuesday issued a press release titled “President Biden Defies Expectations (Again), Delivers Results in Afghanistan.” In the past several months, the administration finds itself under criticism for a lack of truthfulness and transparency even from media outlets it would consider friendly like CNN. Recently, Pam Brown at CNN took the administration to task in a video titled, “Where’s the transparency Biden’s WH promised?”
  5. We wonder how the size and composition of the bomb could be anything but a back of the envelope guess by the Pentagon. It went off outside the gate which is controlled by the Taliban and there are no reports that a forensic investigation of the site is being conducted by the United States.
  6. The clarification that controlled demolitions explain the other reported blasts initially failed to say what was being destroyed. Were unexploded bombs found in the area?  The new claim by the Pentagon is that they were munitions and supplies. Okay.

This screenshot from a Pakistani Journalist at the Baron Hotel adds to our cautious skepticism here. He claims to have had access to the blast site for several minutes at the Baron Hotel. SOFREP has contacted Mr. Mallick seeking confirmation that he was present at the hotel and saw a second bomb site.

 

How Will the Evacuation of the Remaining US Forces Be Conducted?

We’ve received comments from readers asking us to speculate on how the evacuation of the last of U.S. forces would be conducted. We will not speculate on this in the interest of protecting the operational security of the remaining troops at Karzai Airport. It is sufficient to say only that a process for doing so exists. It can be tricky to pull off, but it won’t be ad hoc and thrown together.

 

US Forces Are Beginning to Leave Karzai Airport

British Paratroopers evacuating from Kabul. (British government)

The following countries have ended evacuation flights out of Afghanistan: France, Canada, Sweden, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Denmark, Hungary, Denmark, and New Zealand

 

Turkey and Qatar to Take Over

Media reports are claiming that the Taliban are in talks with Turkey and Qatar to take over operations of the airport.

 

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