Topics: News about Afghanistan, evacuation of AMCITs, LPRs, and at-risk Afghans, life in Nuristan province, congressional hearings, videos, book reviews, Marines at HKIA, TB and providing security, Hazara ordeal, Tajikistan pit stop, report on routes out of Afghanistan, demographics of Afghan evacuees in the U.S., Congressional hearings on resettlement in the U.S., polio vaccination campaign, Moscow talks, Tehran talks, and the humanitarian crisis.
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Marines at HKIA in August 2021. Worth Parker, a retired Marine who served in intelligence and special operations billets during his career, talks about the hectic and dramatic days of August 2021 during the Kabul noncombatant evacuation operation (NEO). “A shining moment: Amid chaos and darkness, Marines showed up in Afghanistan”, by Philip Athey, Military Times, October 18, 2021.
“Escape from Kabul”. Fahim Masoud, a US military intelligence officer, worked many long hours to get his family out of Afghanistan during late August 2021. Eventually, with the help of military connections on the Kabul airport and a retired CIA official, the family was picked up by a bus (provided by the CIA), transported through the ‘secret’ Glory Gate, and whisked onto a C-17. Read more in “Escape from Kabul: Inside the volunteer effort by US troops to rescue their families from Afghanistan”, CNN Politics, October 20, 2021.
Hazara Ordeal – Crossing the Border into Pakistan. Some Shi’a Hazaras have managed to cross the border into Pakistan. But the journey was traumatic. And the problems didn’t end once over the border, they experience persecution in Pakistan as well. And they face deportation back to Afghanistan. “From Afghanistan to Pakistan, the never-ending ordeals of Shi’a Hazaras”, Institute of Development Studies, October 20, 2021.
Female Judges in Hiding. Women who held positions in the judicial system of Afghanistan are now at risk. They have lost almost everything – their jobs, homes, and the way they lived. They now fear of being tracked down by criminals, terrorists, and Taliban fighters who they once sentenced to prison. Read “Female Judges in Afghanistan, Now Jobless and in Hiding”, The New York Times, October 20, 2021.
Tajikistan Pit Stop. Some middle-class Afghans with the means to navigate Tajikistan’s bureaucracy see the country as a springboard to the west. It is estimated that about 15,000 Afghans have entered Tajikistan in the past several months. Every day hundreds more try to enter the country. “Afghan Refugees Hope Tajikistan Is Just a Pit Stop”, EurasiaNet, October 15, 2021.
Iran – and the Afghan Situation. Afghans continue to make their way to Iran through unofficial border crossings. The official borders remain closed for asylum seekers. “Afghanistan situation: Emergency preparedness and response in Iran”, UNHCR, October 19, 2021, PDF, 4 pages. Includes map of border crossings.
Chaman – Spin Boldak Border Crossing. Leaders in the Balochistan community have formed a committee to help resolve issues pertaining to the closure of the Pak-Afghan border at Chaman and cross-border movements. It will also review mechanisms for pedestrian movement across the border. (Dawn, Oct 20, 2021).
Report on Routes out of Afghanistan. There are few routes to safety for Afghans trying to flee their country. This report provides information on the situation and challenges Afghans may find in 27 countries around the world. “Like and Obstacle Course“, ECOI.net, PDF, 32 pages.
‘Better Pathways’ Out of Afghanistan. The Human Rights Watch (HRW) is calling on United Nations agencies and governments to increase their support for Afghans at risk who are seeking to flee their homeland or have already fled and are now in countries neighboring Afghanistan, transit countries, and countries where resettlement is occurring. “HRW Calls for ‘Better Pathways’ For At-Risk Afghans”, Gandhara, October 21, 2021.
Afghan Evacuee Resettlement
Demographics. An October 8, 2021, letter provided by SECDEF Austin broke down the categories of Afghans that were evacuated by the United States. The vast majority of these people are now in one of eight military camps across the country. Seven percent were U.S. Citizens, five percent were lawful permanent residents, and three percent held some sort of U.S. visa. The remainder will likely be qualified, over time, for a SIV, P1, or P2 refugee status. “Pentagon says almost half of Afghan evacuees at US bases are children”, The Hill, October 20, 2021.
9K Have Left U.S. Military Bases. More than 9,000 Afghan refugees who had been living in temporary housing in the U.S. have been resettled in local communities. Many who have left the military installations have been assisted by a makeshift army of veterans groups, military family organizations, and immigration agencies. About 6,000 Afghan refugees used the assistance of these private sector groups. Over 3,000 were U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, or Special Immigrant Visa holders that did not need assistance and outside support. All of the evacuees went through security vetting by the Departments of Homeland Security and Defense, the FBI, the National Counterterrorism Center, and other government intelligence agencies. “9,000 Afghan Refugees Have Left Military Bases for New Homes with Aid from Vets Groups”, Miltary.com, October 20, 2021.
Congressional Hearing on Afghan Resettlement – Thu, Oct 21st. The House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight, Management, and Accountability will be conducting a hearing entitled “Operation Allies Welcome: Examining DHS’s Efforts to Resettle Vulnerable Afghans” on Thursday, October 21, 2021, at 2:00 PM EDT. https://www.congress.gov/event/117th-congress/house-event/114151
Resettlement Resources for Afghans – By State. The Office of Refugee Resettlement of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has published an interactive map the provides resources and contacts by individual states. https://www.acf.hhs.gov/orr/map/find-resources-and-contacts-your-state
Life Under the Taliban
Nuristan Province – A Glimpse of Afghanistan’s Future. For almost a decade, the U.S. military has departed Kamdesh district in the northeastern province of Nuristan. Although the district center was occupied by a small contingent of ANDSF – the majority of the district and surrounding areas were effectively controlled by the Taliban for a number of years. The American presence is a distant – and negative – memory for many locals. Franz J. Marty, a journalist based in Kabul, provides some insight into what rural Afghanistan may look like in the years ahead now that the Taliban are once again in charge. “A Remote Corner of Afghanistan Offers a Peek Into the Future of the Country”, The Diplomat, October 19, 2021.
The TB and Providing Security. The Taliban have failed to contain ISIS-K – a rival terrorist group that operates in the northeastern provinces of Nangarhar and Kunar. Daily attacks are occurring and appear to be growing in frequency. In addition, criminals are still running rampant through some parts of the country. The Taliban are also finding that transforming a village-based guerrilla insurgency into a national security force capable of protecting urban areas can be a daunting challenge. Read more in “Afghanistan’s war is over, but the Taliban faces a new hurdle: Enforcing the law – and protecting Afghans from ISIS”, by Sudarsan Raghavan, The Washington Post, October 19, 2021.
Kabul Grenade Attack. A grenade was thrown at a Taliban vehicle in the Afghan capital on Wednesday morning, October 20th, wounding two Taliban fighters. Four school children were also wounded in the incident. (Dawn, Oct 20, 2021).
Afghan Girls and Schools – Protest. An all-women protest in Kabul took place on Thursday, October 21st, in front of the Ministry of Education. The protest was peaceful for a while until Taliban fighters policing the demonstration beat a foreign and two local journalists. (Khaama Press, Oct 21, 2021).
Humanitarian Situation. Even though there are some sanctions exceptions, the Taliban rule will cause many global banks to refuse to finance commercial transactions with the Afghan private sector. U.S. sanctions will likely remain in place until the Taliban denies safe haven and sanctuary to global jihadist groups like al Qaeda and others. “IntelBrief: Sanctions on Taliban Compound Afghanistan’s Humanitarian Difficulties”, Soufan Center, October 19, 2021. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has published a report detailing the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan and the recommendations that need to be implemented to alleviate the suffering of the Afghan people during the coming winter season.
Polio Vaccine Effort. United Nation agencies will be launching a nationwide effort to vaccinate children in Afghanistan against polio – with the permission of the Taliban. The campaign will start in early November according to a news release from UNICEF. In years past the Taliban had banned door-to-door visits by polio workers because it feared that these visits were being used to gather intelligence by government agents. “U.N. to launch a polio vaccination campaign in Afghanistan with Taliban permission”, The Washington Post, October 18, 2021.
Afghanistan’s Future Economic Slump and the Refugee Problem. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) says that the neighboring countries will be feeling the effects of a downward turn of Afghanistan’s economy. Many countries – like Pakistan and Uzbekistan – have a sizeable amount of commerce transiting the border, in both directions. The IMF’s regional outlook for the region is dismal – citing the large influx of refugees that will become a burden for the refugee-hosting countries. The IMF estimates that more than 1 million Afghans will flee the violence or economic hardships under the Taliban regime. Central Asian countries are holding to their statements that they will not accept refugees unless the international community helps with funding. “IMF warns Afghanistan’s economic slump will impact neighbours”, BBC News, October 20, 2021.
Road Construction. During the years from 2001 to 2021 the Afghan government was primarily funded by the international community. A lot of road construction took place – the Ring Road is an example – that employed thousands of Afghans and increased the ability of Afghans to transport goods to market. The Taliban are now embarked on a road construction project – partly to repair the many roads they destroyed with IEDs. But the work will be slow without foreign aid. And these payments are not likely to be forthcoming unless the new regime accepts certain conditions tied to human rights, governance, and other issues. Franz J. Marty, a correspondent working in Kabul, details the issues surrounding the resumption of road construction and repair in “Afghanistan: Taliban road construction projects stall without foreign funding”, Deutsche Welle, October 18, 2021.
U.N. Trust Fund. The United Nations announced that it has set up a special trust fund to provide cash directly to Afghans through a system tapping into donor funds frozen since the Taliban takeover in August. The aim is to inject liquidity into Afghan households to permit them to survive the upcoming winter season. “U.N. sets up trust fund for ‘people’s economy’ in Afghanistan”, Reuters, October 21, 2021.
People Talking about Afghanistan
Moscow Talks. Russia is stepping up to provide the international community some diplomatic leadership on Afghanistan. They are easing into the vast void created by the departure of the United States from Afghanistan – both diplomatically and militarily. This U.S. diplomatic void is continuing – with the U.S. concentrating on climate change, Iran, China, and other issues that seem to occupy the meetings on the 7th floor of Foggy Bottom. In the meantime, Russia, China, and Pakistan are preparing to provide some support to the Taliban regime – although Russia has some concerns over the Taliban style of government. Russia is withholding diplomatic recognition while waiting for the Taliban to fulfil promises they made when they took power; for instance, the political and ethnic inclusivity of the new government. Russia also has concerns that a tidal wave of Afghan refugees will flow into Central Asia in which terrorists and drug smugglers could hide. Four parties with ‘special representatives’ – Afghanistan, Russia, China, and Pakistan – met in Moscow on Wednesday, October 20, 2021. A joint statement was issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. Other nations also sent representatives, to include India, Iran, and five Central Asian States. “Taliban get aid promise but not recognition on eve of Moscow talks”, Reuters, October 19, 2021.
U.S. a No-Show. Citing logistical problems, the U.S. State Department said that it would not be participating in the talks. The DoS spokesman, Ned Price, didn’t reveal what the logistical problems were. It probably is a good thing the U.S. didn’t attend . . . as one of the conclusions of the summit was that the cost of rebuilding Afghanistan should be borne by the nations who had military forces in Afghanistan for the past 20 years. See “Regional powers back aid for Afghanistan, say U.S. and allies should pay“, Reuters, October 20, 2021.
Tehran Talks. The foreign ministers of Iran, China, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Russia will be attending talks about Afghanistan in Iran on October 27, 2021. The meeting will be focused on how the nations can assist in the formation of an inclusive government in Afghanistan and on how to promote peace and security in the future years. It is unknown if the Taliban will be sending a delegation. The U.S. will not be attending – most likely there are going to be some ‘logistical problems’. “Iran to host multilateral conference on Afghanistan on October 27”, Aljazeera, October 18, 2021.
Video – U.S. Policy and the Future of Afghanistan. A team of former senior officials and ambassadors took part in a panel discussion to discuss what the top U.S. policy priorities should be in Afghanistan moving forward – and how they can be best achieved. Presented by the Woodrow Wilson Center, October 19, 2021, 59 minutes, YouTube.
Books and Reports
Book Review – The Afghanistan Papers. Craig Whitlock’s new book explores the range of deceptions integral to America’s two-decade war in Afghanistan. His book ‘chronicles a Gordian knot of deceits within the U.S. national security establishment . . . ‘ and other agencies and organizations of the U.S. government. Much of his research comes from the interviews conducted by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). The interviews were conducted with the intent to provide raw, unprocessed information for published SIGAR reports and were done with the understanding that the participants could converse freely without worry of exposure. Unfortunately, the Washington Post got a court order to have the interview transcripts released. This, of course, will have a negative effect on future collaboration efforts with current and past members of the national security community and U.S. military who could provide valuable insight and information for future ‘lessons learned‘ projects. There is nothing earth shattering about the content of the interview transcripts – almost all that is substantive in nature has already been published in the numerous SIGAR reports. The same is likely true of the book by Whitlock. The long-running conflict in Afghanistan has had a wealth of news articles, books, reports, and other materials published over the course of 20 years. Many of the published material pointing out the missteps and failures of the United States military and political leadership. Nothing to see hear – unless you haven’t been a reader of the SIGAR reports that have been published online for the past decade or more. At any rate, here is the review of the book by Whitlock provided by Brandan Buck – “The Afghanistan Papers”, Real Clear Defense, October 19, 2021.
Book Review – First Casualty. In October 2001 the U.S. military launched Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). The 5th Special Forces group inserted twelve man teams of Green Berets to link up with the Northern Alliance and resistance groups in southern Afghanistan as well. The SF teams were preceded in some cases with operators from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Upon infil the SF teams were usually linked up with a CIA operator (with bags of money). One of these CIA operators was Mike Spann – who became the first American casualty in what would become a 20-year-long involvement in the Afghan conflict for the U.S. “First Casualty tells story of secret CIA mission in Afghanistan”, Military Times, October 17, 2021.
DoS OIG Audit Report. The Office of Inspector General (OIG) for the Department of State conducted an audit to determine whether DoS followed acquisition policy when awarding noncompetitive contracts in support of overseas contingency operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Between 2015 and 2020 DoS awarded 3,385 contracts for performance in Afghanistan and Iraq, valued at $7.12 billion. Of these contracts, 607 contracts were awarded without competition. The report is a PDF with 35 pages, published October 2021.
Photo: U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Heather Neef, assigned to U.S. Air Force 7th Reconnaissance Squadron, waves goodbye to evacuees from Afghanistan as they prepare to board a bus before departing Naval Air Station (NAS) Sigonella, September 4, 2021. (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Erika L. Kugler)