Afghanistan News Update – October 28, 2021

Map Afghan Resettlement Options

Topics: News about Afghanistan, evacuation of AMCITs, LPRs, and at-risk Afghans, flights, DoD support to Afghan evacuees, IS-KP expansion, Hazaras under Taliban rule, health system in decline, Afghan embassies, Pakistan’s victory, Taliban’s blacklist, geopolitics of the region, . . . . . and more.

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Afghan Evacuation and Resettlement

Taliban’s Blacklist. Many Afghans are on ‘the list’ the Taliban are using to hunt down potential opponents of the current regime. The members of the list include a variety of people – including former interpreters for the U.S. and NATO military, female judges and lawyers, members of Afghan’s elite special operations forces, and personnel of the Afghan Air Force and Special Mission Wing. In addition, social activists, former high level military and government leaders, and others are being gathered up by the Taliban. Some are executed on the spot, some taken away to prison, and some are never seen again. “Afghanistan dispatches: Anyone on the Taliban’s blacklist is in great danger”, Jurist, October 26, 2021.

SIV Interviews – Virtual? The many thousands of Afghans who are waiting for their embassy interview – an important step in the Special Immigrant Process – have been searching for answers on how to get it done. When the US embassy shut down in August it moved to Doha, Qatar. So those SIV pending Afghans with a KBL in front of their SIV number would need to get to Doha for an interview (if the embassy were doing them, which they apparently did not). Of course, without a visa it is difficult to fly out of Afghanistan. Now it appears the US embassy in Doha is no longer there, just a ‘coordination element’. So what now for the SIV applicants waiting on the important embassy interview? There are rumors that the Department of State may do the interviews ‘virtually’. Seems they found out about Zoom and Google meetings. Time will tell . . .

Flights. Chartered airline flights continue to depart Mazar-e-Sharif and Kabul. Most of the flights are under the radar by private organizations. Some are destined for the DoD run ‘lily pads’ while others end up in the UAE’s “Humanitarian City” and destinations in other countries. Some countries, like Qatar, are requiring 100% documentation – passports, even for infants.

Project Rabbit. The Department of Defense’s site for Afghans seeking to input their information about employment with organizations affiliated with the U.S. effort in Afghanistan is still down.

Refugees – A Difficult Transition. The United States has absorbed millions of refugees over the years from many parts of the world. They all go through a readjustment period that will last years if not decades. Former refugees from other countries have advice for the newly arrived Afghans. “Former refugees in US to Afghans: ‘You are not alone'”, BBC News, October 23, 2021.

DoD Support to Afghan Evacuees

On Wednesday, October 27, 2021, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby held a press conference. He began the presser with an explanation of the way the Department of Defense is supporting the State Department-led relocation and resettlement efforts for the Afghan evacuees. His comments are below:

“The department supports the State Department-led relocation and resettlement efforts through three basic avenues. One is senior-level touch points between the State Department, the Joint Staff and OSD. These are senior leaders that are constantly in touch. Two is embedded liaison officers that we have in the Office of the Coordinator for Afghan Relocation Efforts over at the State Department. And then three, U.S. government and private organization meetings.

These private group — there’s a U.S. government private group conference call which has occurred twice weekly since the 17th of September, and that provides these groups a broader understanding of U.S. government relocation policies and information sharing that helps align with our evacuation priorities. This arrangement and the coalition of data that it helps enable gives us the opportunity to better identify American citizens, legal permanent residents and Afghans that we’ve committed to assist and further facilitates their evacuation. The Joint Staff and the Office of the Secretary also conduct a twice-weekly call with the CARE leadership over at the State Department, the Coordinator’s Office, to discuss the public-private relationship and DOD-State issues that are specific to relocation and resettlement.

Our integration with the Coordinator’s Office helps us manifest — helps enable the manifesting and the evacuation of immediate family members of U.S. service members from Afghanistan, and also helps facilitate interagency discussions on the evacuations of Afghans from third-country locations.”

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby, October 27, 2021

Security, Humanitarian Aid, and the Taliban

IS-KP Expansion. Peter Mills reports that the Islamic State Khorasan Province (IS-KP) is expanding its support zones and attack zones across Afghanistan. The organizations long-term goal is to undermine and replace the Taliban government. Currently IS-KP is strongest in Nangarhar and Kunar provinces but it is attempting to expand to northern and southern regions of Afghanistan. Read a detailed analysis of IS-KP in “Afghanistan Warning Update: IS-KP in Afghanistan is Expanding Faster Than Anticipated”, Institute for the Study of War, October 27, 2021.

DoD on ISIS-K. The Undersecretary of Defense for Policy testified before Congress and said that he believes the terrorist group will be capable of carrying out an attack against the U.S. between six months to a year. This provides more justification to increase the over-the-horizon capabilities for counterterrorism activities in the Central and South Asia regions.

Hazaras Under Taliban rule. There has been a long history of persecution of the Hazara by the Taliban. This minority group is especially at risk in Afghanistan and has endured various forms of oppression from Pashtun rulers and governments for centuries. “Why the Hazara people fear genocide in Afghanistan”, Aljazeera, October 27, 2021.

Health System in Decline. The medical staff in Afghanistan’s hospitals is a fraction of the level needed to operate. Medicines are in short supply and the overall health system in Afghanistan is suffering from resources, money, and supplies. “In Kabul children’s hospital, medics struggle with staff shortages”, Reuters, October 27, 2021.

Creative Approach Needed for Humanitarian Aid. J. Stephen Morrison, the Director of the Global Health Policy Center, argues that aid can be provided to Afghanistan without violating the principles of western governments. “Pulling Afghanistan back from the Precipice – without capitulation”, Center for Strategic & International Studies, October 26, 2021.

Foreign Aid – Taliban Taking Its ‘Fair Share’. Afghanistan is in the midst of a severe economic downturn and a food shortage with much of the population on the verge of malnutrition if not starvation. There is some limited assistance coming from the international community but Afghans say that it is being diverted to people who ‘belong to the Taliban’ and those powerful tribal leaders who are aligned with the Taliban regime. The needy are not receiving the aid while people with influence and access are on the receiving end of the aid material. “Afghans Accuse the Taliban of Misappropriating Foreign Aid”, Gandhara, October 27, 2021.

Regional and International News

India’s Balancing Act and Geopolitics. The world is coming to terms with the new Taliban regime and the power games between the U.S., Russia, and China continue. The Taliban are engaged in a diplomatic effort to gain international legitimacy. The victory of the Taliban has shaken the geopolitical aspects of the region. The United States has a diminished clout in the area – efforts to set up bases in neighboring countries to retain an “over-the-horizon” counterterrorist capability to attack al-Qaeda or the Islamic State has been stalled. India, Pakistan, and the Central Asian states have refused to accommodate the American request. The U.S. has not been idle, it has been involved in the creation of a ‘western’ Quad – comprising of the U.S., Israel, the UAE, and India. This is likely a response, in part, to the consolidation of the Chinese-Russian alliance in the Eurasian heartland and overtures to Iran. “Moscow Hosts Taliban: India is Straddling Both US & Russia Camps on Afghanistan”, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), October 22, 2021.

Tajikistan – Hosting the Chinese Military. A new base will be under construction soon in Tajikistan but near the Afghan border. The military base will be home to Chinese military units. This will shore up China’s presence in Central Asia. “Tajikistan Approves Construction of New Chinese Base as Beijing’s Security Presence in Central Asia Grows”, Radio Free Europe, October 27, 2021.

Pakistan’s Victory. For decades Islamabad played a double game, hosting, supporting, financing, and equipping the Taliban while posing as a U.S. partner”, Javid Ahmad says the collapse of the Afghan republic was no accident – and the Inter-Services Intelligence agency or ISI was heavily involved. “How Pakistan Won in Afghanistan”, The Wall Street Journal, October 26, 2021.

Afghan Embassies. The diplomats in the Afghan embassies around the world are from the old regime that existed prior to the Taliban taking Kabul. No country is recognizing the new regime so the old embassy staffs remain in place and they are remaining loyal to the old regime. “Afghan embassies don’t recognize the Taliban”, The Economist, October 2021.

Analysis and Opinion

Afghan AAR. Andrew Milburn, a retired Marine Corps officer, provides his perspective on the lessons learned from Afghanistan. “Learning the right lessons from Afghanistan”, The Hill Opinion, October 27, 2021.

Afghanistan and Jihadism. The recent developments in Afghanistan now have supporters of the jihadist movement around the world talking about a future Caliphate. U.S. intelligence agencies are evaluating these developments and their relationship to the threat of international terrorism. Will Afghanistan attract future foreign fighters who will then be exported back to their home countries? Bennett Clifford and Seamus Hughes explores this topic in “Afghanistan and American Jihadists: More Inspiration, Less Destination”, Lawfare Blog, October 27, 2021.

US CT Strategy for Afghanistan. Months after the capture of Kabul by the Taliban and the horrible evacuation efforts of the Department of State, the D.C. crowd is still in search of an effective and coherent counterterrorism approach for the future in Central Asia and in Afghanistan. There are a wide assortment of terrorist groups present in Afghanistan including al Qaeda and IS-KP. Countries in the region are not willing to allow Washington to establish a ‘platform’ from which to observe (drones) and attack (drones and other methods) jihadist groups. Read more in “IntelBrief: U.S. Struggles to Formulate a Coherent Counterterrorism Strategy for Afghanistan”, The Soufan Center, October 28, 2021.

Discussion – Saving the Interpreters. Colonel (ret) Steve Miska is the author of Baghdad Underground Railroad: Saving American Allies in Iraq. He will take part in a discussion of Afghanistan and the need to evacuate the Afghan interpreters whose lives are now at risk now that the Taliban have taken Kabul. The event is co-sponsored by the National Defense University Library and the College of International Security Affairs. The event takes place on November 2, 2021 at 12:00 PM.


Photo: A contractor speaks with an Afghan evacuee on the possible resettlement locations across the United States at Aman Omid Village in Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., Oct. 23, 2021. The Defense Department through Northern Command, and in support of the Department of State and Department of Homeland Security, is providing transportation, temporary housing, medical screening, and general support for at least 50,000 Afghan evacuees at suitable facilities. Photo by Army Spc. Jose Escamilla, October 23, 2021.