Afghanistan: News Update – 1 Nov 2021

MP Holds Children's Hands

Topics: News about Afghanistan, evacuation of AMCITs, LPRs, and at-risk Afghans, SIGAR critical of DoD and DoS, new Afghan envoy in Pakistan, border crossings, learning English, TAPI pipeline, commentary, analysis, voluntary departure, defeat of the ANDSF, . . . . . and more.

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Evacuation from Afghanistan

UNHCR on Pakistan and the Border. Apparently the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) is looking through a different window to the two major border crossings to Pakistan than the rest of the world. In a press conference on Tuesday, October 26th, the UNHCR welcomed the efforts by Pakistan to ease the movement of goods and people through official border points with Afghanistan. The lack of access to Pakistan has left many who have urgent medical needs in dire straits or with valid travel documents stranded at the border entry points. Many Afghans have resorted to human smugglers and traffickers to cross the border. “UNHCR Commends Pakistan’s Efforts to Ease Movement at Pak-Afghan Border”, Afghan Studies Center, October 27, 2021.

LGBTQ Afghans Now in UK. Students, activists, and others arrived in Britain on Friday and have escaped Taliban persecution because of their life style. In addition to this first wave of 29 LGBTQ Afghans are hundreds more who will arrive in the coming months. Rainbow Railroad, a Canadian LGBTQ charity and Stonewall, British rights group helped the evacuees who arrived on Friday. There are at least 200 more LGBTQ Afghans that need to be evacuated. “LGBTQ Afghans land in Britain as Taliban official says no space for gay rights”, The Washington Post, October 30, 2021.

31st MDG Supported Evacuees in Germany. The 31st Medical Group based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, sent 24 personnel to provide medical support to more than 35,000 evacuees that passed through Ramstein Air Base, Germany on their way to the United States. The 31st spent about 50 days in Germany providing medical services and vaccinations. “Aviano supports Operation Allies Welcome”, DVIDS, October 22, 2021.

DoS Secretary Blinken on AMCIT Evacuations. Secretary of State Antony Blinken attempts to explain why the United States is still evacuating American citizens from Afghanistan over two months after the U.S. departed Afghanistan. During his interview with Dana Bash of CNN he tries to spin the huge failure of the State Department to conduct a timely and orderly evacuation of AMCITs from Afghanistan.

“First, going back to March of this year, well before the President made his decision, well before Afghanistan imploded, the government and the military imploded, we started sending messages to those who had American passports in Afghanistan – 19 between March and July – urging them to leave the country.  By the time the government did implode in August, there were still about 6,000 left, and there’s a good reason for that.  These are people whose entire lives were in Afghanistan.  Their families were there.  Their extended families were there.  They – that’s what they knew.  And so it’s an incredibly wrenching decision to leave.

So about 6,000 left at that point.  During the evacuation, the extraordinary evacuation in which we got about 125,000 people out of Afghanistan, we got virtually all of the 6,000 who remained out.  There were still several hundred who had told us they – at that point that they wanted to get out who were not able to get out by the 31st.  And what we’ve said was we – there is no deadline to this effort, we will continue to get them out. 

Since August 31st, as of today, we’ve gotten out – of the Americans left who said that they wanted to leave – about 340.  But what’s happened since is this:  More people have come forward in two ways.  There were some small number of Americans in Afghanistan who didn’t want to leave, who have now seen that we’ve successfully been able to get some of the few remaining Americans out, who have now come forward and said we do want to leave.  And there are a couple of hundred of those who are ready to leave, and we will work to get them out. 

Similarly, since August 31st, other people have come forward who had not previously identified themselves as having an American passport.  They have now come forward to say that they do.  We verified that, and if they say they want to come out, we will bring them out as well. 

But we’ve demonstrated exactly what we said in August, which is even as we worked to get as many people out as we could before we left the airport, we were convinced that we would be able to continue to do that, and we’ve done that.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, October 30, 2021.

Afghan Evacuee Resettlement

Voluntary Departure from DoD Evacuee Center. Some Afghans are choosing for an ‘early departure’ from the evacuee centers established by the Department of Defense. There are many factors to consider before an Afghan decides to request a ‘Voluntary Departure’. Most important is the loss of resettlement assistance. The Nichols Liu agency describes what happens at the DoD camps and provides some advice to those Afghans considering leaving a camp before completing the resettlement process. Learn more in “Afghan Refugee Centers – A Note for Families and Friends of Refugees”, Nichols Liu, October 5, 2021.

Learning English at Fort McCoy. Afghan evacuees are learning English in a Department of Defense evacuee camp in Wisconsin. Multiple classes are offered each day for one hour on Monday through Friday. The classes provide students with an American classroom experience and includes writing, public speaking, and pronunciation guidance. “Afghan Evacuees Head to School at Fort McCoy”, by Pfc. Caitlin Wilkins, DVIDS, October 20, 2021.

Taliban, Security, Economy, and Humanitarian Crisis

‘Charity Tax’ for Farmers. The agricultural sector is reeling from the violence that took place over the past several months that culminated in the Taliban gaining control of all of Afghanistan. In addition, the farmers are contending with a COVID pandemic, drought, closed borders, and a faltering economy. Add one more impediment to making a profit – the ‘charity tax’. Farmers must pay a 10% tax on the funds they receive for their harvest. In addition, they must pay a 2.5% tax on the estimated worth of their property. The 10% ‘charity tax’ is justified by the Taliban as one of the five pillars of Islam that are considered obligations for all Muslims. “Taliban Imposing ‘Charity’ Taxes on Farmers Who Need Aid”, Gandhara, October 29, 2021.

Kidnappings Rise. More than 40 business people have been abducted in Kabul and across the country over the past two months. Many of them have been businessmen or merchants – some ending up dead. “Kidnapping Cases Surge in Afghanistan”, Tolo News, October 28, 2021.

Taliban and Narcotics Policy. Fazl Rahman Muzhary presents a detailed summary of the Taleban’s past policy on the cultivation of cannabis and the production and trafficking of hashish. “What now for the Taleban and Narcotics? A case study on cannabis”, Afghanistan Analysts Network, October 27, 2021.

TAPI Gas Pipeline. The work continues on the TAPI pipeline that will link the energy resources of Central Asia to Afghanistan and beyond to India and Pakistan. The pipeline will carry natural gas along a route stretching over 1,125 miles. The project has been in the ‘design and coordination’ phase for years and was started in 2018. Afghanistan will use about 5% of the gas and make millions of dollars each year in ‘transit fees’. “Turkmenistan officials due in Afghanistan as Taliban back TAPI gas pipeline“, Reuters, October 27, 2021.

‘Band-Aid’ Approach to Humanitarian Crisis – Not Enough. The current Afghan ambassador of Afghanistan to Sri Lanka, M. Ashraf Haidari, believes that the international community should work together and in concert with the United Nations to help form an inclusive government in Afghanistan. It feels that this would result in a durable solution to the long-term protective and human security needs of the Afghan people. If the international community can help deliver the basic expectations of the Afghan people then it will contribute to regional stability and international peace and security. “Why the World Should Help Afghanistan”, Defense One, October 27, 2021.

International Scene

New Taliban Envoy in Pakistan. The Taliban have sent a new envoy to run the Afghan embassy in Pakistan. The new administration is beginning to take over the network of delegations they have working in foreign countries. Whether foreign nations will receive them is a big question. The Afghan envoy to Pakistan will not have the title of ambassador as Pakistan does not yet recognize the Taliban regime. Two Taliban officials were also appointed to run the consulates in Quetta and Peshawar. The Torkham border crossing is not located far from Peshawar (2 hour drive) and the Chaman – Spin Buldak border crossing is close to Quetta (3 hour drive). Similar arrangements have been made in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. “Afghan Taliban appoint new envoy to run embassy in neighboring Pakistan”, Reuters, October 29, 2021.

China And Taliban Recognition. Yew Lun Tian will not be taking the lead in recognizing the newly installed Taliban regime. When it does, it will likely do so in conjunction with Iran, Russia, and Pakistan. “China will not be the first to recognize Taliban government, scholar says”, Reuters, October 30, 2021.

H.R. 5121. Representative Scott Perry (R PA) introduced a bill in the House of Representatives on August 27, 2021 that would terminate Afghanistan’s status as a major non-NATO ally and prohibit the President from designating Afghanistan with such status. This would preclude some benefits for Afghanistan – such as qualifying as a country to receive excess defense articles. Read more about the Taliban Are Not Our Friends Act.

Commentary, Analysis, and Opinion

SIGAR: DoS and DoD Concealed Data. The head of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), John Sopko, accused the State Department and Pentagon of suppressing data Congress and the U.S. public needed to understand the collapse of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) and the Afghan government. SIGAR has been one of the few government organizations that issued reports reporting the extensive deficiencies of the ANDSF and the rampant corruption found from the highest levels of government to the government officials at district level. “State Dept, Pentagon are concealing Afghanistan data, says U.S. watchdog”, Reuters, October 29, 2021.

Helping From a Distance. There is a lot of wishful thinking happening with hopes that the Taliban are a more moderate and gentler version of the Taliban from 1996 to 2001. But that just isn’t the reality. The governments of the United States and other countries must accept that the Taliban are tyrannical jihadists and decide how to engage with them to ensure the provision of aid to the Afghan people. “The Taliban Haven’t Changed, But U.S. Policy Must”, Lawfare Blog, October 31, 2021.

Failure of ANDSF and U.S. Advisory Effort. Read an explanation of why a large conventional army trained and equipped with modern weapons and equipment couldn’t defeat the Taliban insurgency. The article offers a critique of the U.S. military’s advisory effort in Afghanistan. “Requiem For The Afghan ‘Faberge Egg’ Army: Why Did It Crack So Quickly”, by Jahara Matisek, Modern War Institute at West Point, October 28, 2021.

McMaster on Afghan Withdrawal. The word ‘surrender’ is rarely used to describe American foreign policy; yet that is how a retired three-star general characterizes the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan. Read his thoughts on this tragic end to the U.S. involvement in the Afghan conflict in “Gen. H.R. McMaster on America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan”, Desert News, October 27, 2021.


Photo: U.S. Army Soldier from 18th Military Police Brigade provides a helping hand in support of Operation Allies Refuge September 02, 2021 at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. Soldiers from the 21st Theater Sustainment command have assisted with providing security; food, shelter, and other basic necessities; and clean-up at the transit center on RAB – all part of preparing travelers from Afghanistan for onward movement to their final destination. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Katelyn Myers)