Topics: News about Afghanistan, 60,000 SIVS remain, Project Dynamo evacuates 39 to US, Afghan pilots fear for their lives, in Iran and illegal, MeS airport, passports, seeking refuge in Europe, life in Pakistan, Afghan UN envoy resigns, dollar smugglers arrested, new Afghan budget, Marja revisited, Islamabad summit, health care system broke, Afghanistan War Commission Act, Afghan helicopters – a new home in Ukraine, Mohib on Doha Agreement, podcast on IW and Afghanistan, and more.
The Afghan Report will be taking a two-week break in publishing. The staff will be enjoying a small vacation and the holiday season. Back on Monday, January 3, 2022.
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Evacuation from Afghanistan
12 AMCITs Left in Afghanistan? Or Are There More? The State Department says that there are only twelve Americans left in Afghanistan. A number of Afghan Evac organizations are scratching their heads on that claim. “State Department boasts fewer than 12 Americans left in Afghanistan, but countless allies remain”, New York Post, December 18, 2021. What was actually said in a press briefing was that the State Department is “. . . working with fewer than a dozen U.S. citizens as well as their families who we’ve identified as prepared to depart and have the necessary travel documents.” Certainly there are more – those who no longer have the necessary travel documents and those who do not want to leave close family members behind. See also “The Americans Stuck in Afghanistan”, Wall Street Journal, December 19, 2021. (subscription)
60,000 Afghan SIV Applicants remain. According to a State Department official more than 60,000 Afghan interpreters and others who have applied for visas for the United States remain in Afghanistan. More than half of these, SIV applicants and their families, have completed much of the vetting and SIV processing and could be eligible for immediate evacuation. “More Than 60,000 Interpreters, Visa Applicants Remain in Afghanistan”, by Jessica Donati, The Wall Street Journal, December 16, 2021. (subscription).
Afghan Pilots Fear for Their Lives. The U.S.-trained pilots are in hiding, terrified the Taliban will kill them. A spokesman for Operation Sacred Promise wonders why the pilots who attended U.S. training schools, flew alongside U.S. aviators, and who know English have a lower evacuation priority than a janitor who worked at the U.S. Embassy. “Afghan Air Force pilots trapped in Afghanistan plead for evacuation”, ABC News, December 18, 2021.
“As we give them more time, they have more chance or opportunity to find us. If I stay in Afghanistan, they will definitely arrest me one day.”Afghan pilot
In Iran – and Illegal. Life has changed for those Afghans who have been living and working in Iran illegally. Tensions have increased along the Iranian – Afghan border and Iran has been rounding up Afghans and shipping them back to the Afghan border crossings. Over 3 million Afghans have found refuge in Iran but fear they may be shipped back to Afghanistan. Several thousand Afghans cross the border illegally each day – most with the assistance of human smugglers. The vast majority of these Afghans are Tajik, Uzbek, or Hazara – ethnic minorities that are persecuted by the Taliban. Smugglers are getting up to $600 per person. “Amid a crackdown, Afghan refugees in Iran fear the ‘unthinkable’: Being sent back”, Los Angeles Times, December 16, 2021.
DoS Flights Shut Down. It has been a few weeks since the Department of State has been able to get anyone out of Afghanistan. In a case of ‘all the eggs in one basket’, DoS has relied on one airline (Qatar Airways) and one ‘lily pad’ (Doha) to fly AMCITs, LPRs, and Afghans with current passports and processed Special Immigrant Visas. But this option (the only DoS avenue out that is publicized) is now shut down. Apparently there is a dispute between the Qatari officials and the Taliban on some specific parameters of the flights . . . and there is no indication that this will be fixed soon. At the same time the DoS has been either discouraging or intentionally being unsupportive of private sector organizations that are ferrying the same people out of Afghanistan.
Is it Time for Another DoS Option? Why not use the Afghan evac organizations that have been assisting DoS with the ground operations for the Qatari flights to put the Afghan evacuees on a bus from Kabul to the Uzbek border. The ‘folks on the ground’ could do the document screening in Kabul (as they have been doing for the DoS flights), put evacuees on a bus, bring them to the Uzbekistan border. At that point the bus(s) cross the border at Hariatan over the Friendship Bridge and enter the Termez International Airport (Uzbekistan) where they fly (C-17 or chartered flight) to a reopened evacuation ‘lily pad’ (Ramstein Air Base comes to mind).
A Positive White House Move for Afghan Evac? The news has broke that Mr. Curtis Ried will be moving into the position of Special Advisor for Afghan Resettlement at the White House. Some members of the Afghan Evac community see this as a welcome announcement that will improve the effort to evacuate and resettle at-risk Afghans from Afghanistan. However, there are others in the Afghan Evac community that have concerns about his lack of military experience and no time on the ground in Afghanistan.
“I am not one of those guys that think if you didn’t serve in the military then you shouldn’t be a national security expert. So it is not that. I just think that he should have at least ate some nan and drank some green tea a bit while sitting cross legged on a carpet in Afghanistan. Or maybe served in the Embassy and drank beer in the ‘Duck and Cover’ bar on the State Department compound behind massive cement t-walls. Or at least had an occasional visit to the Taliban Tavern on BAF. Thankfully, I am a positive fellow and hope he does well for the Afghan Evac community and the Afghans at-risk.”Anonymous Afghan Evac Volunteer
Project Dynamo – Evacuates 39 AMCITs, LPRs and Family Members. An organization assisting American citizens, lawful permanent residents, and Afghans at-risk – Project Dynamo – has safely brought 39 people to the United States. The Afghans left Kabul on Friday morning, flew to a Middle East destination, and then boarded an aircraft for JKF. They arrived in the United States on Saturday, December 18th. Berry Aviation, an American charter airline based in San Marcos, Texas provided funding for aviation related costs of the operation. “Dozens of Americans Rescued from Afghanistan, en route to New York”, New York Post, December 17, 2021.
Russians Evacuate 200 People. Three Russian military transport planes delivered humanitarian supplies to Afghanistan this past Saturday and flew back 200 Russians, Afghan students, and others to Russia. The planes were also carrying citizens of Kyrgyzstan – so a stopover was planned in that country on the return trip. The Afghan students are enrolled in Russian universities. “Russian military planes evacuate 200 people from Afghanistan”, The Washington Post, December 18, 2021.
Afghans Arrive in Australia. Hundreds of Afghan refugees have quietly been flow into Brisbane in recent weeks on Australian Defense Force contracted flights. Upon arrival they head to hotel quarantine. One flight arrived from Pakistan while another arrived from Qatar. (Courier Mail, December 20, 2021)
A Warm UK Welcome – For Some. The Home Office has tightened the criteria allowing Afghans to enter the United Kingdom to those who assisted British forces or worked with the government. The changes are to the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) and it narrows the criteria used during the Operation Pitting evacuation conducted at the Kabul airport in August 2021. “UK tightens criteria for Afghans to enter despite ‘warm welcome’ pledge”, The Guardian, December 14, 2021.
MeS Airport Update. Uzbekistan has sent specialists to help update the Mazar-i-Sharif airport in northern Afghanistan. A technical team of 30 people from Uzbekistan arrived in Afghanistan in early November to assist. (Radio Free Europe, Dec 18, 2021). In more airport news, it it is being reported that Turkey and Qatar may be assisting in the operation of five airports in Afghanistan in the future – a joint operation between the two countries assisting Afghanistan. “Turkey and Qatar may control five airports in Afghanistan”, Khaama Press, December 20, 2021.
Passport Update. Taliban officials say that they will begin issuing Afghan passports in Kabul. When the Taliban came to power in August they stopped operations in the passport office. In October the authorities reopened the Kabul passport office – however, the biometric equipment broke down. The Taliban now say that the technical issues have been resolved and those who have applied will soon see their travel documents. New applications will be accepted starting January 10th. “Taliban authorities resume issuing Afghan passports in Kabul“, December 2021. Electronic ID distribution will restart in Mazar-e-Sharif (Tolo News, Dec 16, 2021). See also “Taliban Says It Will Resume Passport Services in Afghanistan”, Radio Free Europe, Gandhara Blog, December 18, 2021.
Afghan Evacuee Resettlement
Life in Pakistan. Authorities in the country to the east of Afghanistan say that more than 300,000 Afghans took shelter in their country since the Taliban took power in August 2021. Pakistan would like the Afghans to return to their own country.
At the French Border. After unsuccessful attempts to get on a flight out of Kabul airport this past August an Afghan traveled through Iran, Turkey, Greece, and Italy to get to the French border. He uses his phone with GPS markers and map to attempt a crossing over the Alpine mountains to a refugee facility in France with an ultimate destination of Germany where he can, with the financial assistance of the German social network, start a new life. “Afghans push through snowy Alps toward new lives in Europe”, The Washington Post, December 17, 2021.
Afghan Commandos – Joining the British Army? The United Kingdom evacuated some of the Afghan special operations forces that it worked with in Afghanistan. Now the UK is considering a plan to create a SOF unit of former Afghan commandos in the British Army. For years Gurkhas from Nepal have been part of the British Army, so this is not a new concept. There are about 3,500 Gurkhas serving with the British today. (Business Insider, Dec 19, 2021).
White House – “6 Ways to Welcome Our Afghan Allies”. The Biden administration is pointing out six ways that the American people can welcome Afghan refugees into their communities. They include donate to local resettlement organization, donate unused airline miles, donate temporary housing, help meet needs on Welcome Exchange, offer a job, and form a sponsor circle. (White House, Dec 17, 2021).
A Broke Resettlement System. Lara Jakes reports on the difficulties Afghans at-risk encounter to obtain a visa to the U.S. and the resettlement system that is unprepared to receive them once in the United States. “At Every Step, Afghans Coming to America Encounter Stumbling Blocks”, The New York Times, December 19, 2021.
29,000 Still on U.S. Camps. There are still thousands of Afghans on seven U.S. military bases across the country. Progress is slow in resettling them into communities across the United States – primarily because of a lack of affordable housing. The pandemic is not helping either. “Afghan evacuees ponder future as U.S. empties camp sites”, Politico, December 20, 2021.
Afghan Refugees Watch ‘Nutcracker’ Ballet. Fort McCoy hosted a performance of “The Nutcracker” for guests in the camp housing Afghan refugees. Four shows of the holiday classic took place in a large warehouse on the base. The base once housed 13,000 refugees but the number has fallen to 7,000 as the Afghans have been resettled across America. “Afghan refugees at Fort McCoy cheer ‘Nutcracker’ ballet”, Military Times, December 19, 2021.
Islamabad Summit. Pakistan was the gathering spot for a number of representatives of many countries who attended an Extraordinary Session of the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers. The focus was on the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan. U.S. Special Representative Thomas West attended. “Afghan People at ‘Center’ of US Considerations: West”, Tolo News, December 18, 2021. The meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) lasted two days and also included representatives from the United Nations and international financial institutions. See also “Islamic countries seek response to Afghanistan emergency”, Reuters, December 19, 2021.
Afghan Envoy to UN Resigns. The Afghanistan ambassador to the United Nations resigned this past Wednesday (Dec 15th). He had been serving in that position since July 2021 when appointed by then President Ghani. “Afghanistan’s U.N. Envoy Heads for the Exit”, Foreign Policy, December 16, 2021. A new Envoy has been appointed. See “Naseer Ahmad Faiq becomes Afghanistan’s envoy to UN, replacing Isaczai”, Ariana News, December 17, 2021.
Life Under the Taliban
Taliban Targeting of Former ANDSF. A United Nations report has the details of the extra-judicial killings of more than 100 former national security forces and others associated with Afghanistan’s former government since its fall three months ago. “Taliban rule marked by killings, ‘litany of abuses’, UN says”, Aljazeera, December 14, 2021.
The Afghan War and a Family Divided. Two brothers took opposite sides during the Afghan conflict. One joined the Afghan National Army; the other joined the Taliban. “The Afghan Brothers Who Have Spent 9 Years Trying to Kill Each Other”, Vice.com, December 16, 2021.
Taliban Supporters in Pakistan Converge on Afghanistan. Between 5,000 and 10,000 people from Pakistan moved into Afghanistan in the past several months to augment the ranks for the Taliban fighters. “Taliban recruits flood into Afghanistan from neighboring Pakistan as the group works to consolidate control”, The Washington Post, December 18, 2021.
Marja Revisited. A district in Helmand province was heavily contested for years by U.S. Marines and the Taliban. At one point the battle for Marja district in 2010 had become an example of the U.S. clear, hold, and build concept for stabilizing Afghanistan. Now it is an impoverished district suffering from drought and a lack of food for its inhabitants. This southern district, like many of the other hundreds of districts spread across Afghanistan, depended on the foreign financial support for its provincial and district government and the many aid organizations that supported the Afghan economy and local government for two decades. That foreign aid is no longer coming. Now that the Taliban are in charge they are finding just how dependent Afghanistan was on foreign aid. “Once a Symbol of U.S. Strength, an Afghan District Now Faces Dire Times”, The New York Times, December 18, 2021.
Economy in Freefall. The UN Emergency Relief Coordinator told a special meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on Sunday that if decisive and compassionate action is not taken immediately the Afghan economy will collapse and millions of Afghans will suffer from starvation this winter. The struggling economy is worsened by a severe drought that has reduced the supplies of food. The cost of wheat and fuel are up by around 40 per cent and food now accounts for more than 80 per cent of the average household expenditure. “Afghanistan economy in ‘freefall’, threatening to take entire population with it”, UN News, December 19, 2021.
Afghan Currency Slides Downward. The value of the afghani is tumbling – making a devastated economy even worse. Food prices have gone up significantly; putting flour, sugar, cooking oil, and other food stuffs out of range of the jobless and homeless. “Afghan currency slides and prices surge as already battered economy worsens”, National Public Radio, December 17, 2021.
Dollar Smugglers Arrested. The Taliban have arrested suspects in a scheme to smuggle U.S. dollars into Pakistan. Smugglers buy dollars in Kabul and then smuggle it out of Afghanistan. This leads to a lack of dollars in cash and thus devalues the local currency. “Taliban arrest 21 Dollar-smugglers in Kabul exchange market”, Khaama Press, December 17, 2021.
New Afghan Budget. A draft national budget has been prepared that is funded without foreign aid. The budget will run to December 2022 once it has been approved by the Afghan cabinet. It is anticipated that the new budget will be one quarter of the size of the previous year’s budget. “Taliban prepare new Afghan budget without foreign aid”, Dawn, December 17, 2021.
Mining Operations Resumes at Mes Aynak. The copper-mining project in Logar province has been a major venture of the Chinese for over a decade. The Mes Aynak copper mine was once hoped to provide a boost to the Afghan economy but corruption and security problems plagued the operation. “Mining at Mes Aynak Has Resumed: Officials“, Tolo News, December 13, 2021.
Sanctions – A Deadly Option. Paul Speigel, the director of the Center for Humanitarian Health at John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, says that the Afghan health care system is on the verge of collapse. He recently spent five weeks in Afghanistan working as a consultant for the World Health Organization on an emergency surge team. He believes that if the U.S. and other Western governments do not change their Afghanistan sanction policies that more Afghans will die from sanctions than at the hands of the Taliban. Some basic health services have begun to function again under the management of WHO and UNICEF; but others, do not – and those medical centers and hospitals are lacking funding. “Hospitals are collapsing in Afghanistan. At this rate sanctions will kill more people than the Taliban”, The Washington Post, December 16, 2021.
Health Care – On the Brink. Elena Becatoros reports on the crisis in Afghanistan’s health care system that is only able to function with a lifeline from aid organizations. COVID is taxing the medical institutions due to a lack of equipment, parts, oxygen, and other basic supplies. Afghanistan is a country heavily dependent upon foreign aid. When the Taliban took over the government foreign donations dried up and the consequences have been devastating. Some doctors and medical staff continue to work without pay. “Afghanistan’s health care system on the brink of collapse”, AP News, December 16, 2021.
Ghor Hospital – On the Front Line. Secunder Kermani describes the plight of patients seeking medical assistance from an understaffed and under resourced hospital in Ghor province. The war may be over but the economy has collapsed and the hospital is struggling to cope with the fallout. “On the front line as Afghan children battle malnutrition and measles”, BBC News, December 15, 2021.
From Uzbekistan to Ukraine? There are rumors on social media that the Biden administration may be planning to redirect helicopters once destined for the Afghan Air Force to Ukraine’s military. Something to watch for.
Afghanistan War Commission Act. Many veteran organizations are still seeking both closure and accountability for America’s longest war. Congress has included the Afghanistan War Commission Act in the passage of the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The purpose is that the final report – due in three years – will lead to accountability for U.S. mistakes in Afghanistan as well as provide valuable lessons for U.S. policymakers in future conflicts. One key topic will be the manner in which U.S. military forces withdrew from Afghanistan which contributed to the collapse of the ANDSF and fall of the Afghan government. Another topic of interest will be the chaotic non-combatant evacuation operation at Kabul airport in August 2021. “Veterans and bi-partisan group of lawmakers look forward to Afghan war commission”, Military Times, December 17, 2021.
Commentary, Analysis, and Opinion
China and South Asian Policy. With the ascent of the Taliban to power in Afghanistan China is now faced with the challenge (or opportunity) to rebalance its relations between India and Pakistan. China may decide to take a more leading role in Afghanistan; rather than leaving matters in the hands of Pakistan. “The Afghan Debacle Should Prompt China to Revise its South Asia Policy”, RUSI, December 13, 2021.
Defusing the Afghan Mines – And Saving Lives. For a relatively small investment in de-mining the Biden administration could mitigate a growing threat and put 5,000 Afghans to work. Afghanistan has an unexploded ordnance problem – some from the Soviet occupation era and some from the last 20 years. The Taliban laid thousands of IEDs and landmines across Afghanistan but seldom mapped their deployment and many times never recovered them. There is a possible solution that can reduce the impact of this problem – and it is called Halo Trust – an Anglo-American NGO that has been actively clearing IEDs in Afghanistan. “The State Department Must Defuse Afghanistan’s Unexploded Ordinance Problem”, The National Interest, December 17, 2021.
Kirby Rejects Mohib Statement on Doha Agreement. The former Afghan ambassador to the United States and former national security advisor under ex-president Ashraf Ghani has said that the Doha Agreement between the United States and the Taliban led to the collapse of the Afghan government. John Kirby, the US Pentagon press secretary disagrees. “Pentagon Responds to Mobib’s Comments on Govt Collapse”, Tolo News, December 18, 2021.
Books, Reports, Podcasts, and Videos
Video – Australian NEO in Kabul August 2021. Lieutenant Sam Burston was a non-combatant evacuation operation platoon commander in Afghanistan during the Kabul airlift. He is interviewed about the operation in this 23 minute broadcast. The Cove, December 15, 2021.
Podcast – The Future of Coalition Building and Irregular Warfare. The coalition of nations that was united in the mission to stabilize Afghanistan, build governance, and assist the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) and the security institutions (MoI and MoD) lasted for almost two decades. Each of these nations had their own national goals and internal political dynamics. This played out in the form of ‘national caveats’ – something the coalition leader had to contend with in Afghanistan. Keeping the coalition intact was a task that required some determined diplomacy and a sophisticated understanding of what each country brought to the table. One particular case that illustrates this is the circumstances then General John Allen had to face in 2012 with the numerous insider attacks against NATO and partner nations. LTG (Ret) Douglas Lute and former Australian Ambassador Duncan Lewis are the guests that discuss the topic of coalition building in this podcast. Strength in Numbers: The Future of Coalition Building and Irregular Warfare, Modern War Institute, December 17, 2021. Listen to the podcast, 55 minutes.
Photo: Space Force Lt. Col. Adam Howland, Task Force Liberty lead culture advisor and former Afghan Hand, shows his patches to an Afghan boy at Liberty Village, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., Sept. 7, 2021. (Photo by Army Specialist James Liker).