Topics: News about Afghanistan, immigration, resettlement, humanitarian crisis, commentary, books, podcasts, events, Abbey Gate investigation, protests in EHC UAE, Camp Bondsteel, NRF, IS-KP, recognition of the Taliban, hiding in Afghanistan, Afghan funds released, Bagram Air Field, OTH CT, and more.
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Abbey Gate Investigation. In August 2021 during the final chaotic days of the Kabul non-combatant evacuation operation a suicide bomber detonated his explosive vest killing 13 U.S. service members and over 170 Afghans at the Abbey Gate of the Kabul airport. Central Command conducted an intensive investigation of the incident. CENTCOM recently conducted a detailed briefing about the Abbey Gate explosion and they have also declassified its report on the incident. You can read the CENTCOM memo and findings dated 15 September 2021, PDF, 53 pages.
More on Abbey Gate. Jeff Schogol provides more details on the Abbey Gate bombing in “Americans were promised an ‘orderly and safe’ withdrawal from Afghanistan. US troops say it was anything but”, Task & Purpose, February 10, 2022. When questioned about the DoD report on Abbey Gate President Biden says he rejected the accounts in the document. Apparently he is relying on key staffers like Curtis Reid (NSC fellow with no clue) and Secretary Blinken (who bears responsibility for most of the Kabul NEO mess). No surprise there. (The Washington Post, Feb 10, 2022).
DoS Flights – Not Happening. Very few relocation flights have taken place in the last few months. The only Department of State supported flight from Kabul to Doha took place on January 26, 2022. Prior to that the latest flight had been in late November. Several flights scheduled since January 26th have been cancelled. The State Department’s reliance on the Kabul to Doha route using Qatar Airways has proven disastrous to those lawful permanent residents and Afghans with Special Immigrant Visas who desire to leave Afghanistan. Some would say that the one route that State is relying on is a case of ‘putting all your eggs in one basket’.
Temporary Protective Status (TPS) for Afghans. There are some recent social media posts about the Biden admin thinking of providing Temporary Protected Status for Afghans. Some say this is a good development but others say that it will derail Congressional action on the Afghan Adjustment Act. The various Afghan advocacy groups appear to be less than united on this issue. Surely there will be a lot of discussion about this in the near future.
Protests in EHC UAE Against DoS. Some Afghans have been stuck in the Emirates Humanitarian City (EHC) for almost six months. During the height of the Kabul NEO in August 2021 the ‘lily pads’ where the United States were flying desperate Afghans reached full capacity. The United Arab Emirates stepped up and offered to temporarily support, house, and feed Afghans evacuated from the Kabul airport on a temporary basis until they found their way to Europe and the United States. Some Afghans arrived in EHC in August after being put on both charter and military planes by U.S. military personnel at Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA). Some arrived after August on private charters organized by Afghan evac organizations. The Department of Defense ‘lily pads’ in Kuwait, Kosovo, Germany, Spain, and Italy are now empty. There are just a few thousand on the U.S. facilities in Doha, Qatar. However, very little movement has occurred for the 12,000 Afghans stuck in EHC and they are losing hope. Some of the refugees staged a protest (video clip on Instagram) against the United States asking why they are being ignored. “Afghan refugees in UAE protest at halt to U.S. relocation process”, Reuters, February 10, 2022.
Afghans Stuck at Camp Bondsteel. About 90 Afghans who were evacuated from Afghanistan are sitting at a U.S. military camp for Afghan refugees in Kosovo. They have been there a while and their stay is likely to be long as they are going through a security vetting process. “Afghans Housed at Military Base in Kosovo Risk Being Denied Entry to U.S. for Alleged Terrorist Ties”, The Wall Street Journal, January 21, 2022.
Military Transit Camps in U.S. – Shutting Down. Apparently the U.S. government believes that the exodus of lawful permanent residents and Afghans with Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) from Afghanistan is concluded. Only two of the eight military installations that had temporary camps set up to receive, house, support, and process Afghans who have departed Afghanistan remain open. They will likely be closed within a week. Certainly this is not an encouraging sign for the thousands of Afghans who have approved or pending SIV applications. So is the Biden administration ready to declare ‘mission accomplished’?
Afghans in Albania. Somewhat out of the news is the fate of thousands of Afghans who were flown to Europe during August 2021 and the months afterwards. Albania has graciously hosted the Afghans . . . on a temporary basis. However, the Afghans are looking forward to resettling in the United States or other European countries. Thus far the Department of State has made little progress in identifying and screening those who would ‘qualify’ for entry into the U.S.
News About Afghanistan
The Resistance. Isolated reports of fighting between the Taliban and those who oppose the regime continues. Amrullah Saleh, a leader of the exiled Afghan resistance, called for elections to give the Afghans, not the Taliban, control of the future. Saleh is referred to as the ‘Caretaker President’. The National Resistance Front is led by Ahmad Massoud, the son of the Northern Alliance leader killed in a terrorist assassination two days before 9/11. “Former Afghan VP: ‘We Will Resist Until Our Aim is Achieved'”, by Lynne O’Donnell, Foreign Policy, February 10, 2022.
IS-KP. The Taliban claim to have defeated the Islamic State’s Afghan chapter – known as the Islamic State – Khorasan Province. However the insurgent / terrorist group is still very active. IS-KP appeared several years back and has always openly opposed and attacked the Taliban. Franz J. Marty, a freelance journalist in Kabul, reports in “Is the Taliban’s Campaign Against the Islamic State Working?”, The Diplomat, February 10, 2022. See also, “ISIS-K nearly doubled in size following Taliban prison releases: United Nations”, Washington Examiner, February 10, 2022.
Russia Edging Toward Recognition of the TB. Russia’s special representative for Afghanistan says that Afghan diplomats may be heading to Russia to work in the country’s embassy. “Taliban willing to send diplomats to Afghan embassy in Russia”, Khaama Press, February 11, 2022. See also “Afghan envoy to Moscow could stay on: Kabuloz”, Ariana News, February 11, 2022.
International Engagement. The Taliban emissaries are on the road . . . flying to European and Middle East capitals holding talks with foreign diplomats. Next up is a visit to Turkey. “Norway, Turkey to hold talks with Taliban in near future”, Khaama Press, February 11, 2022.
Life Under the Taliban
Hiding from the Taliban. Every since Kabul fell to the Taliban members of the Afghan SOF, intelligence agencies, and air force have been in evading arrest by the Taliban. For many who are detained, torture and death are their fate. Tens of thousands of Afghans who fought in the Afghan Army or who worked for the U.S. military in a support, staff, or interpreter role are now at risk and pleading for help to leave Afghanistan. Many Afghan allies, including members of the Afghan National Army Special Operations Command (ANASOC), judges, subcontractors, and human rights advocates are seeking refugee status through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. “In hiding from Taliban, Afghans who helped U.S. struggle to escape”, USA Today, February 10, 2022.
“So he is stuck in his war-torn homeland, unable to break through the bureaucratic maze of the U.S. visa and refugee systems nearly six months after President Joe Biden’s chaotic U.S. withdrawal.”
Poverty in Rural Areas. Over the past several decades one thing remains constant in some of the remote, rural districts of Afghanistan. Long time poverty and a lack of government services. Read more in “Long neglected, Afghan villagers look to outside world for aid”, The Christian Science Monitor, January 27, 2022.
Humanitarian Assistance and Economy
Biden: Afghan Funds Decision. President Joe Biden has decided to move over $7 billion of the Afghan central bank’s assets frozen in the U.S. banking system to fund humanitarian relief in Afghanistan and to compensate victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks. $3.5 billion will go for Afghan relief and basic needs. “Biden to split frozen Afghan funds for 9/11 victims, relief”, Military Times, February 11, 2022.
Helping Afghans and Stopping Starvation. More than half of Afghanistan’s population has inadequate access to food. Over one million children risk dying of hunger. Aziz Amin argues that the Taliban, National Resistance Front (NRF), and Western nations need to make some necessary political compromises to alleviate the misery. The Taliban need to create a government that is more inclusive, the NRF needs to stop calls for armed resistance, and the West has to lift sanctions on the Afghan banking system and unfreeze assets so that the Afghans can have access to their own money. “How to Stop Afghans From Starving”, War on the Rocks, February 11, 2022.
Commentary, Analysis, and Opinion
Syria Raid, OTH CT, and Afghanistan. The successful raid by U.S. special operations forces against the head of a terrorist organization in Syria was hailed by many in the Biden administration and some national security ‘experts’ as evidence that the U.S. maintains an over the horizon capability to conduct special operations counterterrorist strikes. They contend that this proves the withdrawal from Afghanistan does not inhibit the U.S. ability to find and strike terrorist targets in that country. Well . . . not so much. Bruce Hoffman and Jacob Ware explain why in “Biden’s Syria strike is an important win – but underscores the folly of leaving Afghanistan”, The Hill, February 8, 2022.
Bagram Air Field – A Lost Opportunity. The Defense Department has a reputation for being very proficient in developing contingency plans for all types of emergencies and crisis situations. However, the DoD fell short when it came to the Kabul NEO. Senior leaders should have pushed back against the Department of States refusal to order a timely non-combatant evacuation operation, should have insisted on more than 600 troops in country, and should have insisted on keeping Bagram Air Base open until the evacuation was complete. The chaos that resulted from senior DoD officials not standing their ground was avoidable. “Basic Air Force Planning MIA in Afghan Withdrawal Debacle”, by John Venable, The Heritage Foundation, January 20, 2022.
Press Conference on Afghan Adjustment Act. Veterans, refugee advocates, and Afghan evacuees will hold a press conference to urge members of Congress to pass an Afghan Adjustment Act. As a result of the U.S.’s hurried evacuation, the vast majority of Afghan evacuees were admitted to the country on a short-term status known as Humanitarian Parole (HP). However, HP does not provide a direct pathway to legal permanent status. The Afghan Adjustment Act would solve this thorny issue for Afghans evacuees and an over-burdened immigration system. Some of the participants include Shawn VanDiver (Veteran and Founder of #AfghanEvac), Matt Zeller (Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America), and others. The press conference will take place on Monday, February 14, at 11:00 am ET.
Transitional Justice Denied. Ariane Luessen argues that one factor in the failure of the Afghanistan government collapse to the Taliban in the summer of 2021 was the absence of ‘transitional justice’ in the period after 2001. Influential international actors and the Afghan government put forth the contention that pursing justice could disturb the fragile peace attained in 2002. Luessen believes that the alleged trade-off of peace and justice and the denial of transitional justice has hindered the achievement of sustainable peace. Read more in “No Peace Without Justice: The Denial of Transitional Justice in Post-2001 Afghanistan”, E-International Relations, February 7, 2022.
Online Event: The Journey From SIV to American. Americans for Our Afghans, Fletcher School Afghan Evacuation Group. This online event features Ahmad Shah – an Afghan who came to the United States as a Special Immigrant Visa after working with United States armed forces in Afghanistan in 2009. He applied for a SIV in 2012 and moved to the United States in 2014 with his wife and two children. Event takes place Friday, February 18, 2022 at 10:00 am EST.
Photo: An Afghan guest speaks with a Task Force Liberty member at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, January 7, 2022, about her upcoming school semester before departing Task Force Liberty on a college scholarship. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Matthew B. Fredericks.