Ukraine Update: 22 January, 2022 (Late Afternoon)

The US State Department is ordering family members of US Embassy and consulate personnel in Ukraine to prepare for evacuation from the country beginning on Monday. American citizens who are currently in Ukraine for their own reasons will be advised to leave on commercial flights while those remain open and available. The announcement concerning dependents came a few short hours before the first US shipment of weapons and other material arrived in Ukraine.

The talks between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday seem to have set the stage for the next phase of this crisis to commence. Despite the mutual promises to continue discussions aimed at defusing the current crisis, it is clear Washington has accepted the fact there will be some type of Russian military operation aimed at Ukraine in the coming days or weeks. On the flip side, Russia has accepted that the United States has no intention of discussing its security concerns candidly. The State Department has delayed giving the official US response to Russia’s security proposals in the hopes a deal could be reached. With hopes for a deal fading, State Department has announced the official reply will be delivered to the Russian government this coming week.

US shipments of weapons and other types of war material now underway and expected to increase as time goes on. Most of the 200,000 pounds of aid consists of small arms ammunition. Javelin anti-tank missiles will start to arrive in Ukraine next week, from the Baltics, as well as from US stockpiles in other parts of Europe.  

AFGHANISTAN UPDATE: 28 AUGUST, 2021

The British evacuation operations at Kabul Airport have come to a close today with the final departure of a flight carrying Afghan civilians. On the ground at the airport, the US is entering the final phase of its own operations before the 31 August withdrawal date. US commanders continue to stress that the probability of another attack on the airport remains considerable following a limited number of US drone strikes that have killed a handful of high-profile ISIS-K members. As of 1430 hours, Eastern time today, over 117,000 people have been evacuated from the country. Of this number, 5,400 are American citizens. The number of US troops currently deployed to the airport is declining as well. There are now 4,000 troops on the ground there, down from a highwater mark of 5,800 reached earlier in the week.

Recent reports from Kabul seem to suggest the Taliban and Turkey are close to reaching an agreement on Kabul airport. Under the proposed agreement, Turkey and Qatar will operate Kabul Airport, with Turkey expected to provide security through a private firm employing mostly ex-Turkish troops. This move is similar to one Turkey executed during the Azerbaijan-Armenia war last year. In exchange for permission to assume responsibility for airport operations, Turkey is expected to formally recognize the Taliban government. This will make Turkey the first nation to extend diplomatic recognition to the Taliban.

In Afghanistan, the Afghan State Bank has ordered all banks to open under an emergency framework intended to solve the liquidity crisis. The long term fate of Afghani banks remains up in the air, however. The Taliban is unlikely to allow interest-based banks to operate as they have been doing for some time. A Sharia-compliant banking system will have to be designed to replace the traditional banking system now in place. The Taliban government has made it clear it wants monetary affairs to be governed by the Sharia laws.

Afghanistan Update: 27 August, 2021 10:00 AM Eastern

After yesterday’s twin suicide bombings that killed 90+ people including 13 US troops, air operations have resumed, and the evacuation is again underway. The operation has reached its final phase with the United States planning to remain until 31 August if necessary. Many other Western nations have brought their operations to a close or will do so by the weekend. Canada, Spain and Germany have both ended evacuation flights. France will halt its operation today. As many nations wind down their respective operations, Turkey is in discussions with the Taliban over the future of Kabul airport once international forces depart. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has said his government’s talks have centered on Turkey running the airport. For the short term at least, Kabul’s airport needs to remain operational if Afghanistan’s new leaders are to have a functional relationship with the outside world. Turkish troops and equipment have been a part of NATO’s commitment.

In the United States, the Biden administration is contending with heavy blowback after yesterday’s suicide bombings. President Biden’s handling of the Afghan crisis has come under close scrutiny and received significant criticism from the US public. Last night after Biden addressed the nation he followed up by taking questions from the reporters on hand. Unfortunately, the president started off with a shocking admission: “Ladies and gentlemen, they gave me a list here. The first person I was instructed to call on was Kelly O’Donnell from NBC.” That statement ignited a firestorm on social media with many people wanting to know just who is calling the shots at the White House. Biden has long relied on a list of pre-selected reporters, however, yesterday’s admission, coming hours after the deaths of 13 US soldiers struck a decidedly sour note with some. Biden did state last night that the US is committed to completing the evacuation and promised ISIS-K will be targeted in the future.

Afghanistan Update: 9 PM (eastern Time) 15 August, 2021

It’s over. The collapse of the Afghan government is now complete. Ashraf Ghani is in exile, and the Taliban have almost complete control of Kabul. Afghanistan has been declared the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan by its new Taliban leaders.  In an exclusive press conference given to al-Jazeera from the captured presidential palace, Taliban leaders explained that their main goal is to create an “open, inclusive Islamic government.” ISIS made similar claims in the early days of its rise and those words were empty of sincerity and meaning. Expect nothing more from these statements by Taliban leaders. Right now it’s about public relations with the group eager to obtain recognition for its new state. Unlike 1996, there will be a handful of nation-states that will be consider recognizing Afghanistan’s new government. China and Iran are the two most recognizable ones.

At Kabul’s airport, the evacuation continues on as additional US forces arrive and the security perimeter there is reinforced and expanded. The main concern at the moment appears to be securing the airport’s runways and facilities. Hundreds of Afghans have already attempted to rush the airfield. The security situation has deteriorated to the point that the Pentagon to double the number of troops assigned to the airport security operation from 3,000 to 6,000. There are also British troops in Kabul, contributing to the operation. Canada had promised to send a contingent of its own troops to Kabul to assist in evacuating the Canadian embassy staff, however I’m unaware if they’re on the ground now or not.

In the coming days and weeks there will be a lot of speculation about Afghanistan’s future and the effect the Afghan collapse will have on US interests in the region and around the world. It’s still to early to provide definitive answers, but the future doesn’t appear bright for the Afghan people under Taliban rule, to say the least. The same holds true for US foreign policy and the Biden administration. Try as he might, Joe Biden cannot deflect blame for this catastrophe onto his predecessor.

As for this blog, Afghan updates will continue for at least another day. Then we’ll move on to events in other parts of the world, and later in the week the North Korean Collapse project will resume.

Afghanistan Update: 12 PM (Eastern Time), 15 August, 2021

This morning’s news from Kabul provides a textbook example of the final hours of a government’s collapse. With Taliban fighters having entered the Afghan capital, reports circulated indicating Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has fled the country along with his vice president and other senior officials. These reports were later confirmed and at present Ghani is in neighboring Tajikistan. A caretaker cadre of officials has remained behind to ‘coordinate the transition’ of power from the Afghan government to the Taliban. Events taking place in Kabul are moving swiftly. As the hours go by, more areas of Kabul are coming under Taliban control. It is safe to assume the city will be in their hands entirely within a matter of hours.

Meanwhile, efforts to evacuate the US embassy continue. Helicopters have been ferrying personnel from the embassy compound to Kabul’s international airport. All senior diplomats have been relocated to the airport and the US State Department has announced the embassy will close once all personnel have departed.

With victory on the ground now imminent, the Taliban has launched a public relations offensive aimed at reassuring Afghans. A Taliban spokesman has told Western reporters that there will be no revenge against the Afghan people. Other representatives have been driving through Kabul and telling citizens that their lives and properties are safe. As the eyes of the world are now locked upon Kabul, Taliban officials are crafting an image centered on peaceful transition efforts and reconciliation. It is a dog and pony show to an extent, of course. Most people are aware that once the Taliban is in power and the world’s attention drifts away, the Taliban’s true colors will emerge.

The next update will be posted sometime in the late afternoon or early evening. (Eastern Time)