Leaders of the G7 nations are set to meet today via video conference to discuss the tumult in Afghanistan and the challenges facing the West now with that nation under Taliban control. According to sources, one goal of the conference will be to reach a consensus on the matter of whether to recognize the Taliban government or apply sanctions on it. Yet the most crucial matter to be discussed will be the upcoming 31 August deadline that had been set by the United States for the withdrawal of military forces. France, Germany and Great Britain have publicly talked about a need to extend that deadline in order to make certain an orderly exit from Afghanistan occurs. These nations are already applying pressure on the Biden administration on the matter and is expected to continue in the upcoming conference. The Taliban consider the withdrawal date to be a red line and have warned against the prospect of the US extending the deadline. Still, the Biden administration is in talks behind the scenes with the Taliban. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan has said the administration is “engaging with the Taliban, consulting with the Taliban on every aspect of what’s happening in Kabul right now.”
The Taliban hasn’t been amenable to the prospect of an extended deadline date and are warning of consequences if the West attempts to do so. “It’s a red line. President Biden announced that on Aug. 31 they would withdraw all their military forces. So if they extend it, that means they are extending occupation while there is no need for that,” Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said in an interview with Sky News.
This is where the carrot and stick approach might come in handy for the G7. They could extend an offer of recognition to the Taliban in exchange for extending the deadline and keeping Kabul’s airport open for evacuation flights. On the flip side there would be an implied threat of sanctions in the event the 31 August date remains inflexible.
As the Afghan debacle continued to unfold, the incompetence demonstrated by the Biden administration continues to defy logic. Politics aside, there were opportunities to change the script in the previous weeks, so to speak, and make certain the forces and capabilities were on hand to conduct a major evacuation from a rapidly crumbling Afghanistan. The White House simply couldn’t be bothered. Now, instead of admitting its mistakes, the Biden administration continues to point the finger and lay blame on a myriad of people and organizations while being careful not to accept a shred of responsibility. Even the excuses are becoming more desperate and asinine. In his first interview since Kabul fell over the weekend, Biden even claimed that he believed there was no way the departure of US troops could’ve been handled better. Meanwhile, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has admitted that US forces do not have the numbers or capability to go out into the countryside and gather large numbers of civilians who are eligible for the government flights out of Kabul. He also said that Taliban checkpoints were permitting U.S. citizens through to reach the airport. The fate of eligible Afghan citizens, on the other hand, is unknown.
Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s exiled leader Ashraf Ghani and his family have arrived in the UAE. That nation’s government is welcoming them on humanitarian grounds. Ghani continues to claim that he left Afghanistan to avoid bloodshed and chaos. He claims that he is currently in talks to return to the country but did not reveal any details. Even if he is permitted to return, it is not likely that Ghani will be welcomed back with open arms. Many Afghan politicians are bitter about him leaving the country. Even US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told journalists today that Ghani is “no longer a figure in Afghanistan.”
This will be a wrap for the daily Afghan updates, at least for the time being. Tomorrow’s post will look at Taiwan and China’s increasingly aggressive moves in the waters and air around that island nation in the aftermath of events in Afghanistan. Then this weekend I’ll catch up with the August DIRT project and discuss how some of the lessons and warnings from the Afghan situation might also apply to North Korea.
President Joe Biden spoke publicly today about the situation in Afghanistan. Biden made remarks to the nation but took no questions from reporters. Instead, the president made a quick exit off the stage and then returned to Camp David. Biden returned to the White House as pressure was increasing on him to address events in Afghanistan. Biden laid blame for the swift collapse on a number of people and organizations, including the Afghan military. It was only a month ago when Biden assured Americans that Afghan troops were ready to take over for US forces. Biden went on to say he stood behind the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan but admitted his administration was surprised by the pace of the Taliban’s advance. The president also said he has made it clear that any attempt by the Taliban to disrupt evacuation operations at the airport will be met with force.
At Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport, air operations resumed a short time ago. All flights were halted earlier in the day after hundreds of Afghans attempted to board departing flights that carried foreign nationals. The scene on the ramp dissolved into chaos and forced the suspension of flights while US troops moved in to control the crowd and make certain the airport grounds were secure afterward. The Biden administration has ordered an additional 1,000 troops to Afghanistan to reinforce the units now there. These troops will come from the battalion of paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division that is now in Kuwait.
On the international front, Russia has let it be known that the establishment of diplomatic relations with the Taliban will depend on their actions now and in the coming weeks. Russian Ambassador to Afghanistan Dmitry Zhirnov will meet with a representative of the Taliban Tuesday to discuss the security of the Russian diplomatic mission. China’s adopting a more open position by stating it is willing to develop ‘friendly relations’ with Afghanistan’s new leaders. “China respects the right of the Afghan people to independently determine their own destiny and is willing to continue to develop … friendly and cooperative relations with Afghanistan,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told journalists in Beijing earlier today.
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.
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)