US President Joe Biden and Russian leader Vladimir Putin spoke for an hour this morning. Although an administration official has said the discussion was “professional and substantive” the conversation has not changed the situation. “The two presidents agreed that our teams will stay engaged in the days ahead,” the official said. “Russia may decide to proceed with military action anyway. Indeed, that is a distinct possibility if it does the damage to Ukraine, European security and yes, Russia will be profound.” It has been accepted in Washington that military action is imminent at this point despite the threats of economic sanctions which have dominated Western responses in recent weeks. The main question remaining is: When will Russia move?
US officials have stated off the record that Wednesday is the most probable time for the commencement of hostilities. Personally, I’m in agreement. The exercises in Belarus and the Black Sea will both be reaching points where the it will be difficult for Western intelligence to determine if movements and actions are a part of the scripted exercises or the lead up to hostilities. Wednesday is not a given, either. An attack could be launched before then or after. In all likelihood, Putin’s original plan was probably not to attack after the Olympic games in Beijing ended. But given recent events, moving sooner will be beneficial. Russia’s strategic objectives have not changed, yet the fact NATO is now moving additional military forces into Eastern Europe gives him the incentive to start operations as soon as possible. Wednesday is most probable; however, it could come earlier in the week.
Today, the US State Department has ordered an additional reduction of personnel for the US Embassy in Kiev. With the threat of war looming, and US citizens having been warned to leave Ukraine immediately, this move was expected. A core team of diplomats and personnel (what was formerly called a skeleton staff) will remain in place at the embassy but it will not be enough to coordinate evacuation procedures for US citizens there after hostilities begin. The Pentagon has also ordered the withdrawal of 150 Florida National Guardsmen who have been in Ukraine since later 2021 as part of a training mission. Great Britain is also withdrawing its troops who have been training Ukrainian forces.
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.
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)
Merry Christmas! Well, a slightly belated Merry Christmas, but a sincere greeting nonetheless. 😊 I hope that all of you enjoyed the holiday. I know this has not been the most typical Holiday Season, but most of us are trying to do the best we can, given the present circumstances. The last week has been active on the international front. As we look forward to the final full week of 2020, some long running dramas are coming to a close while hints of what may loom on the horizon are starting to show.
Foremost is the Brexit finality. Negotiators from Great Britain and the European Union have agreed on a Brexit deal with less than a week remaining before the transition period ends. With a deal now in place the prospect of a messy, disruptive no-deal Brexit can now be laid to rest. The majority of outstanding issues between the UK and EU have been settled and compromises reached.
Now comes the point in time for all of the pundits and talking heads to find a new angle that satisfies their “Brexit is Bad” bylines. Some journalists have made a career out of predicting for the past four years how Brexit would never come about for a myriad of reasons. Instead of admitting the were wrong, eating crow and moving on to a new subject, they’re going to beat the dead Brexit horse for the time being. Oh well, no surprise there.
Iranian proxy groups in Iraq have been busy over the past ten days. Responsibility for the failed rocket attack on the US embassy in Baghdad was placed on Iranian shoulders by the Trump administration. Tehran has, naturally, denied playing a role in the attack. Despite its insistence, Iranian involvement is very likely. The Iranian government has been seeking a way to strike back at the US following a year in which Iran has not been able to respond effectively to US, Saudi, and Israeli actions in the region. There’s growing concern that the Iranians are preparing to conduct a fresh wave of attacks against US and Israeli targets. The one-year anniversary of Qassem Soleimani could be used as an occasion to begin these attacks.