August 27, 2021

Bombing in Kabul

“Two suicide bombers and gunmen attacked crowds of Afghans flocking to Kabul’s airport Thursday, transforming a scene of desperation into one of horror in the waning days of an airlift for those fleeing the Taliban takeover. The attacks killed at least 60 Afghans and 13 U.S. troops, Afghan and U.S. officials said… The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the killings.” AP News

Here’s our recent coverage of Afghanistan. The Flip Side

See past issues

From the Left

The left argues that some violence was to be expected, and is divided about whether the withdrawal should be delayed.

“How, exactly, did the Biden administration’s critics think U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan was ever going to end?… Did you see the Taliban waiting patiently while the U.S.-trained Afghan army escorted U.S. citizens, other NATO nationals and our Afghan collaborators to the airport for evacuation? Did you imagine that the country’s branch of the Islamic State would watch peacefully from the sidelines, or that regional warlords would renounce any hope of regaining their power, or that a nation with a centuries-old tradition of rejecting central authority would suddenly embrace it?…

“Should we have begun airlifting Afghan translators and others who helped the allied effort out of the country earlier, perhaps using the now-abandoned air base at Bagram as the departure gate? Maybe so, but such an evacuation might have created a panic — ‘The Americans are leaving!’ — and a target both of the Taliban and ISIS…

“This is not an apologia for the tragic and chaotic scenes that have been unfolding in Kabul. Rather, it is a reality check. If there is a graceful, orderly way to abandon involvement in a brutal, unresolved civil war on the other side of the world, please cite historical precedents. I can’t find them.”
Eugene Robinson, Washington Post

“The administration has acknowledged that the Afghan government collapsed far faster than intelligence analysts and most military and diplomatic experts had anticipated. Fair enough. But the truth is that the Afghan government had itself urged against a mass evacuation, fearing that the sight of thousands of Afghans leaving on planes would undermine the already shaky confidence in the government of President Ashraf Ghani and his Western-backed forces…

“Our view is that every [Afghan who worked with the US] should be given support in leaving. That effort must not, and will not, end after Aug. 31. The U.S. has already pledged to get out every Afghan who has been granted a special immigrant visa. Because of unforgivable bureaucratic delays, not every deserving Afghan has been granted such a visa. But at this point, the Taliban is not allowing Afghans without paperwork to reach the Kabul airport. So staying at the airport beyond Tuesday would be futile… We support Biden’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan by Aug. 31, and his insistence on sticking to that deadline.”
Sewell Chan, Los Angeles Times

Critics, however, argue that “To leave now or on any imminent timetable would concede further public relations victories to ISIS-K… and to the Taliban as well. Although the Taliban and ISIS are not known to coordinate their efforts, and in fact have fought each other in the past, they share a common and publicly stated desire to drive the United States out of Afghanistan as soon as possible…

“The United States needs to rescue its people and close friends, demonstrate its resolve, and regain its foreign-policy footing after a catastrophic decision to leave made by the president. At a time of fear and uncertainty, we need to keep those core goals in mind… remaining for at least another month can constitute real leverage.”
Michael O’Hanlon, USA Today

“In time, Biden will doubtlessly find someone to punish. Too much has gone wrong to leave voters with the impression that there wasn’t any accountability. But demoting or disempowering or reassigning someone immediately only obscures the uncomfortable reality that mistakes in Afghanistan spanned four presidencies, resulting in lives needlessly lost and taxpayer money inexcusably wasted.”
Peter Nicholas, The Atlantic

From the Right

The right blames the violence on the poorly executed withdrawal, and calls for retaliation against the attackers.

The right blames the violence on the poorly executed withdrawal, and calls for retaliation against the attackers.

“Even after the collapse of the Afghan military, Mr. Biden could have introduced enough force to retake the large Bagram air base, which is further from Kabul and has two runways and a larger security perimeter… [or] he could have provided more force protection for the [Kabul] airport…

“Mr. Biden has said over the last two weeks that he chose to withdraw from Afghanistan to avoid more casualties. Yet the 13 American deaths—12 Marines and a Navy medic—are more American deaths in Afghanistan than in all of 2020 when thousands of U.S. troops were in the country advising Afghan forces. By one count they are the most U.S. troops killed in a day since 2011… The Kabul airport massacre compounds the humiliation of the botched Afghan withdrawal and will further embolden jihadists.”
Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

“The execution of this operation has been plagued by organizational and bureaucratic screwups that are either laughable or horrifying: the State Department advertised job openings in Kabul just before the evacuation, and the U.S. military handed safe-passage lists of Afghan allies to the Taliban, to name just two examples…

“The execution of a policy that Biden supported for years looks like a complete improvisation by a national-security bureaucracy that wanted to pretend it had no idea Biden would make this decision. This operation was never going to go smoothly, but we will need to know, in the aftermath of the biggest single day of U.S. casualties in 10 years, whether it had to be this bad.”
Tom Nichols, The Atlantic

“How does Biden propose to hunt anyone down in Afghanistan? It was difficult enough to hunt down Osama bin Laden when we had a huge force in that country. Indeed, we never caught up with the 9/11 mastermind while he was in that country. With no military presence in Afghanistan and no Afghans in their right mind willing to work with us again, it seems unlikely that we can hunt down anyone there…

“Maybe Biden will rely on intelligence from the Taliban. Such reliance would be consistent with his approach to the entire surrender. It’s conceivable that the Taliban will want the U.S. to strike at some rival group of terrorists. Whether, in this improbable scenario, the Taliban would give us accurate information is very much in doubt.”
Paul Mirengoff, Power Line Blog

“First, we should inform the Taliban that the United States holds it responsible for this attack. It established a ring of checkpoints surrounding [the] airport. It controlled who got in and who did not… Second, we should inform the Taliban that because its failure to prevent this attack has delayed the evacuation, we will not be leaving on Aug. 31 — and will not set another arbitrary deadline for withdrawal. We will depart once every American, and every Afghan ally, has been evacuated — and not a moment sooner…

“Third, we should inform the Taliban that since it failed to establish a secure perimeter at the airport, we will do so. We are also retaking Bagram air base so that we have another airfield to use for evacuations. And we will be conducting missions across the country to retrieve stranded Americans and their Afghan allies. Any interference in these operations will have severe consequences…

“If Biden fails to act decisively in response to this attack, and withdraws next Tuesday as scheduled, he will embolden our enemies to carry out even more deadly attacks once we have left Afghanistan. To do so would be to repeat the mistakes the United States made in Beirut four decades ago.”
Marc A. Thiessen, Washington Post

A libertarian's take

“ISIS-K has been engaged in a bloody battle with the Taliban for control of the country for years… The U.S. believes ISIS-K was responsible for a May 2020 attack that killed 24 at a Kabul hospital and for an attack in May of this year that killed 90 at a school in the same neighborhood. (The group did not claim responsibility for either attack.) Despite years of efforts by American and Afghan forces, the ISIS offshoot ‘is still quietly entrenched, mostly in the country's east, and is waiting for an opportunity to reassert itself,’ The New York Times reported in May…

“The awful scenes from Kabul that have dominated the American news media today are a reminder of the reasons President Joe Biden is right to pull U.S. troops out of the country as quickly as possible. They are a vivid illustration of the bloody civil war that's gripping Afghanistan—a war that the United States cannot stop and should not participate in.”
Eric Boehm, Reason

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