Showing posts with label AfPak. Show all posts
Showing posts with label AfPak. Show all posts

3 December 2022

The Significant Hurdles Facing Pakistan’s New Army Chief

TIM WILLASEY-WILSEY

EXPERT PERSPECTIVE — Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has made his decision and has chosen Lieutenant-General Asim Munir to be the next Chief of Army Staff (COAS). Sharif has agonised for weeks over this choice and even flew to London in early November to consult his brother, Nawaz, the former prime minister.

Both Nawaz and Shehbaz are still haunted by their near-fatal error in choosing Pervez Musharraf in 1998, only for the apparently mild-mannered general to mount a coup the following year and appoint himself president for the next eight years. Nawaz’s long periods of exile and prison serve as constant reminders of the perils of such decisions.

However, the choice seems to be a good one. Munir was the highest ranking General on the list and has a good pedigree. He has commanded a brigade on operations in the north-west and an army corps near the Indian border. He has run Military Intelligence (MI) the body which monitors the security of the army itself and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) the powerful espionage and security agency which looks at external and internal threats to the state. The latter two appointments demonstrate that he has the total confidence of the outgoing chief, General Qamar Bajwa. After all, Bajwa needs someone to protect his back against any future political or judicial moves against his record in office.

2 December 2022

Pakistan Taliban Ends Ceasefire With Govt, Vows New Attacks

Munir Ahmed

The Pakistani Taliban on Monday ended a months-long cease-fire with the government in Islamabad, ordering its fighters to resume attacks across the country, where scores of deadly attacks have been blamed on the insurgent group.

In a statement, the outlawed Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan said it decided to end the five month ceasefire after Pakistan’s army stepped up operations against them in former northwestern tribal areas and elsewhere in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which borders Afghanistan.

Pakistan and the TTP had agreed to an indefinite cease-fire in May after talks in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul.

Pakistani Taliban Suicide Bomber Targets Police Protecting Polio Teams

Abdul Sattar and Munir Ahmed

A suicide bomber blew himself up near a truck carrying police officers on their way to protect polio workers near Quetta Wednesday, killing a police officer and three civilians from the same family who were traveling nearby in a car. The bombing also wounded 23 others, mostly policemen, officials said.

Ghulam Azfer Mehser, a senior police officer, said the attack happened as the policemen were heading to the polio workers, part of a nationwide vaccination drive launched Monday.

The blast was so powerful that it toppled the truck carrying police officers into a ravine, he said, adding that the bombing also damaged a nearby car carrying members of a family.

He said that the anti-polio campaign will continue even after the bombing.

29 November 2022

Pakistan’s troubled ties with the Taliban

Ahmed Waqas Waheed

Even the Taliban government has been unable to diminish Pakistan’s foreign policy concerns. Since the Taliban came to power, the number of terrorist attacks in Pakistan has increased by a record 56 per cent. Key terrorist outfits with an active presence in Afghanistan, including al-Qaeda, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and the Islamic State in Khorasan, continue to increase their presence.

Pleas for international support for Afghanistan have now been replaced by considered caution. Jubilation over the Taliban victory is now giving way to a rude awakening that the evolving security situation under Taliban rule means that Pakistan’s bouts of terrorism are not over. In an address to the United Nations General Assembly in September, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said that he shared the international community’s concerns about terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan.

28 November 2022

GROUND ZERO The Evacuation of the CIA’s Afghan Proxies Has Opened One of the War’s Blackest Boxes

Fahim Abed

ON A RAINY Saturday morning in May, Hayanuddin Afghan, a former member of a CIA-backed militia that was once his country’s most brutal and effective anti-Taliban force, welcomed me to his new home in a hilly neighborhood of Pittsburgh.

He invited me in through the kitchen, where his wife, who was pregnant with their fourth child, was baking traditional Afghan bread with flour from Aldi’s. The trip downtown to buy groceries was among the greatest challenges of Hayanuddin’s new life in Pittsburgh. It involved hauling heavy bags back home on foot and in multiple city buses, whose schedules were unknowable since he didn’t speak English and had not downloaded the relevant app.

“It is difficult to descend from a very strong position to a very weak position,” Hayanuddin told me. In Afghanistan, “we had value. It was our country, and we were making sense for that country. But now, even our generals and commanders, everyone is in the same position.”

In Afghanistan, it was impossible to talk at any length to members of the secretive commando forces known as the Zero Units. They hunted the Taliban in night raids and were widely accused of killing civilians, including children. But last September, Hayanuddin and his Zero Unit comrades were the beneficiaries of the most successful aspect of the Biden administration’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan: the CIA’s rescue of its allied militias. Their arrival in the U.S. over the last year has cracked open one of the war’s blackest boxes.

Why Imran Khan Can’t Outplay Pakistan’s Military

Abbas Nasir

After surviving an assassination attempt on Nov. 3 while leading a protest march, Mr. Khan accused Shehbaz Sharif, who succeeded him as prime minister of Pakistan, Rana Sanaullah, the interior minister, and a third man of conspiring to assassinate him. In a significant breach in civil-military relations, Mr. Khan claimed that the third man was a major general in the Inter-Services Intelligence, the dreaded spy agency of Pakistan’s military, which supported his own rise to power.

The saga of Mr. Khan’s embrace of the military and his fallout and confrontation with the generals is a reminder of the limits of power exercised by civilian politicians in Pakistan, where the military has ruled directly for 33 years and always been the power behind the throne.

Mr. Khan took office as prime minister in August 2018 and was deposed by a no-confidence vote in Parliament in April of this year. Rakishly handsome, utterly vain and stubborn at 70, Mr. Khan hasn’t reconciled with his loss of power.

Inside the US: Muslim Brotherhood Member Calls for Jihadist Terrorism Worldwide

Cynthia Farahat

A Muslim Brotherhood propagandist based in New York City has called for jihad both in the United States and internationally.

Bahgat Saber, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, operates from his New York apartment and often streams live videos from Times Square. During his multi-hour videos, Saber routinely incites terrorism, assassinations, kidnapping and torture in an extremely graphic manner. The calls for violence in his videos are viewed by millions of people across the world.

In October, when Saber called for bloodshed, he used a code-phrase employed by al-Qaeda to activate their terrorist cells for open warfare. In a video titled, "Ride, O horses of Allah." Saber started his video with, "We are working in the upcoming phase on Ride, O horses of Allah" — which is al-Qaeda's call for activating terrorism.

Behind lofty declarations, major Muslim and Hindu groups compete for power

James M. Dorsey

As Indonesia passed the chairmanship of the Group of 20 (G-20) to India earlier this month, major Muslim and Hindu organisations, some backed by their governments, are battling to define the role of religion in global politics and whether the world's significant faiths need reform to harness the power of their convictions.

The battle's outcome could determine what constitutes religious moderation, the state's role in defining what religion stands for, and whether notions of reform will involve significant jurisprudential and doctrinal reforms aimed at erasing concepts of supremacy and enhancing principles of pluralism and greater freedom.

The stage for the battle was set at the Religion Forum-20 (R-20), a gathering of religious leaders in Bali, earlier this month in advance of a summit of the Group of 20 that brought together leaders of the world’s major economies.

Six reasons the Afghan government utterly collapsed during US withdrawal

Adam Weinstein

Last week, the official Afghanistan reconstruction watchdog released a report assessing why the Afghan government collapsed during the U.S. withdrawal. With Afghanistan already a distant memory, the report elicited little media coverage. But it contains crucial lessons, both for Afghanistan and for the future of U.S. foreign policy.

So what does the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction’s latest report conclude? It boils down the causes of the Afghan government’s collapse to six factors: (1) Kabul failed to recognize the U.S. would actually leave; (2) the decision to exclude the Afghan government from US-Taliban talks undermined it; (3) Kabul insisted that the Taliban be integrated into the Republic rather than create a new model altogether; (4) the Taliban wouldn’t compromise; (5) former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani “governed through a highly selective, narrow circle of loyalists” (read: yes men) which destabilized the government; and (6) Kabul was afflicted by centralization, corruption, and a legitimacy crisis.

The breadth and nuance of this report is a welcome addition to last spring’s interim report on the collapse of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, which opened with the assertion that “SIGAR found that the single most important factor in the ANDSF’s collapse in August 2021 was the U.S. decision to withdraw military forces and contractors from Afghanistan through signing the U.S.-Taliban agreement in February 2020 under the Trump administration, followed by President Biden’s withdrawal announcement in April 2021.” This was apparent in that the Doha agreement and U.S. withdrawal were the proximate events that enabled the Taliban to fully capitalize on years of their own gains and Kabul’s dysfunctions. But it led to a flurry of simplistic headlines that did not capture the rest of the interim document.

27 November 2022

Is Imran Khan Pakistan’s Comeback Kid?

Lynne O’Donnell

Imran Khan, the cricketer-turned-politician and Pakistan’s last prime minister, is the man considered most likely to become Pakistan’s next prime minister.

A populist whose Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party has racked up impressive victories in most of the elections it has contested since he was ousted in a no-confidence vote in April, Khan draws huge crowds as he calls out corruption and the military’s influence in politics. He has a penchant for conspiracy theories, disdains journalists, yet loves smartphones and social media.

Khan is recovering from bullet wounds to his legs sustained in an assassination attempt on Nov. 3 during one of his many mass marches. He has blamed his successor, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, for ordering the shooting. Speaking from his fortified home in Lahore, Khan sat down with Foreign Policy to discuss his legacy and aspirations, his relations with Washington, and how he’d deal with inflation, unemployment, and soaring national debt if he retook power.

26 November 2022

Pakistan’s troubled ties with the Taliban

Ahmed Waqas Waheed

In the immediate aftermath of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, Pakistan appealed to the international community to provide humanitarian assistance and remove sanctions against Afghanistan to prevent a potential humanitarian crisis. But much has changed in a year. Pakistan is now focussed on thwarting cross-border terrorism and preventing India from establishing a presence in Afghanistan.

Even the Taliban government has been unable to diminish Pakistan’s foreign policy concerns. Since the Taliban came to power, the number of terrorist attacks in Pakistan has increased by a record 56 per cent. Key terrorist outfits with an active presence in Afghanistan, including al-Qaeda, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and the Islamic State in Khorasan, continue to increase their presence.

Pleas for international support for Afghanistan have now been replaced by considered caution. Jubilation over the Taliban victory is now giving way to a rude awakening that the evolving security situation under Taliban rule means that Pakistan’s bouts of terrorism are not over. In an address to the United Nations General Assembly in September, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said that he shared the international community’s concerns about terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan.

25 November 2022

Jihadis issue vague threats against World Cup

CALEB WEISS & JOE TRUZMAN

In online statements, both al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and al Qaeda’s general command issued vague threats against the FIFA World Cup and its host Qatar. Islamic State supporters have additionally published their own call to arms against the small Arab state.

In all cases, however, the warnings serve as general rallying cries for supporters rather than any explicit threat against the football tournament.

Over the weekend, AQAP became the first jihadist group to issue a statement condemning the Qatari state for hosting the World Cup. In a brief communique, the al Qaeda branch chastised the Qatari state for “spreading obscenity and homosexuality” and promoting “infidels of all races” by hosting the games.

It goes on to say that “Qatar has panted for more than ten years to win this immoral and frivolous occasion, diverting efforts that could have been in the service of Islam, the issues of Muslims, or in service of its nation’s issues and problems.”

Confronting Iran Protests, Regime Uses Brute Force but Secretly Appeals to Moderates

Benoit Faucon and David S. Cloud

As antigovernment protests swept across Iran last month, its top leaders made a secret appeal to two of the Islamic Republic’s founding families, the moderate Rafsanjani and Khomeini clans that hard-liners had pushed out of power, said people familiar with the talks.

Iran’s national-security chief, Ali Shamkhani, asked representatives of the families to speak out publicly to calm the unrest. If that happened, he said, liberalizing measures sought by demonstrators could follow, the people said.

The families refused, the people said.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his inner circle face a quandary after two months of nationwide protests. Their purges of prominent rivals and reformists from the government in recent years have narrowed their options for putting down one of the most serious internal challenges to their rule in the clerical regime’s 43-year history.

Afghanistan opium cultivation in 2022 up by 32 percent: UNODC survey


The 2022 opium crop in Afghanistan is the most profitable in years with cultivation up by nearly one-third and prices soaring, even as the country is gripped by cascading humanitarian and economic crises, according to a new research brief from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Opium cultivation in Afghanistan – latest findings and emerging threats is the first report on the illicit opium economy since the Taliban, which assumed power in August 2021, banned cultivation of opium poppy and all narcotics in April 2022. This year’s harvest was largely exempted from the decree, and farmers in Afghanistan must now decide on planting opium poppy for next year amid continued uncertainty about how the de facto authorities will enforce the ban. Sowing of the main 2023 opium crop must be done by early November 2022.

“Afghan farmers are trapped in the illicit opiate economy, while seizure events around Afghanistan suggest that opiate trafficking continues unabated,” said UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly upon the survey’s launch.

24 November 2022

CIA, Spec Ops roles in Kabul’s collapse belie official versions

C. Tatum

America’s longest war, Afghanistan, has been called “the forgotten war,” which, for those who fought in it and are still suffering from it, is an insult added to its horrible end only a little over a year ago. Many questions, meanwhile, remain about its open-ended mission, such as why we stayed on a decade after killing the man responsible for the 9/11 attacks and dismantling his lethal networks. But it’s the chaotic ending of the conflict last year that’s about to get renewed attention at the hands of House Republicans, who, having won a narrow majority in the midterms, have declared their intent to launch a new investigation of President Biden’s botched evacuation and raise it to a boil by the 2024 election season. They will have plenty to work with.

C-17 photo from the unattributed video at The Aviationist

Such an inquiry will be sticky for the GOP, however, since President Trump’s 2020 Doha Agreement with the Taliban to end the U.S.-led war, which excluded the democratic government in Kabul from all negotiations and teed up the disaster of August 2021. Republicans will also struggle to escape the fact that Trump’s anti-immigrant policies the previous year also meant that less than 2,000 Special Immigrant Visas—a quarter of the annual allotment—were approved for Afghans, leaving a backlog of 18,000 applications of interpreters and other contractors by the time the Taliban took Kabul, thus creating the urgent need for the “largest U.S. military airlift in history.”


If they desire a credible inquiry, House investigators should also consider scrutinizing the role the U.S. intelligence community played in the final outcome of the war—the good, the bad and the ugly—when their efforts cost some lives while saving others.

They might begin with the untold story behind the defining image of the ignominious ending, the sight of that behemoth U.S. Air Force cargo plane taking off from Hamid Karzai International Airport with desperate Afghans plummeting from its massive fuselage and wheel coverings onto the runway and through Kabul rooftops. (Human remains were found in the wheel wells when the C-17 landed in Qatar.) The world watched, aghast, as the viral video spread across Twitter and TV.

Secrets of the C-17

Why the C-17 Globemaster III took off with so many civilians clinging to it remains officially unanswered. An Air Force spokesperson at the time said an investigation had been initiated but also offered spin: “Faced with a rapidly deteriorating security situation around the aircraft, the C-17 crew decided to depart the airfield as quickly as possible.”

But the real reason, according to a new book on the chaotic August 2021 evacuation, was that the plane held an MH-47G Special Operations helicopter stocked with sensitive and classified systems for flying clandestine, low-altitude night sorties for special mission units like the Army’s Delta Force. According to accounts gathered together by retired Green Beret Lt. Col. Scott Mann for his book Operation Pineapple Express, the top U.S. military commander at the airport, a Navy SEAL admiral, feared the twin-rotary chopper, a modified version of the venerable Chinook and flown by the Army’s elite 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, would fall into the hands of the marauding Taliban. So off they went.

The horrifying sight of bodies falling from the C-17 was just one of several incidents in which U.S. clandestine services’ priorities during the hasty Noncombatant Evacuation Operation, or NEO, were often placed above all else—particularly human life. President Joe Biden had promised Americans that the Kabul evacuation would not have a “Saigon moment,” like the one captured in the indelible photograph of Americans scrambling aboard a helicopter from a rooftop as communist troops descended on the South Vietnamese capital in 1975.

There was “zero” comparison between Afghanistan teetering on the edge, Biden assured nervous Americans, and Saigon’s shocking collapse, in which thousands of Vietnamese who had worked with U.S. forces, including the CIA, were abandoned.

“There’s going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of a [sic] embassy in the — of the United States from Afghanistan. It is not at all comparable,” Biden told a press conference on July 7, 2021.


In mid-August the entire U.S. diplomatic and security contingent at the embassy in the Kabul Green Zone was hastily evacuated by helicopters—not from the embassy’s rooftop, to be sure, but from an adjacent soccer field. Some 1,800 Americans were flown two miles away to HKIA by the morning of August 16. Diplomatic Security agents involved in the embassy evacuation and NEO were recently decorated for heroism.

How similar was it to Saigon? The answer is a “walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction,” as Kris Kristofferson might say. Whatever, the end was a rout, recorded in countless hours of deeply shocking and saddening photos and videos that are certain to be resurrected come the 2024 presidential election season, shredding Biden’s boasts about evacuating an astonishing 124,000 people the last two weeks of August.

Fact: The C-17 Globemaster III was on an intelligence mission to ferry a highly advanced special operations chopper for use in last-minute clandestine rescue missions in Afghanistan. But it landed on a concrete sea of chaos. The huge runway was being overrun by 10,000 or more civilians who soon forced all air ops to halt. Rather than unload the sensitive cargo, the crisis forced the top commander at the airfield, U.S. Navy SEAL Rear Adm. Peter Vasely, to order the C-17 back in the air, even as other planes remained parked. Why? It was to protect the chopper in its belly from capture or its classified systems from being pilfered by the Taliban or the crowds, according to author Scott Mann.

The decision was confirmed in the transcript of an interview Vasely later gave to U.S. Central Command investigators: “Late morning [August] 16th, the mass of civilians on HKIA slowly began moving north across the runway, overwhelming the U.S. security forces aligned to attempt to contain the crowd. I ordered the one C-17 and two C-130s to leave.”

Unsaid was whether Vasely knew that civilians had piled onto the retractable wheel covers (called humps) of the massive cargo plane as it taxied to take off on the single runway. Apache AH-64 attack helicopters were hovering low over the asphalt using their rotor wash to blow civilians out of the plane’s path. He likely did not know about the civilians until the plane was long gone.

And yet the killing of innocent civilians around the airfield didn’t stop there. It was more deliberate and committed more often by “friendlies” than Taliban, who were busy outside beating those clustered around the airport with rubber batons and rifle butts.

During the mad scramble by the U.S. to exit Afghanistan after the stunningly rapid collapse of the U.S.-supported government, U.S. military senior commanders and diplomats made deals with numerous devils to exit without further calamities. The airport was the only place left to evacuate U.S. citizens and Afghan green card holders, legal permanent residents and “special interest” persons after the controversial decision to close Bagram Airfield north of the capital and desert it overnight on July 2.

Another consequential decision by American commanders inside HKIA was to accept a CIA offer on August 16, as revealed in Operation Pineapple Express, to clear up to 10,000 civilians from the runway and ramps by using the spy agency’s large Afghan paramilitary “surrogate” force, hardline fighters who had carried out the Agency’s capture/kill ops. The airport crowds had forced air ops to cease after the infamous C-17 was wheels up that sunny Monday morning.

That group of seasoned Afghan militiamen were known as National Strike Units (NSU), a notorious outfit that had to change its name from “Counter-Terrorist Pursuit Teams” after years of human rights abuses came to light. The price demanded for clearing HKIA of the civilian crowds was a guarantee that the U.S. military would airlift the CIA’s surrogate forces and their families out of Kabul.

Almost immediately it became clear that the price paid was much higher.

Bridge Too Far

The 82nd Airborne Division failed at its fundamental mission of securing the airfield, insiders note, because they could not get enough paratroopers on the ground when the crowds flooding the runway forced a stop to air operations the day after Kabul fell. But the CIA’s NSU paramilitaries—ironically, all clad in retro Vietnam tiger stripe camouflage fatigues—quickly cleared the airfield of the civilians with help from the Army’s Delta Force, a smattering of 82nd Airborne paratroopers, and Taliban teams, with U.S. Marines creating a buffer between the once warring parties. “Within two hours, [they] had 400 [Afghan paramilitary] guards protecting the south side,” one U.S. official told CENTCOM’s investigators.

“The Afghan unit that was there, the way they got people off [the airfield], to the point, was just running everyone over and shooting them,” Marine Lt. Col. Chris Richardella, a battalion commander, said in the film.

“They killed them,” another Marine officer bluntly told the filmmakers. A third Marine officer in the documentary said he witnessed “people being executed on the airfield.”

Richardella said it was after dark and he observed civilians dying in the headlights of the NSU paramilitaries’ trucks as they plowed into the crowds—but, he added, the brutal tactics succeeded. By 10:30 that night, the airfield was once again secured and planes were landing and taking off again just after midnight.

The brutality of the four NSU teams, known as units 01, 02, 03 and 04, didn’t end there. Their violence was often directed at Afghan Special Operations soldiers on the run from the Taliban. Call it a violent twist on the “crabs-in-a-barrel” cultural phenomenon—the CIA surrogate forces were now inside HKIA and a nearby CIA base, and the Afghan government forces simply were not.


At North, East and Abbey Gates, CIA’s tiger-striped paramilitaries were often more violent toward their countrymen than the Taliban outside the coils of concertina wire, who were trying to control the teeming masses of civilians and partner forces, such as Commandos, Special Forces and others, attempting to flee the country. This is evidenced in photos, video and by eyewitnesses beaten by the surrogate forces or who witnessed them kill fellow Afghans in cold blood.

“When I stood outside North Gate, one CIA paramilitary came and beat me on my back with his AK-47 stock, striking on my shoulder. He hurt me really badly,” Zahir, a former interpreter for U.S. special operations who remains in hiding in Kabul, told SpyTalk.

Others I’ve spoken to witnessed NSU men firing into the crowds or suffered themselves from Kalashnikov butt strokes, like Zahir. This brutality by NSU fighters is on display in the opening scenes of another forthcoming documentary, NatGeo's Retrograde.

Once Army Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue, a former Delta operator and the 82nd Airborne’s commanding general, arrived at HKIA on August 18, he began to have daily face-to-face meetings in the South Terminal with the commander of the Taliban’s Red Unit to discuss securing HKIA from ISIS attacks and facilitate the exodus of Americans and Afghan allies, according to soldiers from his paratroop division and the CENTCOM report.

To that end, Biden even did something extraordinary, as CENTCOM’s report explained. “POTUS directed … the sharing of intelligence for force protection threats with the Taliban (en extremis),” which were on paper handed to the Red Unit commander. “This intelligence sharing built trust and opened critical lines of communication with the Taliban commander,” the CENTCOM report added.

Few trusted the Taliban to allow evacuees to pass unharmed.

CIA operatives did many good things, too. They acted swiftly to help secure the airfield, even bribing individual Taliban commanders securing the enormous perimeter as the race was on to evacuate at-risk Afghans and Americans, according to one officer there at the time. CIA officers also helped some Afghan special operators gain access to the base and guided American citizens and “special-interest Afghans” into HKIA using a secret entrance named Liberty Gate on the north side of the airfield.

Top military and Biden administration officials have boasted of evacuating 124,000 people during the NEO airlift, but have skillfully avoided questions about how those evacuees navigated the world’s most dangerous airport commute in order to get on a plane, or who helped get them safely to the entry control points.

In reality, it was not the United States government. Most got inside HKIA with their own perseverance and luck or with the help of ad hoc veterans groups located in the U.S. who used encrypted app group chats, such as Operation Dunkirk, Task Force Pineapple, Allied Airlift and others, to communicate with their Afghan brothers.

When an AP story revealed that special operations forces had choppered 169 Americans to HKIA from the Baron Hotel on August 21—a compound that overlooks the airport’s Abbey Gate—CNN quoted Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby as confirming that the mission was approved by the ground commander. “He executed a mission that he believed was in the best interest of helping these Americans, and he did,” Kirby said.

But, few if any among those 169 people were Americans. They were British, and the mission was flown by the 82nd Airborne’s pilots, not special ops, at the request of Her Majesty’s armed forces, senior military sources have told me.

That incident and other rumors of SAS “rescue missions” of British nationals perpetuated a myth during the evacuation that American special operators were also rounding up U.S. citizens and at-risk Afghan allies throughout Kabul or even outside the capital.

On Their Own

Those wishing to leave had to get to the last U.S. outpost on their own, with the exception of 3,000 U.S. embassy Afghan staff and their families who were brought into HKIA aboard chartered buses.

Delta Force operators were only permitted by senior U.S. military and political leaders to execute a few rescue missions outside the wire of HKIA or from the CIA’s nearby Eagle Base, retrieving only a few dozen at-risk people—a statistical drop in the bucket, as thousands of frightened U.S. citizens and partner forces in Afghanistan desperately tried to find a way out. The SAS rumors, incidentally, were also untrue.

Why weren’t special mission units allowed to rescue more people? It was Washington’s chronic aversion to risk, senior officers have told me, citing fears of a disastrous “Blackhawk Down”-style urban street fight with the Taliban.

As a result, planeloads of U.S. citizens were left behind in Kabul, along with tens of thousands of Afghan Special Operations soldiers, while the CIA evacuated almost all of its surrogate forces. At least 600 Americans made it out months later on Qatar-organized flights with the aid of volunteer groups such as Project Dynamo.

But in the utter chaos of August 2021, Americans waving blue passports were beaten by Taliban outside HKIA— even while Pentagon spokesman John Kirby was shrugging off such reports in his daily televised briefings.

America and all its military might could not help its own citizens.

Abandoned en masse among Afghan forces were two groups most at risk of Taliban retribution after America had cut its losses and retreated from the war. Most of the 18,000 Afghans—mostly former interpreters—who were awaiting processing of their special immigrant visas were not evacuated, as well as most of the 18,000 Afghan Special Operations soldiers who had fought side-by-side with American Green Berets, SEALs, Marine Raiders and Rangers for two decades.

(NatGeo's Retrograde takes you inside a 10th Special Forces Group team room at Fort Carson, Colorado, where Green Berets discuss the Taliban's sudden victory over Kabul and how to leverage the volunteer groups to get their Afghan brothers stateside. The active-duty soldiers used those non-government resources successfully, and avoided the Afghans' capture and Taliban interrogation about those Germany-based Green Berets who had been training Ukrainians for years ahead of the Russian invasion.)

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), the likely new chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee come January, issued his own report in August deploring the abandonment of partner forces.

"As the Taliban's advance on Kabul progressed, there was no organized effort to prioritize the evacuation of critical Afghan military personnel who possessed unique knowledge of the U.S. military’s tactics, techniques, and procedures and could thereby pose a security risk to America if they could be forced to divulge their knowledge to a U.S. adversary,” he said.

Their American friends, mostly active-duty and retired Green Berets, have received countless photos and videos in the 15 months since the U.S. exit of Afghan commandos, Special Forces and National Mine Removal Group operatives murdered by the Talibs now in power, who had publicly promised all was forgiven.

Amid the chaos, thousands of NSU surrogate fighters with their families were transported from Eagle Base (which CIA operatives burned to the ground on August 26) to HKIA for evacuation from Kabul. That effort contributed to the over-crowding of the airport that day and was among the reasons U.S. commanders stopped most entries of Afghans into the airport in the hours leading up to the ISIS suicide blast at Abbey Gate that night, according to sources who were there. The other reason for the long gate closure was ISIS threat reporting, which was constant for several days.

Approximately 200 civilians and 13 American service members were killed in the ISIS suicide bombing just after 5:30 PM local time, which effectively ended the NEO.

Some have called what happened an intelligence failure, but that’s not quite right. No intelligence assessments anticipated the fall of Ghani’s government would come within six weeks of the U.S. withdrawal from Bagram Airfield. But sources also say there were no classified assessments that gave Afghanistan’s elected, albeit corrupt, government any chance of survival once the U.S completely left, sources told SpyTalk. Various assessments predicted that the collapse would occur in October or December 2021, or, most optimistically, by February of this year.

And yet throughout 2021, senior leaders receiving these intelligence assessments had publicly denied the collapse of Afghanistan’s democracy was a foregone conclusion. The CIA, of course, knew differently: It was already planning how to evacuate its people and assets. One Saigon was enough for the spies. For the rest left behind, only suffering and tragedy awaited.

The Afghan National Resistance Front Outlines Its Strategy: Implications For US Foreign Policy

Philip Wasielewski

(FPRI) — On November 15, 2022, the Foreign Policy Research Institute conducted an in-person and Zoom event titled, “The Future of Resistance in Afghanistan,” with Ali M. Nazary, the head of foreign relations for the National Resistance Front (NRF). Nazary, an articulate spokesman for the NRF and the anti-Taliban cause in Afghanistan, presented one of the most comprehensive briefings to a general American audience to date of the NRF’s goals and strategy. This short essay will provide a brief description of those goals and strategy and assess what this may mean for U.S. foreign policy.

The event with Nazary was the third Afghan-centric event or publication produced by FPRI in the past three months as part of its efforts to showcase the wide range of challenges to American foreign policy beyond current headlines. All three concentrated on the two main issues for US foreign policy towards Afghanistan since the Taliban’s seizure of power: the presence in Afghanistan of multiple international and regional terrorist groups, the presence of a resistance movement to Taliban rule, and how to deal with both.

21 November 2022

Army Modernization, And The Virtues Of Moderation

Loren Thompson

The U.S. Army is currently in the midst of its most successful modernization campaign since the Cold War ended. All of the service’s most pressing gaps in battlefield capability are being remedied, and there is little sign of the setbacks that marred previous efforts to replace aging weapons.

This is a significant achievement because the Department of the Army spends a much bigger portion of its budget on people than the Air Force and Navy do, while spending a much smaller portion on weapons development and procurement.

In fact, the Army’s total spending on new equipment in its fiscal 2023 budget request is less than a third of the amount available to the Air Force ($36 billion versus $112 billion).

Congress will adjust these amounts when it finally gets around to passing a defense budget for the fiscal year that began October 1, but in the end the Air Force and Navy departments will still have a multiple of what the Army does for upgrading its weapons.

How It All Fell Apart in Afghanistan

Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer

Welcome back to Foreign Policy’s SitRep! How’s that U.S. pivot to the Indo-Pacific going, eh? The split screen from this week’s G-20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, says it all: While U.S. President Joe Biden and his top aides did a reassurance mission from their hotel room after a Ukrainian shootdown of a Russian missile killed two people in Poland, Indonesian President Joko Widodo killed time by giving reporters a personal tour of his mangrove garden.

We’ll be off next week for Thanksgiving but look forward to returning to your inboxes after the holiday.

Alright, here’s what’s on tap for the day: A watchdog calls out the United States for a nation-building failure of historic proportions in Afghanistan, the Poland missile crisis continues to make waves in Europe, and a new Republican speaker threatens to hold up Pentagon funding.

18 November 2022

Iran’s Mass Protests Are Impacting Lives in Pakistan

Mariyam Suleman Anees

Amid growing protests against the mandatory hijab law and now campaigns against authoritarian governance, Iran continues to close and reopen its borders with neighboring Pakistan after deadly crackdown in its bordering province of Sistan and Baluchestan.

One of the many entry points of the Iran-Pakistan border at Panjgur district’s Parom tehsil in Pakistan remained closed for several days. In the last few months, Iran continuously closed and reopened several major crossing points with Pakistan.

Although the border has not completely been closed, the closures and reopenings at several points since September have disturbed cross-border families and traders. But more than ever before, the security situation in the bordering Iranian province has concerned Iranian Baloch as well as the Baloch in Pakistan’s southwestern province.

17 November 2022

From Afghanistan to Colombia, the War on Terror Has Failed

Matthew Petti

Lisette is frustrated with her job as a war correspondent in Afghanistan, where she has spent years trying to alert an apathetic American public to their country’s failing war effort. “I remember Raul telling me to find another war, one we’re winning. So I type one sentence, ‘Are there any wars right now where we’re not losing?’” she narrates. “And within 15 minutes he responds with one word. ‘Colombia.’”

So begins the second act of Phil Klay’s 2020 novel “Missionaries.” The book’s characters are the soldiers, mercenaries, journalists and humanitarian do-gooders on the front lines of U.S. counterinsurgency campaigns around the world. Lisette follows some of her special forces contacts from the Middle East to Latin America, where they are helping manage Colombia’s campaign to bring communist rebels to heel.

“Missionaries” is more than a work of fiction. It is a human-scale portrayal of the way U.S. counterinsurgency tactics have moved back and forth across the globe. Latin American battlefields — particularly Colombia — were indeed a laboratory for developing tactics later exported to Muslim countries. Sometimes, the same military officers fought in both parts of the world, swapping tactics; other times, U.S. administrations copied and pasted strategies wholesale. In some instances, the real-life results were more convoluted and brutal than anything Klay depicted in his novel.