The D Brief: America leaves Afghanistan; US-Taliban relations; Hindsight oversight; Zelenskyy at the Pentagon; And a bit more.
It’s Day One of full Taliban rule in Afghanistan, and its fighters are celebrating the day with fliers marking their “independence,” Susanna George of the Washington Post reports from the capital. The first moments were filled with tracers and celebratory gunfire arcing across the Kabul night sky, a fair bit of it captured on video and immediately posted to social media.
Other curious images included Taliban fighters (several dressed like SEAL Team Six) wasting no time checking out what had been the military side of Hamid Karzai International Airport, where the U.S. and coalition military staged for many years. They marveled at the former State Department rotary aircraft (CH-46 Sea Knights) that had been gutted and left behind.
U.S. Central Command’s Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie delivered the news Monday afternoon in Washington: “I’m here to announce the completion of our withdrawal from Afghanistan and the end of the military mission to evacuate American citizens, third-country nationals and vulnerable Afghans.” (C-SPAN preserved the moment on Twitter, here; read a transcript, here.)
“The past 17 days have seen our troops execute the largest airlift in U.S. history, evacuating over 120,000 US citizens, citizens of our allies, and Afghan allies of the United States,” President Joe Biden said in a statement. “They have done it with unmatched courage, professionalism, and resolve. Now, our 20-year military presence in Afghanistan has ended.”
The last U.S. troops in Afghanistan. “As the clock ticked toward Aug. 31, just five airlifters remained on the ground in Kabul, manned by handpicked joint tactical exfiltration crews who were taking care of the last tasks on the ground,” Defense One’s Tara Copp wrote. Among these were detonating thermite attached to the C-RAM anti-rocket systems that had defended the evacuation. The final five C-17s took off unprotected. Read on, here.
The very last American soldier to leave Afghanistan was Army Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue, who commands the 82nd Airborne Division and the 18th Airborne Corps, both of Fort Bragg, N.C. Catch the historic photo of him departing the country in a photo the Defense Department tweeted Monday evening, here.
As for what lies ahead, Biden said, “The Taliban has made commitments on safe passage and the world will hold them to their commitments. It will include ongoing diplomacy in Afghanistan and coordination with partners in the region to reopen the airport allowing for continued departure for those who want to leave and delivery of humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan.”
- Biden is scheduled to address the nation about the end of the war in Afghanistan around 1:30 p.m. ET. You can catch that on the major networks today, or at the White House’s YouTube channel, here.
SecDef Austin: “I am deeply saddened that, in the course of this historic evacuation mission, we lost 13 of our own, along with so many others who were killed and wounded days ago,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in his own statement for the occasion, which was posted Monday evening.
“Our service members secured, defended, and ran a major international airport,” Austin continued. “They learned how to help consular officers screen and verify visa applicants. They provided medical care, food and water, and compassion to people in need. They flew tens of thousands of people to safety, virtually around the clock. They even delivered babies. No other military in the world could accomplish what we and our allies and partners did in such a short span of time. That is a testament not only to our forces’ capabilities and courage but also to our relationships and the capabilities of our allies and partners.”
“As we look back as a nation on two decades of combat and struggle in Afghanistan, I hope that we will do so with as much thoughtfulness and humility as we can muster. And I know that we will wish for a brighter future for the Afghan people—for all their sons, and for all their daughters.” Read Austin’s statement in full, here.
That means the task of gathering the remaining Americans now falls to the State Department. And there could be around 100 who still wish to make it back home, State Secretary Antony Blinken told reporters Monday evening.
Don’t miss Defense One’s assessment of “The Future of U.S.-Taliban Relations” from Jacqueline Feldscher.
For the history books: Hats off to veteran Pentagon reporters Robert Burns and Lita Baldor, who have written one of the most searing and accurate ledes for this historic occasion:
- “WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan late Monday, ending America’s longest war and closing a chapter in military history likely to be remembered for colossal failures, unfulfilled promises and a frantic final exit that cost the lives of more than 180 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members, some barely older than the war.”
How have some Afghans prepared for the day? They’re “destroying SIM cards, deleting photos/video on phones, deactivating social media accounts, [and] fleeing home/going in hiding,” Frud Bezhan of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Monday. “This is not just those with ties to [the] former govt,” he tweeted, “but [also] journalists, artists, activists, students.”
Get ready for a whole lot of propaganda pictures from the Taliban, (like this video, e.g.) especially since some (though not all) Afghan observers were impressed by how the Taliban looked like the special operators they’ve been fighting for so many years as they entered HKIA immediately after the U.S. exit Monday at midnight. See more images of that via Marcus Yam of the LA Times, here.
Some of you may be thinking: What about the U.S. military’s burn pits and poo ponds? Kelsey Atherton considered their toxic and lasting legacies for Scientific American on Monday, here.
Too soon to glimpse the future? Because “Afghanistan embodies a new breed of international crisis,” Somini Sengupta writes for the New York Times. In this new kind of crisis, “the hazards of war collide with the hazards of climate change, creating a nightmarish feedback loop that punishes some of the world’s most vulnerable people and destroys their countries’ ability to cope.”
And Afghanistan is not alone. “Of the world’s 25 nations most vulnerable to climate change, more than a dozen are affected by conflict or civil unrest, according to an index developed by the University of Notre Dame.” Continue reading, here.
Hindsight oversight: America’s Afghan war watchdog is briefing House lawmakers today at the request of two key Republicans: House Oversight and Reform Committee Ranking Member James Comer, R-Ky.; and Glenn Grothman, R-Wis., ranking member of the committee’s national security panel. GovExec’s Courtney Buble has the backstory behind that slightly delayed briefing, here.
Here’s one window into how long the Afghan war’s costs could linger: “The last person to receive a pension from the Civil War, a woman whose father served in the Union Army, died last year,” Alex Horton of the Washington Post tweeted Monday. “The equivalent would be a payment to a living member of an Afghanistan veteran’s family in the year 2176.”
From Defense One
Inside the Final Hours at Kabul Airport // Tara Copp: Alone on the airfield after hundreds of other U.S. troops had left, five handpicked joint tactical exfiltration crews blew up the last remaining defenses and took off in the dark.
The Last U.S. Military Plane Has Left Kabul. What’s Next for Americans, Afghans Left Behind? // Tara Copp: "Do not count on Americans to save you," one volunteer rescue group warns Afghans now at risk.
The Future of U.S.-Taliban Relations // Jacqueline Feldscher: Blinken says cooperation is possible, but only if Taliban acts appropriately.
The Taliban Reportedly Have Control of US Biometric Devices // Margaret Hu, The Conversation: Up to 32 million Afghans are tagged in a system that DOD and the Afghan government used for criminal prosecutions, background checks, and voter registration.
We’re Hitting the Limits of Hurricane Preparedness // Robinson Meyer, The Atlantic: Cities simply don’t have enough time to run from a storm like Ida.
Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1993, Russia removed its troops from Lithuania; exactly one year later, Russia removed its final troops from Estonia.
Today at the Pentagon, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his Minister of Defence Andrii Taranto will visit SecDef Lloyd Austin and Co. at about 2 p.m. ET.
And about an hour later, missiles and space technology will be the focus of Army Lt. Gen. Daniel Karbler’s chat this afternoon at the virtual 2021 Fires Conference from Fort Sill, Okla. That gets started at 3:15 p.m. EDT. Catch the livestream here.
ICYMI: A San Diego-based sailor was sentenced to almost two years in confinement for “voic[ing] support for the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, and call[ing] for violence against Navy personnel and assets on social media,” Navy Times reported Friday. In addition, “a loaded handgun, ammunition, and several stolen gas masks were found in his barracks room. A search of his phone also revealed evidence that he illegally sold a firearm.”
And lastly today: Unlike America’s military recruiting in the world of video games (er, eSports), China’s Communist Party officials are now limiting youth video game use to just three hours per week—none during the school week, and just one hour per day over weekends and on holidays, from 8 to 9 p.m. local. (Find the official decree here.)
Party officials also recently “banned ranking celebrities by popularity” and “initiated a crackdown on teen celebrity worship and fan clubs, warning that celebrities’ pursuit of online followers was warping youths’ value,” the New York Times reports.
How will it work? China’s National Press and Publication Administration created an “anti-addiction” system and all gamers will have to connect through that before playing, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday. It’s unclear just yet if offline gaming will be affected as well. A bit more, here.
NEXT STORY: Inside the Final Hours at Kabul Airport