Today's D Brief: Kabul's grim future; Plot twist for Boko Haram; Space debris tracker; And a bit more.
Panic is setting in 18 days from the United States military’s Afghanistan withdrawal deadline. The U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom are rushing nearly 5,000 troops back to Kabul to safeguard the departure of allied civilians as the Taliban march closer and closer to the capital city.
- America is sending three infantry battalions—about 3,000 troops—to Kabul; another 3,500 infantry are headed to Kuwait as a contingency force;
- The Brits are sending about 600 troops to help its citizens leave, of which about 4,000 remain in Afghanistan, the BBC reports;
- And Canada is sending a small element of special forces to help evacuate and close its embassy, the Associated Press reported from Toronto; Germany and Denmark are also urging citizens to leave or are already evacuating them.
The latest on the Taliban: The group is believed to now control 18 provincial capitals, and its fighters are riding an 8-day blitz that began in the west and has since tightened around Kabul from the north, east, and south. Ghazni province fell Thursday, as did Helmand, Uruzgan, and Ghor; Herat and Kandahar—the country’s second- and third-largest cities—fell later. Logar province appears to be next, AP reports. (FDD’s Bill Roggio is also keeping tabs on the collapse, so follow him on Twitter if you’re not already.)
What accelerated the U.S. and its allies’ decisions Thursday? The fall of Ghazni, U.S. officials told CBS News. A diplomatic official told CNN something similar, emphasizing that the “mood has changed [in Kabul] but we are still not at the collapse.”
Jargon watch: “Doctrinally the military would call this a Non-combatant Evacuation Operations (NEO), but the White House is avoiding this term,” writes Jack Murphy, “perhaps to avoid comparisons to Saigon in 1975, but it is already a bit too late for that. The comparisons are already being made.”
According to the State Department, “This was a contingency that we had foreseen. This is a contingency that we have planned for,” Spokesman Ned Price told reporters Thursday. “So it is not the case that we’re being caught flat-footed. We engage in contingency planning, DOD does the same, knowing that the situation is going to be fluid.
“Recently the trend lines have not been moving in the right direction,” Price continued. “Of course, our goal through diplomacy on the part of the State Department is to reverse those trend lines. But in the meantime, we have engaged in contingency planning to be prepared for a situation just like this.”
FWIW: Afghanistan’s finance minister resigned and left the country this week, Bloomberg reported Thursday.
One big surprise (for some, but not all): How quickly Afghan security forces are melting away, a rapid and stunning collapse that casts America’s almost 20-year, trillion-dollar-plus investment in Afghanistan’s military in an incredibly unflattering light—even if that was a foreseeable outcome. The Washington Post reports that for some now-former Afghan soldiers around Kunduz, e.g., the opportunity this week to quit fighting and simply change into civilian clothes was an easy decision. (The New York Times adds that an influential warlord, Mohammad Ismail Khan, also surrendered today in western Afghanistan.)
Big picture take: “A Taliban victory would be a major win for the global jihadist movement,” writes Charles Lister of the Middle East Institute. “That a Taliban victory looks possible before 9/11’s 20-year anniversary will be celebrated by jihadists worldwide. It is impossible to understate how significant this is likely to be for the jihadist movement worldwide—it will be reaped for years, if not decades, to come.”
Searching for a parallel: “Is this going to be Biden’s Rwanda?” Or, perhaps, “Al Qaeda/ISIS 3.0”? asks Susan Glasser in her New Yorker column. Meantime, the Taliban deny executing people or forcing women into marriages across territory the group has seized. More on that messaging problem for the group, via the Wall Street Journal.
BTW: U.S. airstrikes around the Middle East are way down this year, Air Force Times reported Thursday. For example, “Coalition assets have fired more than 1,100 munitions so far this year—a fraction of the volume in recent years,” according to metrics from Air Forces Central Command. By comparison, “international aircraft expended 3,700 munitions in Afghanistan, and nearly 3,900 in Iraq and Syria, in the first seven months of 2019.” More here.
And one last thing: China is reportedly ready to recognize the Taliban, should the group take Kabul anytime soon, U.S. News’ Paul Shinkman reported Thursday.
From Defense One
Biden’s Allies Defend Afghanistan Withdrawal Amid Taliban Surge // Jacqueline Feldscher: “Another fifty years wouldn’t change anything,” said Sen. Chris Murphy.
Pentagon Sends 3,000 Troops to Secure Kabul Airport as US Evacuates Embassy Staff, Interpreters // Tara Copp: Secretary Austin is also requesting additional military aircraft be ready to assist, rapidly get personnel out.
Startup Offers Tool to Help Predict, Coordinate Action on Orbital Collisions // Jacqueline Feldscher: A multi-company pilot program will test Slingshot Aerospace's chat-and-track software.
Welcome to this Friday 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.
An estimated 1,000 Boko Haram militants surrendered to Nigerian authorities in the past few days, the Wall Street Journal reports. The group surrendering also includes “two high-school students who were kidnapped seven years ago from the town of Chibok, in what security officials and mediators called a new chapter in Nigeria’s decadelong conflict.”
ICYMI: “In May, Boko Haram’s longtime leader, Abubakar Shekau, died after a confrontation with Iswap,” the local ISIS affiliate. Since his death, “Most are quitting…thousands of fighters are coming out of the bush,” one negotiator told the Journal. More here.
The UK just experienced its worst mass-shooting in years when a self-declared Donald Trump supporter killed five people Thursday evening before turning the gun on himself. “The suspected shooter has been named by police as Jake Davison, a 22-year-old who is reported to have worked in construction,” The Daily Beast reports. “Davison allegedly killed two women, two men, and one victim who officers described as a ‘very young girl,’ during the rampage in Plymouth,” which was “the worst mass shooting in Britain since 2010.”
A 56-year-old Army officer passed away from COVID-19 complications, making him the 29th service member to die from the virus so far, Military.com reported Thursday. His name is Lt. Col. Scott Flanders, and he died at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, on Aug. 2. (The service has not revealed Flanders’s vaccination status.)
In tech news this week: A startup thinks it has a better way to help satellite operators track potential orbital collisions, Defense One’s Jacqueline Feldscher reported Thursday. Slingshot Aerospace’s software pulls data from public sources and its own information “to give users a rundown of potential collisions, planned satellite maneuvers and a way to contact other operators,” she writes.
FWIW: The Pentagon is not involved in the software’s pilot, but the company’s CEO thinks it could eventually help troops tasked with tracking objects in space. Read more, here.
And Samsung will use AI-built computer chips, WIRED reports this morning, in a development that could “accelerate semiconductor development and unlock novel chip designs.”
Have a safe weekend, everyone. (Our thoughts will certainly be with Afghanistan.) And we’ll see you again on Monday.