Today's D Brief: Evacuations picking up in Kabul; Taliban’s first presser; USMC’s new missile; SecAF’s eye on China; And a bit more.

When will order return to Kabul? It’s an urgent question that surely no one wants to know the answer to more than the thousands of Afghans trying to flee the capital city, now three days after the collapse of the Afghan government and the departure of disgraced former President Ashraf Ghani—who turned up today with his family in the United Arab Emirates, according to the Associated Press. But it’s also a question more and more people around the world are wondering now that the fate of Afghanistan has once again become deeply troubling front-page news. Otherwise, there are several notable and inevitably overlapping storylines coming out of Afghanistan Wednesday, including:

It’s “mayhem” around the Kabul airport, with “no coherent system for processing people,” CNN’s Clarissa Ward reports on location, and one day after America’s top commander in the Middle East, Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie of Central Command, visited Kabul on Tuesday to review airport security and re-establish civilian flights—as well as warning the Taliban not to interfere in evacuation efforts. Added CNN’s Ward, “Honestly, to me, it’s a miracle more people haven’t been seriously, seriously hurt.” And that will likely be the world’s guiding metric for how the next hours and days proceed. 

Already there have been several instances of violence around the airport as alleged Taliban fighters seem to have attempted crowd control measures Tuesday; the Los Angeles Times’ photographer Marcus Yam caught some of those bloody scenes with his lens and posted them to Twitter, here.

But the situation at the airport is improving, NBC’s Richard Engel reports, tweeting, “Evacuations picking up. Seeing more Afghan families being taken through. Planes taking off. Base well guarded.” According to the latest available numbers, “There are now about 4,500 U.S. troops at the Kabul airport, with the number set to hit 6,000 in the next day or two,” Reuters Idrees Ali reports, citing U.S. officials. Since Tuesday, 18 U.S. Air Force C-17s and one C-130 aircraft have evacuated about 2,000 people from Afghanistan, including 325 Americans, Time's Bill Hennigan reports. More below the fold.

From Defense One

US Ramps Up Emergency Kabul Airlift to Get 5,000 to 9,000 Out Per Day // Tara Copp: American commanders are in direct talks with Taliban, who now control all outside access to the airport

‘There Is No Afghan Government’: NATO Stops Aid To Afghanistan As Taliban Take Over // Jacqueline Feldscher: Stoltenberg says aid could resume to an “inclusive government." And at the White House: “We will have to take a hard look at how we proceed on any basis at all.”

Air Force Launches Investigation Into Deadly Kabul C-17 Flight  // Tara Copp: Mobbed by civilians, the Globemaster crew raced to get back in the air. The service’s investigations office will look into the deaths that followed.

Afghanistan Veterans Struggling With News of Taliban Takeover // Caitlin M. Kenney: Advocates encourage veterans to use VA, veteran service organization resources for help.

Biden Recognized Reality // Daniel Silverberg, The Atlantic: The president made a difficult but necessary choice.

Welcome to this Wednesday 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

A seemingly conciliatory Taliban comms team held their first press conference since taking Kabul. That happened Tuesday, when spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told reporters, “The Islamic Emirate, after freedom of this nation, is not going to [seek] revenge [on] anybody, we don’t have any grudges against anybody.” He also said “The issue of women is very important,” and that, “The Islamic Emirate is committed to the rights of women within the framework of Sharia.” It’s unclear precisely how that might be applied, or what that will look like in any future government. Al-Jazeera transcribed that presser, which you can read in full, here. The New York Times has more here.
The two faces of Kabul this week include one very suspenseful side in which the U.S. and its allies “need to secure a clear path for people to get on their flights,” according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Frud Bezhan; and there’s another portrayal of the city wherein children are still able to “buy ice cream” in the streets, according to local journalist Bilal Sarwary.
Elsewhere in the country, at least three people are believed to have been killed during protests in Jalalabad, Nangarhar province (to the east) over flying the Afghanistan national flag instead of the Taliban’s black and white flag, video via Pajhwok news; additional reporting via Khaama Press and Sarwary. There are also reportedly pro-Afghan government protests taking place in Kunar province, according to Sarwary again.
Anti-Taliban relics are coming down in Bamiyan, home to the ancient Buddha statues the Taliban blew up in March 2001, via the Washington Post’s Ezzatullah Mehrdad.
And protests have reportedly been spotted in Kabul, too, with brave attendees warning against Taliban’s anticipated marginalization of women.
Also spotted in Kabul: The Taliban’s special forces, according to CNN contributing editor Aditya Raj Kaul, who says the group’s Badri-313 unit arrived in the capital today ahead of a Taliban delegation, including Mullah Baradar and Sirajuddin Haqqani.

  • NATO’s leader has called an emergency meeting of foreign ministers from across the 30-nation alliance, and that’s set for Friday, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg tweeted Wednesday.

In possibly encouraging news: A semblance of intra-Afghan peace talks appear to have begun in Kabul, featuring former President Hamid Karzai and Kabul’s chief negotiator Abdullah Abdullah; photos via Tolo News, reporting via Reuters.
BTW: Afghanistan seems to have a caretaker president now, according to a Twitter account purportedly belonging to Ghani’s Vice President Amrullah Saleh. Bonus trivia: Saleh’s bio in his personal Twitter account includes this unsubtle line, “(Spies never quit)”.
In uncertain logistics news, almost 50 Afghan military aircraft exited the country since the weekend, headed north to Uzbekistan. Uzbek authorities say they forced 46 to land—22 planes and 24 helicopters, according to Reuters reporting separately on Monday. The Drive has a bit more, here; and the Wall Street Journal has more, here.
The U.S. could begin to plan for the return of about $3.3 billion that would have gone to the Afghan military, Inside Defense’s Tony Bertuca reports off the White House’s most recent budget request.
And ICYMI: The U.S. has frozen almost $10 billion in assets at the Afghanistan Central Bank, the Washington Post reported Monday. 

SecAF Kendall has an eye on Beijing. New U.S. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall wants to find the type of tech that scares China, but is going to have to figure out how to convince Congress to let it retire aircraft the service no longer wants, Defense News reports. “The Air Force has been overly constrained,” Kendall told Defense News. “I think we’ve not been allowed to do things we really need to do to free up resources for things that are higher priority.”
Kendall said he has been “obsessed” with China “for quite a long time now,” particularly their modernization programs, adding: “they’re moving faster than I might have anticipated.” Read more from the interview, here.
BTW: The Chinese military conducted assault drills near Taiwan on Tuesday, AP reports, with fighter jets, anti-submarine aircraft and combat ships all participating in the exercise. More on that, here.

Marines’ new missile. The Marine Corps has successfully fired its new anti-ship missile system, Breaking Defense reports. “The Navy Marine Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System, more cleverly known as NMESIS, is a ground-based, anti-ship capability that was developed quickly over the past two years by combining elements of other programs of record, such as the chassis of the Joint Lightweight Tactical Vehicle and the fire control system from the Naval Strike Missile,”  Breaking Defense explains. The weapon hit a “decommissioned vessel” off the coast of Kauai, Hawaii, during the test. 

And lastly today: The DOD Warrior Games, which had been scheduled for September, have now been canceled for the second year in a row due to COVID-19 concerns. Army Times has details, here.