Today's D Brief: Deadline drama in Kabul; Taliban’s ‘red line’; VP Harris in Singapore; Conference wire latest; And a bit more.
America’s top spy met the Taliban’s top leader in Kabul on Monday, the Washington Post reported Tuesday morning, emphasizing, “the discussions likely involved an impending Aug. 31 deadline for the U.S. military to conclude its airlift of U.S. citizens and Afghan allies.” The U.K., Germany, and Turkey are also interested in a deadline extension, according to Pajhwok News.
A Taliban spokesman warned of unspecified “consequences” over extending that deadline, according to an interview Tuesday with Sky News. “It’s a red line,” Suhail Shaheen said. “If the U.S. or U.K. were to seek additional time to continue evacuations—the answer is no. Or there would be consequences. It will create mistrust between us. If they are intent on continuing the occupation, it will provoke a reaction.”
- The Taliban’s newest message for the U.S.: Leave by August 31, spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Tuesday morning in a press conference (via Tolo News).
- The Taliban’s newest message to Afghans: Stop trying to leave, especially if you’re a doctor or an engineer, Zabihullah also said in that presser.
Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai is working the crowds in Kabul, trying to calm fearful residents and business owners. Pajhwok has a tiny bit more on that, here.
U.S. President Joe Biden is meeting virtually with G7 leaders this morning, and that follows an earlier meeting with his national security team in the Situation Room.
- Later, Biden will address the nation about Afghanistan in remarks scheduled for 12 p.m. ET. Catch it live on the White House’s YouTube channel, here.
Meanwhile at Hamid Karzai International Airport: Almost 64,000 people have been evacuated or relocated out of Kabul since July. The latest White House metrics revealed 21,600 people were evacuated in the past 24 hours. They exited on 37 different U.S. military flights—32 C-17s and 5 C-130s—which carried approximately 12,700 evacuees; 57 additional coalition flights carried another 8,900 people out of the Afghan capital. (Pentagon officials on Monday said 42,000 people had been evacuated at that point; Tuesday’s 21,600 total brings the latest figures to 63,900 people, according to the White House.)
Now accepting outbound flights from Kabul: Naval Air Station Sigonella, in Italy. Navy Times has a window into that operation, here.
Threat vectors around HKIA. In case you missed it on Monday, it’s not al-Qaeda that coalition troops in Afghanistan are most worried about; instead, it’s the “serious threat” from the ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan, ISIS-K, President Biden's National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Monday at a White House briefing. Nevertheless, Sullivan said ISIS-K is a threat that the U.S. can fight from outside of Afghanistan, where troops are all expected to withdraw in a week. “We have proven in other places that we can supress terrorism without a permanent military presence on the ground, and we will do the same in Afghanistan,” Sullivan said.
The Bagram question. Many Afghan observers have wondered why the U.S. closed Bagram air base several weeks ago—a base that conceivably could have aided in the evacuation of thousands of Afghans from the country. FP’s Jack Detsch reported Monday on Twitter that Bagram was deemed “too remote” to be of significant use to the coalition’s evacuation work. “The vast majority of evacuees” are in Kabul, a Pentagon spokesman told Detsch, and that at least partly helped rule out Bagram as a Plan B.
Elsewhere, the Taliban are trying to surge forces to the holdout province of Panjshir, where the last elements of resistance to Taliban rule have gathered, including Vice President Amrullah Saleh and Ahmad Massoud, whose father fought the Soviets a few decades ago. The Associated Press has more on the significance of that enclave, which might not be able to hold out for much longer, here.
Openings in administration: The Taliban have appointed a bank minister who has no known training in finance. His name is Mohammad Idris, and not many people know much about the guy. Bloomberg (via al-Jazeera) has a bit more of the known-knowns, here.
From Defense One
Conference Wire: The Space Symposium Must Go On // Defense One Staff : In this edition of Conference Wire, a preview of the conference's top agenda items.
China’s Top Priority In Afghanistan Is Stability, Experts Say // Jacqueline Feldscher: The U.S. must move past blame for Afghanistan to focus on the threat from China, one expert says.
US Has Evacuated 42,000 from Kabul; 16,000 in last 24 Hours Alone, Pentagon Says // Tara Copp: The pace is still rising; Taliban have threatened “consequences” if U.S. forces remain beyond Aug. 31.
US Flights Out of Afghanistan Set to ‘Increase Significantly’ as Aug. 31 Deadline Nears // Tara Copp: More than 230 Air Force cargo, tanker aircraft are evacuating Americans, Afghans from Kabul.
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 1970, four Vietnam war protesters who called themselves the “New Year’s Gang” filled a Ford van with 2,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate and detonated it at around 4 a.m. in front of an Army research building on the campus of the University of Wisconsin–Madison. The explosion killed a postdoctoral researcher (not employed by the U.S. military) and wounded three others. It would take between two and seven years to arrest three of the bombers; one escaped to Canada and has reportedly not been spotted since.
VP Kamala Harris knocked China over its “coercion” and “intimidation” in and around the South China Sea. That rhetorical barb came during a trip to Singapore on Tuesday, including a visit to the Changi Naval Base. While there, Harris praised Washington’s vision of “a free and open Indo-Pacific that promotes our interests and those of our partners and allies.”
“Our vision includes freedom of navigation, which is vital to us all,” said Harris. “The livelihood of millions of people depend on the billions of dollars in trade that flow through these sea lanes each day. And yet, in the South China Sea, we know that Beijing continues to coerce, to intimidate, and to make claims to the vast majority of the South China Sea. These unlawful claims have been rejected by the 2016 arbitral tribunal decision. And Beijing’s actions continue to undermine the rules-based order and threaten the sovereignty of nations.”
Bigger picture: Harris’s remarks were “her sharpest comments yet” criticizing China, the Associated Press reports, traveling with the VP. BTW: “Harris also met Monday with Singapore President Halimah Yacob and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. [Harris]’s office announced a number of agreements out of that meeting aimed at combating cyberthreats, tackling climate change, addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and alleviating supply chain issues.”
Gunmen in Nigeria killed two military officers and took another hostage in the northwestern part of the country, Agence France-Presse reports. “The high-security base, located just outside the state capital Kaduna, trains Nigerian officers and also cadets from other African militaries.”
Context: “The armed forces have carried out operations and air strikes” against alleged militants “hidden deep in the forests that span Zamfara, Kaduna, Katsina, and Niger States, but violence has escalated. In July, the air force said bandits had shot down one of its jets as it was carrying out operations in Zamfara state.” More here.
And lastly: Today on the conference wire, Chief of Space Operations Gen. Jay Raymond spoke this morning from 10:30 to 11 a.m. EDT at the Space Foundation’s 36th Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Still to come today: NASA Administrator Bill Nelson at 11 a.m. EDT, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall at noon EDT, National Reconnaissance Office director Chris Scolese at 12:30 EDT, U.S. Space Command chief Gen. James Dickinson at 12:50 EDT, and Chris Hill, performing the duties of the assistant secretary of defense for space policy, at 4:25 p.m. EDT. Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Hyten will address the corporate partnership dinner at 9:30 p.m. EDT, for those registered for that event. Register here to attend the conference virtually.
And don’t miss Defense One’s coverage of the event, including video wrap-ups of each day, here.