Today's D Brief: Kabul evacuations resume; 100+ killed in attack near HKIA; Taliban vs. ISIS; Navy Cross for Marine Raider; Rescue in Tenn.; And a bit more.
More than 100 people were killed in two suicide bombing attacks Thursday just outside of the airport in Kabul. The explosions struck a dense crowd of people, many of them women and children, as well as American and Afghan service members. The death toll may continue to rise, especially since one hospital in Kabul has reportedly received 145 dead bodies, according to Sune Engel Rasmussen of the Wall Street Journal.
Thirteen Americans died in the attacks, 10 of them Marines—making Thursday the deadliest day for U.S. forces abroad since August 2011 (when 31 Americans and eight Afghans were killed after their helicopter was hit with a rocket propelled grenade over Wardak Province). Excluding helicopter shootdowns, Thursday’s attack might be the deadliest for U.S. troops of the entire Afghan war, Wesley Morgan pointed out on Twitter.
President Joe Biden promised to avenge the attacks, and to press on with a Kabul exit by Aug. 31. “To those who carried out this attack, as well as anyone who wishes America harm, know this: We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay,” Biden said in remarks from the East Room of the White House on Thursday. “I’ve also ordered my commanders to develop operational plans to strike ISIS-K assets, leadership, and facilities. We will respond with force and precision at our time, at the place we choose, and the moment of our choosing.” (Whether this will be effective or even possible with no U.S. troops in the country is TBD.)
The U.S. is still expecting an attempted truck bomb attack somewhere near the airport, America’s top commander for the Middle East, Central Command’s Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, told reporters Thursday.
Worth noting: McKenzie also said some attacks have already been thwarted thanks in part to the U.S. sharing select intelligence with the Taliban, which is something he said they’ve done since Aug. 14. (Kabul fell on Aug. 15.)
When it comes to the Taliban, Biden told reporters, “No one trusts them; we’re just counting on their self-interest to continue to generate their activities. And it’s in their self-interest that we leave when we said and that we get as many people out as we can.”
ICYMI, here’s another odd alignment of interests in Afghanistan: “The continued presence of Islamic State in Afghanistan is one reason the Taliban could receive international support from countries, including the U.S.,” the Wall Street Journal’s Alan Cullison flagged Thursday in a timely deep dive into the Taliban’s ongoing battle with ISIS. More below the fold.
From Defense One
13 US Troops Killed, More Injured, in Terrorist Attack at Kabul Airport // Elizabeth Howe and Tara Copp: 10 Marines among the dead; they were securing one of the last gates open for Afghans, Americans to escape.
Who Is ISIS-K? // Amira Jadoon,Andrew Mines: Two terrorism experts on the group behind the deadly Kabul airport attack and its rivalry with the Taliban.
Afghanistan Airlift Ops Have Rescued 101,300 From Kabul // Tara Copp: But numbers out each day are dropping as Taliban tighten grip on airport, security threats rise.
US Navy Will Upgrade Warships to Add Unnamed Space Capabilities // Caitlin M. Kenney: “Everything is classified” when it comes to space, one admiral complained.
Conference Wire: Navy Eyes Greater Space Capabilities // Defense One Staff : The final day of the 2021 Space Symposium saw Navy officials talk—just a bit—about their plans.
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.
The latest good news/bad news out of Kabul: Evacuation flights have resumed—but “the anxious crowds outside the city’s airport appeared as large as ever,” the Associated Press reports from the capital, where the Friday “call to prayer echoed through Kabul along with the roar of departing planes.”
Evacuation metrics: 105,000 people have been flown out of Afghanistan since Aug. 14, the White House said Friday morning. That includes 12,500 people in the 24 hours ending at 3 a.m. ET Friday. (The total evacuated since late July is nearly 111,000.)
New Zealand, Norway, and the Brits each admit they can’t get everyone out that they want to, according to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soereide, and British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, respectively. Norway has flown almost 1,100 out, with one more plane scheduled to depart today. “A total of 13,708 British and Afghans have been evacuated so far, including 1,429 in the last 24 hours,” the Times reports. Another thousand are at the airport today awaiting processing and departure. For the Kiwis, a few hundred people may still be left behind in Kabul, Prime Minister Ardern told reporters Friday.
Japan and France are still evacuating. So are the Turks, who are also reportedly weighing a Taliban request to secure the airport in the future, Turkish President Recep Erdogan said Friday in Istanbul.
The Swedes say they’re done evacuating—as do the Italians, Spanish, and Germans, whose military “flew 5,347 people out of Kabul, including more than 4,000 Afghans and some 500 Germans,” according to AP. Italy evacuated another 4,900 people; Spain evacuated almost 2,000; Sweden added another 1,100.
Contingency planning: Germany is considering coordination efforts using its embassies in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Pakistan, Foreign Minister Heiko Mass said Friday—though it’s too soon to know what shape any of that might take, or if it’s even feasible given the Taliban’s presumably growing control over roads and checkpoints throughout the country.
And the UN is bracing for another 500,000 Afghans to flee the country in the coming months. Officials called that a “worst-case scenario” on Friday, but admitted that there aren’t that many people fleeing the country’s land borders just yet. AFP has a tiny bit more, here.
A U.S. Navy destroyer and a Coast Guard cutter transited the Taiwan Strait today, the Navy’s 7th Fleet said in a statement. The Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd joined legend-class U.S. Coast Guard National Security Cutter Munro for the Friday passage.
That makes at least five times this year that the Navy has transited those waters near China, including trips in April, May, June and July.
Related reading: “As China-Taiwan Tensions Rise, Japan Begins Preparing for Possible Conflict,” the Wall Street Journal reports Friday from Japan.
Navy Cross for Raider in 2020 Iraq firefight. Marine Staff Sgt. Nicholas Jones on Thursday received the Navy Cross for his actions during an intense firefight against ISIS in northern Iraq last March, Corey Dickstein of Stars and Stripes reports. Jones, who was shot during the firefight but refused medical attention, helped recover the bodies of two of his fellow Raiders, Dickstein writes.
“I heard mass chaos behind me—quick calls coming in through the radio with very little details, until those piercing calls came through, saying an [American] was down,” Jones said of the battle. “Something inside me told me I needed to go now. I needed to turn and get there as quickly as I could … This is when I realized our objective had changed.” Continue reading, here.
Lastly this week: A Tennessee helicopter pilot rescued 17 people Saturday after greater-than-forecast rains and flooding swept through the area killing 20 people and destroying 270 homes, AP reported Thursday from Nashville.
The pilot, Joel Boyers, had just finished helping his fiancée get her own pilot’s license when he got a call from a woman who said her brother and his daughters were trapped on a roof in Waverly, Tenn., and needed help, AP reports. “She just so happened to call the right person, because I’m the only person crazy enough to even try to do that,” he told AP. Read more, here.
Stay safe this weekend. And we’ll see you again on Monday!