Today's D Brief: Rising anxiety in Afghanistan; 'Majority' of SIVs left behind; GOP flip-flop on Afghan exit; DC, from the ISS; And a bit more.
Afghanistan’s neighbors have closed their land borders, and now “tens of thousands” of Afghans who couldn’t leave Kabul before Aug. 31 are trapped, the Wall Street Journal reports. It’s worth noting, however, that “Locals [in Pakistan] estimate that several thousand Afghans have been smuggled across Chaman over the last couple of weeks, paying up to $90 a person.” And Iran presents an even tougher challenge due to certain visa restrictions.
Others closer to Kabul are losing heart, the Associated Press reports, as they cope with feelings like betrayal, with many—including some close to Defense One staff—having tried multiple times to access Kabul’s airport in the waning days of the withdrawal, only to meet resistance of all sorts. “On one occasion, [an Afghan man named Ajmal] said he received an email telling him and his family they would be picked up at a spot near the airport at 3 a.m. He and his family waited on the street until 9 a.m., but no one came, he said.”
Untold thousands face a similar dilemma: “[T]he majority of Afghan interpreters and others who had applied for visas to flee the country were left behind,” the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday, paraphrasing a State Department official’s remarks.
That includes “the majority” of special immigrant visa applicants, Politico reported Wednesday as well.
Brutality watch: Taliban fighters are reportedly carrying out reprisal killings across at least four provinces—Kandahar, Nangarhar, Badghis, and Farah, according to the BBC, which noted it “was not able to independently confirm the killings, and the Taliban have repeatedly denied committing any revenge killings.”
Back in the states, several key Republicans have flip-flopped on an Afghanistan withdrawal between the last days of the Trump administration and now, the New York Times reported Wednesday.
The notables include House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy, Calif.; Rep. Glenn Grothman, Wis.; Rep. Clay Higgins of Louisiana; Sen. Josh Hawley from Missouri; and, of course, Trump himself.
Perhaps most useful to know moving forward, the policy U-turn from key GOP leaders is unlikely to hurt any of them politically, Reid J. Epstein and Catie Edmondson write. Read on, here.
Big picture takeaway #679: This job of building a foreign army—arguably the chief task the U.S. military and its allies tried to shoulder in Afghanistan—the CIA is better at it, write Bilal Saab and Douglas London for the Middle East Institute. Read them articulate their case after four critical caveats, here.
Public service announcement: Don’t send donations to Al Udeid for Afghan refugees. They already have so many that they’re causing problems at the base’s post office, Military Times reports. For a sense of the problem’s scale, “Before Aug. 1, the average daily volume of mail going to Al Udeid was about 4,850 pounds. By the end of August, it rose to a daily peak of 19,841 pounds.”
Marine Corps Base Quantico has also urged people not to mail donations there, and has paused in-person donations. Several organizations are still taking monetary and other donations for Afghan refugees, though. Here’s a list of ways to help in the D.C. area. Find more Afghanistan coverage from Defense One staff immediately below.
From Defense One
‘It’s Possible’ US and Taliban Will Target ISIS-K Together, Milley Says // Tara Copp: But SecDef Austin cautions, “I would not make any leaps” beyond recent coordinated airport evacuation ops.
Marine Corps Commandant Wants Review of Afghanistan Evacuation // Caitlin M. Kenney: “While it's relatively fresh in our minds, we need the
Lawmakers Ask About Past Blame, Future Security in Afghanistan In Policy Bill // Jacqueline Feldscher: Members approved more than a half-dozen Afghanistan-related amendments amid some partisan jabs.honest, open critique,” Gen. Berger says.
Welcome to this Thursday 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 1666, a bakery fire in London broke out just after midnight and, with high winds, swept eastward—eventually destroying 80% of the city. It took less than a day for order to break down on the streets as anger misdirected at foreigners quickly turned into violence. Perhaps surprisingly, the use of gunpowder is credited with helping stop the spread through the creation of firebreaks after much of the wind died down.
America’s active-duty sailors and Marines have until Nov. 28 to get vaccinated against COVID-19, Secretary Carlos Del Toro announced on Aug. 30 and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger echoed Sept. 1.
Reservists have until Dec. 28, and those vaccinations must be FDA-approved (in case any barracks lawyers were considering livestock meds). That currently leaves just the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine as an option, which the FDA approved one week before the new memo was distributed across the Navy.
Refuse vaccination? The Navy says it will provide counseling that “will include access to a healthcare professional to answer questions regarding the risks of COVID-19 and the benefits of COVID-19 vaccinations.”
Miss the deadline? Consequences could extend to UCMJ. Read more at U.S. Naval Institute News, here.
A captured ISIS fighter goes on trial in Virginia today. He’s one of two men that U.S. prosecutors say helped kidnap as well as torture and murder American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and aid workers Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller.
His name is Alexanda Kotey, and his ISIS colleague is El Shafee Elsheikh. Both were snatched up by Kurdish fighters in Syria back in 2018. Then, “They were transferred to Iraq by the U.S. military in October 2019 amid Turkey’s invasion of northeast Syria,” the Washington Post reported Wednesday.
For something completely different: Take a look at the Washington, D.C. area as seen from the International Space Station, via a photo shared Wednesday by Army Col. and NASA Astronaut Shane Kimbrough.
West Point just installed its first outdoor statue of a Black man: Staff Sgt. Sanders H. Matthews Sr., known as one of America’s “Buffalo Soldiers.” The message on its granite base: “In Memory of the Buffalo Soldiers who served with the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments as part of the United States Military Academy Cavalry Detachment at West Point.” The Washington Post has more here.
And lastly today: U.S. European Command’s Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters will brief reporters alongside Press Secretary John Kirby at 3 p.m. ET from the Pentagon. Catch it live at DVIDS, here.