The New Crisis In Afghanistan

It has been a little over a week since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan and the situation has gone from bad to worse. From the Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA) in Kabul, we have witnessed scenes of Afghans falling to their deaths after clinging to a departing US military plane, multiple reports of Taliban members beating both Afghans and Americans trying to make it to the airport, and Afghan parents posting missing children posters on the fences surrounding the airport as they have lost their children amid the chaos. The most heartbreaking images have been of Afghan mothers throwing their babies across razor-wire fences to members of the UK and US military, in hopes that their children can escape Afghanistan. 

The Biden administration has been, to put it bluntly, fucking awful on the topic of the emerging humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan over the past week. The administration has put out a series of ludicrous excuses, ranging from “we thought we had more time” (really? why did you think that?) to “well a lot of the Afghans who helped us decided to stay in Afghanistan (AYFKM?) to “but the GOP will say mean things about letting in too many Afghans too quick” (like any decent person gives a shit what the GOP has to say on this topic). I’m willing to call all of these what they are, which is ad hoc excuses to cover the fact that the Biden administration had no plans in place to get either Americans or Afghans in the special immigrant visa pipeline (SIVs for short) out of harm’s way before pulling the remaining troops out of Afghanistan. 

In the US, the online debate has been over what should be done for those who are attempting to flee Afghanistan, with some questioning exactly what the US owes to those who wish to leave. I specifically point out the online debate because, at least in the case of Afghans who have helped the US military and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the consensus is astonishingly uniform -- per a CBS News poll 90% of Democrats, 76% of Republicans, and 79% of independents agree that the US should be helping those people enter the US. Instead, the US is trying to find third-country parties to shuttle any SIVs it can get out to await their final approval to come to the US. 

Helping SIVs get out of Afghanistan now is an absolute no-brainer, not to mention imperative. The Taliban has been clear they will not be kind to Afghans who aided US or NATO forces, and they either have or will have soon have the biometric data of those who did so. There have already been reports circulating online of Taliban members going door to door to find those who aided Western forces to take them into custody to execute them. In addition to those reports, there is already a video of the Taliban murdering members of the Afghan Special Forces who were attempting to surrender. 

The US made a promise to each SIV — help us and we will get you into the US. This country has to uphold that promise if it wants any chance of maintaining any level of credibility. This country cannot abandon Afghan citizens who chose us over the Taliban and fulfilled their end of the bargain, not if it ever wants a chance of ever having a citizen of another similarly situated country making that same decision. And no, they don’t need to be parked in some other country for years on end while their paperwork is processed, they need to be brought here to the US. These SIVs have been vetted, they have served the US military and NGOs just as our own have but with much more on the line, the extreme least of what this country owes them is safe passage to the US to wait out their immigration process. That this is even up for debate is absurd to me. 

I want to be completely clear on this — any SIV left behind will be executed by the Taliban, and at least a few of those executions will be livestreamed.

Beyond that, there is the matter of getting anyone out, be they American or SIV, before the current deadline of August 31st. I am writing this on August 23nd, which is roughly a week and a half before the deadline the US has set for all evacuations to be done. NATO is already asking for an extension of that deadline due to the logistics of getting both foreign nationals and Afghan allies out of the country by that date. I’d love to tell you how many Americans are still awaiting transport out of Afghanistan but, well, nobody knows that number, estimates are somewhere between 10,000 - 15,000. Since August 14th, 2,500 Americans have been evacuated. 

Given the number of people we’re looking at, current capacity, timeframe, and conditions I don’t see how the US is going to be able to evacuate everyone it needs to. Unless something happens, and that something is entirely dependent on the Taliban agreeing to it, a whole lot of people are going to die. It horrifies me to type that, but there is no other truth to be told. And I cannot begin to distill my rage over that. 

There is a tiny sliver of hope however; CNN is reporting that in the past 24 hours, 28 US military aircraft have evacuated 10,400 people. That is welcome news and much-needed progress, but to put that number in perspective there were approximately 50,000 SIVs awaiting evacuation as of earlier this month. If the US can keep up that pace for the remainder of the week we have a shot of getting as many people out as can get to the airport but access to HKIA is getting more difficult by the day, especially for Afghans trying to leave the country.

I’ll leave off with this — I’ve often wondered during events if I am watching capital-H history happening. I do not doubt that I am now, and whatever happens in Kabul over the next week will be a defining moment for the US. Ending the war in Afghanistan was never going to result in a clean exit, but it damn sure didn’t have to be this messy.