Before Kabul fell, some had expected a massive exodus of refugees, even if government forces could stave off the Taliban’s advance. Such an exodus is now unfolding, as The Economist writes.
In the weeks to come, a US evacuation effort “could lift away tens of thousands of people,” the magazine writes. “The Pentagon has said that at least 22,000 Afghans who qualify for ‘special immigrant visas’ (SIVs) will be airlifted out, at a rate of 5,000 per day. Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, told her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party that 10,000 will be admitted. Britain has said 2,700, including 900 Britons and 1,600 Afghans, will be taken to the United Kingdom. How exactly this will work is unclear. Britain’s defence secretary, Ben Wallace, told a radio show that the government had set a deadline of August 31st to finish its evacuation. But as he noted, choking with emotion, ‘some people won’t get back.’”
There was time to process more visa requests before US and NATO troops withdrew, the magazine suggests, writing that “it has been taking years to issue visas to former workers” who helped US and allied troops—and who could be at grave risk, despite the Taliban’s promises not to seek revenge. “[F]or now, tens of thousands of Afghans who worked with international forces, as well as their families, have been abandoned. Millions more face an uncertain future. They will be hoping that the Taliban’s promises mean something, but fearing the worst.”
While many refugees are expected to flee to neighboring countries, Daniel Trilling writes for The Guardian, in Europe there are already mixed signals—and the potential for mixed politics—surrounding how many Afghans might be allowed in.
‘There Never Was a Plan B’
That’s what David Brown writes for Asia Sentinel, regretting all the failures that led up to Afghanistan’s fall and adding: “It will be argued as long as the American republic survives whether [President Joe] Biden’s withdrawal deadline was correct, but as president, Biden reasonably expected that his Pentagon would serve him up a workable Plan B,” which in Brown’s opinion, it apparently “didn’t.”
Brown makes another point about bureaucratic failure: The Taliban capture of Kabul is now being compared to the fall of Saigon in 1975, from which a generation of US officials had learned. “Come 2001, al Qaeda’s timing was perfect,” Brown writes. “The Vietnam hands had been retired. Hardly anyone then serving in the US government had first-hand experience of America’s first ‘forever war.’”
Rice: Don’t Blame Afghans
Former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who served in that role from 2005–2009, writes for The Washington Post: “The time will come to assess where we failed—and what we achieved. In the wake of Kabul’s fall, though, a corrosive and deeply unfair narrative is emerging: to blame the Afghans for how it all ended. The Afghan security forces failed. The Afghan government failed. The Afghan people failed. ‘We gave them every chance to determine their own future,’ President Biden said in his address Monday—as if the Afghans had somehow chosen the Taliban. No—they didn’t choose the Taliban. They fought and died alongside us, helping us degrade al-Qaeda. … It is not surprising that Afghan security forces lost the will to fight, when the Taliban warned that the United States was deserting them and that those who resisted would see their families killed. … Now we have to live with the consequences of our haste.”
The Afghans America Left Behind
At The New Yorker, David Rohde—who spent more than seven months as a Taliban prisoner in 2008 and 2009—writes powerfully of his (thus-far failed) struggle to help the Afghan journalist with whom he was held captive, as the latter has sought desperately to obtain US visas for his family since spring. Another Afghan friend and journalist spent 20 hours at the Kabul airport with his family, to no avail. Rohde’s maddening account seems to indicate what others have argued: that the US government did not appreciate the urgency of helping those who had helped America.
“Senior White House and State Department officials did not appear to grasp the number of Afghan civilians who, like Tahir and Waheed, had backed the U.S. effort and would be in grave danger if the Taliban regained power,” Rohde writes. “The U.S. had attempted one of the largest efforts to rebuild a nation since the Second World War, funding the creation of schools, health clinics, and independent media outlets across the country. According to the International Rescue Committee, over the past twenty years three hundred thousand Afghan civilians have been affiliated with the American project in the country.”
Prospects of a Terrorist Haven
Many commentators have predicted that despite the Taliban’s assurances to the Trump administration, Afghanistan will once again become a haven for al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. At Foreign Affairs, Daniel Byman offers a relatively optimistic take, suggesting “an expansive safe haven comparable to the pre-9/11 period is unlikely.”
In recent years, al Qaeda has focused on supporting and maintaining control over localized initiatives around the world, not a grand conflict with the West, Byman writes. Meanwhile, “[t]he Taliban’s own incentives to support international terrorism against the West are low, whatever bonds the group’s leaders might have with al Qaeda. The Taliban were not consulted about 9/11, and they didn’t favor previous terrorist attacks the group carried out, such as the 1998 embassy bombings in East Africa. The Taliban also paid a heavy price for 9/11, losing power for 20 years and seeing much of their core leadership die in the fight with the United States.”