It’s white-knuckle time in Kabul for any American trying to get to the safety of the airport. The Biden administration is being understandably tight-lipped about it, considering the volatility of the Taliban, but that doesn’t matter to the thousands of U.S. civilians staying in their homes and praying the Taliban don’t get to them. They just want to go home with their heads firmly attached to their necks.
According to the Washington Examiner’s Tom Rogan, British special forces have been making heroic efforts to rescue not only British citizens but Americans as well. But the commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division has told the British commander of their special forces to cease operations outside the airport perimeter. Apparently, it was making the U.S. military look bad.
I understand that the commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division has told the commander of the British special forces at the Kabul airport to cease operations beyond the airport perimeter.
Maj. Gen. Christopher Donahue has told his British Army counterpart, a high-ranking field-grade officer of the British army’s 22nd Special Air Service Regiment, that British operations were embarrassing the United States military in the absence of similar U.S. military operations, according to multiple military sources. I understand that the British officer firmly rejected the request.
Rogan says the British officer “firmly rejected the request.”
This show of rare tension between the U.S. and British command groups in Kabul reflects three factors.
First, it shows the obvious stress of attempting to extricate thousands of personnel under a situation of increasing terrorist threat. Elements of the Haqqani network, the Islamic State in Afghanistan, and possibly al Qaeda are now operating in proximity to Kabul airport with some degree of command separation from the Taliban.
Indeed, according to the Voice of America, the bloodthirsty, hostage-taking Haqqani network has been put in charge of security at the Kabul airport.
It also raises the prospect of al-Qaida being welcomed back to Afghanistan, they fear, which would break promises made by Taliban leaders during diplomatic talks in Qatar with U.S. officials last year, not to allow the country to again become a safe haven for foreign jihadists.
On Thursday, Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of Afghanistan’s National Reconciliation Council, a body of notables and elders involved in the Qatar talks, met with Khalil al-Rahman Haqqani and his entourage in Kabul. Abdullah later indicated publicly that Khalil al-Rahman Haqqani would be overseeing security in the Afghan capital and had provided assurances that he would “work hard to provide the right security for the citizens of Kabul.”
The Haqqani network has been allied with al-Qaeda since the 1990s and has close ties with the Taliban. Who is the Taliban trying to fool by putting them in charge of airport security? The Haqqanis have been kidnapping Americans for more than a decade.
As Rogan points out, the British have a lot more operational leeway in Afghanistan than our troops.
I understand that the SAS has conducted operations to bring American citizens, as well as British citizens and at-risk personnel, through checkpoints and to the airport. This is not an indictment on U.S. capabilities or special operations intent, but rather, it’s a reflection of political-military authorities. In part, this difference is understandable. Large-scale U.S. military operations beyond the Kabul airport perimeter would entail significant risk absent prior Taliban approval. But there is a sense, at least by allies, that the U.S. military could be doing more to leverage the Taliban into providing greater ease of access to the airport for those most at risk.
That’s one way of addressing the situation; have Americans lay low and wait for the situation to stabilize while directing the military to leave as small a footprint as possible so as not to attract attention to the U.S. presence.
Ordinarily, that would be a sound strategy — no need to antagonize enemies holding knives at the throats of your people.
But there’s nothing “ordinary” about the Taliban, Haqqani network, or al-Qaeda. If they believe that Biden won’t retaliate if they begin kidnapping and/or executing Americans, they will do it.
Forbearance is a virtue but weakness can be deadly. Let’s hope the Taliban have a lot of the former and Biden doesn’t have much of the latter.