Hamstrung: Austin admits he lacks troops to help Americans and Afghans who can’t get to Kabul airport

·13 min read

‘WE DON'T HAVE THE CAPABILITY’: With 6,000 troops committed to defend the Kabul airport and less than two weeks until a self-imposed Aug. 31 deadline, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin says he doesn’t have enough forces to help Americans or qualified Afghans get to the airport for flights to safety.

“I don't have the capability to go out and extend operations currently into Kabul,” Austin said in his first public comments since the fall of the capital Sunday. “We don't have the capability to go out and collect up large numbers of people.”

Instead, American citizens will have to make their own way through the gauntlet of Taliban fighters on the airport road who have been beating and threatening people on the crowded street, even as the U.S. Embassy says it cannot ensure safe passage to the airport.

At a briefing for Pentagon reporters, Austin insisted that Americans with passports or other credentials are being allowed to proceed to the airport, under an agreement with the Taliban. “Those people that need to get to the airfield, have the right credentials to ensure passage, and the Taliban has been checking those credentials,” he said. “And if they have them, they have allowed them to pass.”


ALL AMERICANS, AS MANY AFGHANS ‘AS POSSIBLE’: Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley called the security situation in Afghanistan “very dangerous, very dynamic, and very fluid,” but he pledged that no Americans would be left behind.

“We fully intend to successfully evacuate all American citizens who want to get out of Afghanistan, all American citizens who want to get out of Afghanistan. They are priority No. 1,” Milley told reporters.

But for the estimated 80,000 Afghans in the country who may qualify for special immigrant visas or political asylum, the promise was created. “In addition, we intend to evacuate those who have been supporting us for years, and we're not going to leave them behind,” Milley said, before adding, “We will get out as many as possible.”

Milley said there was a steady stream of people showing up at the airport's gates and that as of yesterday, 5,000 people had been evacuated.

BIDEN: AIRLIFT COULD GO PAST AUG. 31: In an interview with ABC News last night, President Joe Biden defended his evacuation plans, insisting the chaos in Kabul was unavoidable.

“The idea that somehow, there's a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing, I don't know how that happens,” he told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.

Biden said U.S. troops would stay until every American was out but that he still believed the airlift could be completed by the end of the month. "Americans should understand that we're gonna try to get it done before Aug. 31,” he told Stephanopoulos.

When pressed by Stephanopoulos, Biden said, “If there's American citizens left, we're gonna stay to get them all out.”

But Biden offered no such assurance for the 50,000 to 65,000 Afghans and their families who the U.S. also wants to get out. Biden admitted many of them were not being allowed past Taliban checkpoints.

“They're cooperating, letting American citizens get out,” Biden said, referring to the Taliban. “But we're having some more difficulty having those who helped us when we were in there."

"The commitment holds to get everyone out,” Biden said. “It depends on where we are and whether we can get — ramp these numbers up to 5,000-7,000 a day coming out. If that's the case, they'll all be out."


Good Thursday morning and welcome to Jamie McIntyre’s Daily on Defense, written and compiled by Washington Examiner National Security Senior Writer Jamie McIntyre (@jamiejmcintyre) and edited by Victor I. Nava. Email here with tips, suggestions, calendar items, and anything else. Sign up or read current and back issues at DailyonDefense.com. If signing up doesn’t work, shoot us an email and we’ll add you to our list. And be sure to follow us on Twitter: @dailyondefense.


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HAPPENING TODAY: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin meets today at the Pentagon with Khalid Bin Mohammed al Attiyah, Qatar's deputy prime minister and minister of state for defense affairs.

A military honor cordon is set for 1 p.m. on the steps of the Pentagon’s River Entrance.

TALIBAN HUNTING US ALLIES: The New York Times is reporting that the Taliban are intensifying their search for Afghans who worked with U.S. and NATO forces and are threatening to kill or arrest their families, citing a confidential United Nations document.

The U.N. document said the Taliban had been going door to door and “arresting and/or threatening to kill or arrest family members of target individuals unless they surrender themselves to the Taliban,” according to the New York Times.

The Taliban reportedly have a list of people they want to question and punish — and their locations.

ALARM GROWS OVER THE FATE OF AFGHAN FRIENDS: Advocates for the Afghan translators and other Afghans who worked with Americans, or for U.S. companies, media organizations, or NGOs, are worried that Biden’s half-hearted pledge to evacuate as many as possible will mean tens of thousands will be left behind.

“I was sitting in bed last night going through emails that had been forwarded to me from all over the country, from veterans who were trying to get their friends out,” said Rep. Seth Moulton, Massachusetts Democrat on CNN. “Just looking through some of these passport documents, seeing the innocent faces of these young kids who may very well die because their fathers or mothers worked for us.”

“They talk about how many people they can evacuate per hour on planes. But if people can't simply get into the airport, even green card-holding people like you saw on TV ... there will be tens of thousands who are stuck outside that wire under the Taliban's control,” Moulton said.

EXPAND THE PERIMETER, EXTEND THE DEADLINE: With the Pentagon insisting it has only enough troops to secure and defend the airport, advocates for trapped Afghans are growing increasingly frustrated by what they see as Biden’s minimalist approach.

“There's no way humanly possible that you can keep our promise, the promise that the president has made, by Aug. 31,” said Rep. Tom Malinowski, a New Jersey Democrat, on CNN.

Like many others, Malinowski is calling for Biden to take a more muscular approach with the Taliban. “That means, No. 1, getting full control of the airport; control of the perimeter, which is difficult but necessary so that we can decide who comes in; and to make absolutely clear that we are going to stay at that airport — hold that ground until that mission is complete.”

On Fox, retired Gen. David Petraeus, a former Afghanistan commander, suggested the U.S. military might consider reclaiming the embassy compound in Kabul or even taking over remote air bases, where U.S. helicopters could ferry evacuees to Kabul

“We get a lot of leverage. We have the might of the U.S. military,” Petraeus told Fox’s Martha MacCallum. “Don't forget that. And we can bring that to bear.”

‘THIS ISN'T WORKING’: Among the sharpest critics of the slow pace of evacuations is Matt Zeller, an Afghanistan war veteran and co-founder of the group No One Left Behind, who had been working for years on behalf of Afghans who helped the U.S.

“There are tens of thousands of people who have surrounded the airport desperate to get in. There are Taliban checkpoints within 100 meters of U.S. Marines,” Zeller told CNN. “They're beating people in the crowds. I had a friend in the crowd last night who got beaten by Taliban soldiers with chains. And the Americans just have to stand there and do nothing. They have to stand there and watch it.”

“They need to expand the perimeter at the airport. It's clear that this isn't working. We need to reopen air bases like Bagram, where we can more effectively move people. We need to start opening up air bases all throughout the rest of Afghanistan,” Zeller said. “Afghan interpreters and their families who we're tracking who have already registered for visas, some of whom are being notified that they have flights, but they're in cities like Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif and Kandahar, which are completely controlled by the Taliban.”

DISPUTING THE INTEL: At the time President Joe Biden announced his decision to complete the withdrawal of U.S. troops, U.S. intelligence assessments suggested that all-out civil war was likely and that the government could collapse within a year

By July, with the Taliban on the march, the classified assessments grew more dire, predicting the fall of Kabul within weeks or months of the U.S. departure.

But at yesterday’s Pentagon briefing, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley insisted that none of the assessments predicted that the Afghan army would surrender without a fight and let the Taliban walk into Kabul.

“The intelligence clearly indicated multiple scenarios were possible. One of those was an outright Taliban takeover following a rapid collapse of the Afghan security forces and the government. Another was a civil war. And a third was a negotiated settlement,” Milley said.

“The time frame of a rapid collapse ... ranged from weeks to months, and even years, following our departure,” he said. “There was nothing that I or anyone else saw that indicated a collapse of this army and this government in 11 days.”


REMEMBERING JOE GALLOWAY: I didn’t know Joe Galloway personally, but of course, I knew of him. A legendary journalist and truth-teller, he was a hero to any budding reporter who aspired to cover the war and the military with a critical, but not jaundiced, eye.

My former editor Susan Katz Keating did know Joe, in fact, she played a small role in the promotion of his bestselling 1992 book, We Were Soldiers Once … and Young, written with retired Lt. Gen. Harold Moore, the U.S. battalion commander at Ia Drang.

“When I was at the Washington Times, I also was one of the secret squirrels who wrote anonymous reviews of military books for Publishers Weekly. When the galley for We Were Soldiers came across my transom, I was awed by the contents. I recommended the book for a starred review,” Keating told me yesterday. “Later, when Random House picked up my own book, I shared Joe's editor, and Joe and I greatly entertained one another with tales about the ‘joys.’”

“I have so many memories of Joe. Laying a wreath at the Vietnam Memorial on Veterans Day; having dinner with his gang from the Ia Drang when Gen. Moore was alive; watching him hold an audience spellbound at the Infantry Museum outside Fort Benning,” she said. “Mostly, I remember a kind and funny friend who thought the world of my daughters, and who adored his sons and grandson and wife. He will be much missed.”


The Rundown

Washington Examiner: Biden insists no mistakes were made in US exit from Afghanistan

Washington Examiner: Milley says there were no indications that Taliban would take over this quickly

Washington Examiner: Biden and Milley misled about Afghan army numbers

Washington Examiner: US 'cannot ensure safe passage' to Kabul airport amid reports of Taliban interference

Washington Examiner: GOP leaders ask Biden for classified 'Gang of Eight' briefing on Afghanistan

Washington Examiner: Deposed Afghan president denies fleeing country with millions in cash

Washington Examiner: Biden, like Trump, bets war-weariness will overshadow Afghanistan's problems

Washington Examiner: At least 17 injured in stampede at Kabul airport, NATO official says

Washington Examiner: Son of late anti-Taliban militia commander promises armed resistance: 'We knew this day might come'

Washington Examiner: Air Force Academy requires training linked to critical race theory and Black Lives Matter

Talk Media News: While US military leaders fret about its citizens in Kabul getting to airport, UK, French forces ferret out their citizens and escort them to safety

Washington Post: Afghanistan to be ruled under sharia law, Taliban commander confirms

AP: Afghans plead for faster US evacuation from Taliban rule

AP: US friends try to rescue brother in arms in Afghanistan

Air Force Magazine: Veterans Scramble to Provide Support for Stranded Afghan Interpreters

Air Force Magazine: These Airmen Closed Down Bases in Afghanistan. Now They’re Back to Run the Evacuation

19fortyfive.com: Opinion: Biden's Afghanistan Disaster Will Become A Hostage Crisis

19fortyfive.com: The U.S. Military Forgot the Lessons of Vietnam in Afghanistan and Iraq

19fortyfive.com: Should the Department of Defense Be Rebooted to Take on China?

19fortyfive.com: The Afghan National Army Didn't Surrender – It Fled The Country

U.S. News and World Report: From 300,000 to a Few Hundred: What Happened to Afghanistan’s Army

19fortyfive.com: How Russia Stands to Gain Thanks to Biden's Afghanistan Disaster

JustSecurity.org: CIA’s Former Counterterrorism Chief for the Region: Afghanistan, Not An Intelligence Failure — Something Much Worse

The Hill: Opinion: Stories of Afghans Left Behind Will Hurt America around the World

The Cipher Brief: Opinion: / The Cipher Brief / Putin’s Calculated Afghanistan Play by former CIA Officer Robert Dannenberg

The Cipher Brief: Opinion: Written in Taliban: US Veterans Voice Anger Over Afghanistan



8 a.m. — Hudson Institute virtual discussion: “The Dynamics of a Changing Arctic," with European Union Special Envoy for Arctic Matters Michael Mann; Taylor Fravel, security studies professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Maria Lagutina, associate professor at the St. Petersburg State University's World Politics Department; Sara Olsvig, fellow at the University of Greenland, Ilisimaturfik's Institute of Social Science, Economics and Journalism; Martin Breum, Arctic expert and journalist at High North News; and Kenneth Weinstein, fellow at the Hudson Institute. https://www.hudson.org/events

10 a.m. — National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations virtual discussion: Energy Changes and Transitions: Why, What, Where, Who, How, and Uncertainties,” with David Des Roches, associate professor at the National Defense University; Paul Sullivan, adjunct professor for energy and environmental security at Johns Hopkins University; and John Duke Anthony, founding president of NCUAR. https://events.r20.constantcontact.com/register

12 p.m. — International Spy Museum “Spy Chat,” virtual discussion of the latest intelligence, national security, and terrorism issueswith retired CIA officer Marc Polymeropoulos; and Chris Costa, executive director, International Spy Museum. https://www.spymuseum.org/calendar/virtual-spy-chat

1 p.m. — George Washington University Project for Media and National Security Defense Writers Group conversation with Rear Adm. Bruce Gillingham, U.S. Navy surgeon general. https://nationalsecuritymedia.gwu.edu

2:30 p.m. — Center for a New American Security event: “Against the Clock: Saving America's Afghan Partners,” with Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass; Richard Armitage, former deputy secretary of state; Richard Fontaine, CEO, Center for a New American Security; Lisa Curtis, senior fellow and director, Indo-Pacific Security Program, Center for a New American Security. https://www.cnas.org/events


“The idea that somehow, there's a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing, I don't know how that happens.”

President Joe Biden, in an ABC interview, arguing that the early chaos in the Kabul airlift was inevitable.

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Original Author: Jamie McIntyre

Original Location: Hamstrung: Austin admits he lacks troops to help Americans and Afghans who can’t get to Kabul airport

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