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Politics Overnight Defense: US scrambles to get Americans out of Kabul

09:55  13 september  2021
09:55  13 september  2021 Source:   thehill.com

Fact check: Biden didn't 'gift' weapons to Taliban, hasn't proposed banning pistols

  Fact check: Biden didn't 'gift' weapons to Taliban, hasn't proposed banning pistols A widespread narrative on social media misleads on the value of military equipment left behind in Afghanistan."The current regime that just gifted the Taliban with $80+ billion worth of military grade weapons wants your 9mm pistols," reads an Aug. 17 text post on Facebook. "THINK ABOUT IT.

It's Tuesday, welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Ellen Mitchell, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

a man looking at the camera: Overnight Defense: US scrambles to get Americans out of Kabul © Getty Overnight Defense: US scrambles to get Americans out of Kabul

THE TOPLINE: The Biden administration for a second day in a row on Tuesday sought to swat away criticism of its botched withdrawal from Afghanistan as the U.S. military worked to ramp up evacuation flights out of Kabul.

After a chaotic Monday that saw desperate Afghans flood the tarmac at the Kabul airport, the U.S. military resecured the airfield and pledged Tuesday to accelerate the pace of evacuations.

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  Taliban resume some flights, press assault on final holdout KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghanistan's Taliban rulers resumed some domestic passenger flights to and from Kabul on Sunday, as the religious militia's fighters stepped up an assault on the last remaining pocket of resistance being led by fighters opposed to their rule. The anti-Taliban fighters in Panjshir province, north of the Afghan capital, are being led by former vice president Amrullah Saleh, who has appealed for humanitarian aid to help the thousands of people displaced by the fighting. A senior Taliban spokesman tweeted Sunday that Taliban troops had overrun Rokha district, one of largest of eight districts in Panjshir.

Questions remain: More than 10,000 U.S. citizens, as well as tens of thousands of Afghans fearful for their lives now that the Taliban is back in power, still need to get out, and questions persist about whether the U.S. military mission - which is still slated to end Aug. 31 - can finish in time.

The administration is also facing repeated questions about why it did not adequately prepare for the disarray that ensued after Kabul fell.

White House maintains message: "Yes, there were chaotic scenes yesterday," national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters as he argued the administration planned for "all contingencies."

"Even well drawn plans don't survive first contact with reality," Sullivan said. "And they require adjustments. And we've made those adjustments."

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Lawmakers get desperate pleas: Congressional sources on both sides of the aisle told The Hill their offices have been contacted by desperate American citizens and Afghans who say they've been unable to make it to the airport despite Taliban assurances they would be allowed safe passage.

"They keep saying that we are going to continue to evacuate until Aug. 31. This is an arbitrary and self-imposed deadline," one Republican staffer told The Hill. "So it's ridiculous that they are trying to stick to this. We need a commitment from them that they are not going to leave behind the Americans and that they are not going to leave behind the people that Joe Biden personally promised to rescue."

Criticism continues: The Biden administration has come under sharp criticism from across the political spectrum for the chaos that has ensued as people try to evacuate Afghanistan after the Taliban won control of the country over the weekend.

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The drumbeat of criticism, particularly from Republicans, continued Tuesday.

"For months, we have been asking you for a plan on your withdrawal from Afghanistan. You failed to provide us with one and based on the horrific events currently unfolding in Afghanistan, we are confident that we never received your plan because you never had one," 26 Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee wrote in a letter to Biden on Tuesday. "The security and humanitarian crisis now unfolding in Afghanistan could have been avoided if you had done any planning. Pretending this isn't your problem will only make things worse."

Pentagon increases flights: Amid this, the Pentagon said Tuesday it was working to pick up the pace of evacuations, as more than 80,000 Afghans, including those who assisted the U.S. military as well as their families, await approval to escape the country.

About 11,000 U.S. citizens are also estimated to still be in Afghanistan, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said. The U.S. Embassy in Kabul has warned American citizens to shelter in place until they secure a flight.

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  These 16 Republicans voted against speeding up visas for Afghans fleeing the Taliban Some Republicans now criticizing Biden voted to block legislation that would have expedited visas to help Afghanistan civilians fleeing the Taliban.The House overwhelmingly passed a bill to make it easier for Afghans who assisted the American military to relocate to the U.S. The Averting Loss of Life and Injury by Expediting SIVs Act (ALLIES) Act was approved by a 407-16 vote on July 22. The 16 "no" votes were all from Republicans.

By Wednesday, the military plans to have one flight leaving Kabul per hour, a pace that could evacuate up to 5,000 to 9,000 people per day, Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor of the Joint Staff said at a Pentagon briefing. The flights that are leaving have been landing in Qatar and Kuwait.

Read the full story here.

TALIBAN PUT ON NOTICE

The U.S. has warned the Taliban that interference with evacuation efforts out of Afghanistan would be met with "overwhelming force," Gen. Frank McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, said on Tuesday.

McKenzie said he met with Taliban senior leaders in Doha on Sunday and "cautioned them against interference in our evacuation, and made it clear to them that any attack would be met with overwhelming force in the defense of our forces."

"The protection of U.S. civilians and our partners is my highest priority and we will take all necessary action to ensure a safe and efficient withdrawal," he said in a statement.

The White House's message: White House press secretary Jen Psaki also told reporters at the White House that if the Taliban interfere in safe passage to the airport, "the consequences are the full weight and force of the United States military."

And national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters the Taliban assured the U.S. that the group would allow for civilians to safely get to the airport.

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But violence continues: Still, Sullivan acknowledged reports of people being "turned away or pushed back or even beaten" by the Taliban as they make their way to the airport.

Congressional staffers told The Hill that they had been contacted by multiple people on the ground who were held up at checkpoints and threatened with violence by the Taliban as they sought to flee.

One staffer said a constituent faced a Taliban attack on the way to the airport and had to return home. That office asked if there was a plan to help people get to the airport and was told that right now there is not.

Airfield open again: "U.S. military air traffic controllers and ground handlers are rapidly scaling up operations to ensure the smooth flow of military reinforcements to the airport and the evacuation of U.S. and partner civilians in coordination with our State Department colleagues," McKenzie said. "Currently, the airfield is secure and now open to civilian air traffic operating under visual flight rules."

BIDEN ADMINISTRATION PLAYS DEFENSE

The White House on Tuesday acknowledged the chaotic and at times tragic images that have surfaced as Afghan civilians and American personnel scramble to exit from Afghanistan, while still defending the U.S. military's withdrawal from the country as the correct choice.

Sullivan insisted that Biden had to choose between exiting Afghanistan or significantly ramping up U.S. forces in the country to push back on what would have been a robust Taliban offensive if the U.S. had abandoned the agreement negotiated by the Trump administration to leave the country.

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  'Nobody should be surprised': Why Afghan security forces crumbled so quickly to the Taliban Analysts say there were signs the Afghan military – unmotivated, disorganized and plagued by low morale – would struggle against the Taliban. "They were evident for a long time," said retired Lt. Col. Daniel Davis, a twice-deployed veteran of the war in Afghanistan. "Nobody should be surprised by these outcomes if they had been paying attention." More: A timeline of the US withdrawal and Taliban recapture of Afghanistan Unmotivated to fight for 'corrupt' government The U.S. pumped more than $80 billion in equipment and training into the Afghan security forces since the start of the war in Afghanistan, which the U.S.


Video: U.S. Military Continues Effort to Get Americans Out of Afghanistan (CBS SF Bay Area)

"When a civil war comes to an end with an opposing force marching on the capital, there are going to be scenes of chaos," Sullivan told reporters. "There are going to be lots of people leaving the country. That is not something that can be fundamentally avoided."

Sidestepping: Sullivan and White House press secretary Jen Psaki sidestepped questions about whether U.S. forces would stay in Afghanistan beyond the Aug. 31 deadline if there were still Americans and at-risk Afghans that need to be evacuated.

"I'm not going to comment on hypotheticals," Sullivan said.

Asked about Biden's speech on Monday defending his decision to withdraw, Sullivan said that the president "is taking responsibility for every decision the United States government took with respect to Afghanistan because, as he said, the buck stops with him."

BLAME CONTINUES TO FLY

Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, said Tuesday that the chaotic withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Afghanistan under Biden is a "catastrophe" and that the administration "owed our Afghan allies of 20 years a real plan."

Langevin's comments in a Foreign Policy opinion piece marked one of the sharpest rebukes from a member of Biden's party over the chaos unfolding in Afghanistan as the Taliban has taken over faster than expected with U.S. troops leaving the country.

The Rhode Island Democrat wrote that he had asked a senior Defense Department official in May if the U.S. military would return to Afghanistan if the country's government asked for assistance. The official responded, "I am reluctant to get into a hypothetical," according to Langevin.

No surprise: Former national security adviser H.R. McMaster, meanwhile, said that the rapid Taliban takeover of Afghanistan "should not have come as a surprise" to the Biden administration, which he argued adopted, along with former President Trump, a policy of repeated concessions to the insurgent group.

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  ‘No possible life’ under Taliban rule: Afghan women fear murder, oppression after US withdrawal "If the Taliban returns to power, I along with other women who work in the government will either be stoned to death or executed in public."These memories are invariably the stuff of nightmares.

In an interview on NBC's "Today," co-host Savannah Guthrie asked McMaster, who served under the Trump administration from February 2017 to April 2018, to respond to Biden's comment on Monday that the territorial gains by the Taliban and the takeover of Kabul happened "more quickly than we anticipated."

"They should not have been surprised," McMaster responded, adding that the past two administrations delivered "psychological blows to the Afghans" by "telling them that we're going to withdrawal, making concession after concession with the Taliban, not even allowing the Afghan government to participate in what became our capitulation agreement with the Taliban."

"So it should not have come as a surprise at all," the retired Army general added.

Other former officials speak out: And retired Gen. David Petraeus, who at one time led U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said Biden's assertion that the Afghan army had little interest in fighting off the Taliban without the backing of U.S. forces is incorrect.

"Afghan soldiers fought and died in huge numbers over the course of the past two decades," Petraeus said during an interview with NBC News that aired on Monday. "So the idea that they wouldn't fight for their country is something that I think is just not accurate."

Get them out: Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) in a statement Tuesday pressed the administration to move faster by cutting the "red tape" surrounding evacuations.

"We can get folks out of hell and into Kuwait where we have the capacity to sort them out. The Biden Administration is making our people show paperwork to get evacuated, but those papers are a death sentence if the Taliban finds them," Sasse said. "The Taliban has check points around the Kabul airport, women and children are begging for their lives outside the wire, and the Biden Administration is worried about getting the right paperwork notarized. It's morally repugnant."

EVACUATION EFFORTS RAMP UP

After all the chaos earlier in the day, Biden late Monday allocated $500 million in additional funds for relocating Afghan refugees, including applicants for Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs), in response to the Taliban's swift takeover of the country.

The funds were announced by the White House to meet "unexpected urgent refugee and migration needs" and for "the purpose of meeting unexpected urgent refugee and migration needs of refugees, victims of conflict, and other persons at risk as a result of the situation in Afghanistan."

"Such assistance may be provided on a bilateral or multilateral basis as appropriate, including through contributions to international organizations and through funding to other nongovernmental organizations, governments, and United States departments and agencies," Biden wrote in a memo to the secretary of State to authorize the funds.

Flights resume: Flights evacuating diplomats and civilians in Afghanistan began departing again from Kabul's international airport on Tuesday after they were paused for several hours on Monday due to a chaotic scene of thousands of Afghan civilians crowding the runway.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said early Tuesday on CNN's "New Day" that the flights had resumed.

How many got out?: Seven C-17s left Kabul on Monday carrying between 700 and 800 people, including 165 U.S. citizens, Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor of the Joint Staff told reporters on Tuesday as flights resumed out of Kabul's international airport

The remainder of those evacuated were Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants and third-country nationals.

More promised: Within the next 24 hours, the U.S. military is planning to ramp up to one flight out of Kabul per hour, a pace that could evacuate up to 5,000 to 9,000 people per day, Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor of the Joint Staff said at a Pentagon briefing Tuesday.

"I want to reinforce that we are focused on the present mission to facilitate the safe evacuation of US citizens, [Special Immigrant Visa applicants] and Afghans at risk, to get these personnel out of Afghanistan as quickly and as safely as possible," Taylor said. "That mission has not changed. The mission is of historical significance, and it is incumbent upon us to be resolute in the protection of American and Afghan lives."

TERRORISM FEARS RENEWED

The fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban has also raised fears that terrorist groups capable of threatening the U.S. homeland will thrive anew amid the chaos.

U.S. military officials are reassessing their previous estimate that al Qaeda could reconstitute as a threat in two years after the Taliban completed its stunningly rapid rise back to power this weekend.

Since first announcing the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in April, the Biden administration has said it will keep terrorism threats in check using forces based elsewhere in the region.

But the debacle of the withdrawal has raised questions about whether the United States has adequately prepared to face threats emanating from Afghanistan.

Read the full story here.

ICYMI

- The Hill: Paratrooper found dead at Fort Bragg

- The Hill: George W Bush says he feels 'deep sadness' watching 'tragic events' in Afghanistan

- The Hill: Support for US withdrawal from Afghanistan tumbles in new poll

- The Hill: US reconstruction mission in Afghanistan 'marked by too many failures,' watchdog says

- The Hill: Chinese warships, fighter jets conduct drills near Taiwan

- The Hill: Opinion: Shifting the blame: How the Pentagon lost Afghanistan

- The Hill: Opinion: After the fall of Kabul, will there be more Islamist revolutions?

- The New York Times: A race to aid Afghan allies, even as the Taliban seek to reassure the world

- Military Times: Military deploying medical assistance teams to battle COVID-19 surges

‘No possible life’ under Taliban rule: Afghan women fear murder, oppression after US withdrawal .
"If the Taliban returns to power, I along with other women who work in the government will either be stoned to death or executed in public."These memories are invariably the stuff of nightmares.

usr: 0
This is interesting!