On the menu today: A reader shares his accounts from Afghan contractors who are hiding from Taliban death squads in Kabul; the FDA gives the Pfizer vaccine full approval — after doctors and nurses have aleady administered 202 million shots; and Andrew Cuomo abandons his dog. Sometimes, you can just tell from the headlines that it’s a Monday.
Dodging the Taliban Death Squads in Afghanistan
If you missed it over the weekend, for a stretch of Friday and Saturday, one of the email accounts that the U.S. State Department uses to process a type of asylum visas for Afghans filled up, and messages to it started bouncing back to senders.
I heard about the embarrassing technical snafu from a longtime NR reader who spent years in Afghanistan working for a defense contractor. This reader’s company worked on the construction of camps and garrisons, parts of bases at Bagram and Kandahar, as well as several government buildings for the Afghan military and police. His company employed thousands of Afghans, all of whom are now targets of the Taliban.
Lest you doubt that Afghan construction workers would be on the Taliban’s target list, the Taliban is issuing death warrants for the relatives of translators who worked for the U.S. or coalition forces. Anyone who the Taliban thinks “helped the Americans” is marked for death — as well as their families.
My reader said emails stopped bouncing back late Saturday, but that “I have limited faith in its stability. Sometimes I feel like I’m shoveling P2 [asylum-visa] paperwork into a black hole. There is no mechanism whereby they acknowledge your submission.”
Last night, the White House issued updated numbers, declaring that “from 3 a.m. to 3 p.m., eight U.S. military flights — 7 C-17s and 1 C-130 — evacuated approximately 1,700 passengers from Hamid Karzai International Airport. In addition, 39 coalition aircraft took off with approximately 3,400 passengers. Since August 14, the U.S. has evacuated and facilitated the evacuation of approximately 30,300 people on military and coalition flights.”
That is a lot, but there are still a lot of Afghan allies who need to get out of the country. Evacuate Our Allies, which presented a plan to move the endangered allies to Guam back in June, estimated the total number of Afghans who worked for the U.S., the coalition, or NGOs and other related entities to be at nearly 80,000. But no one knows exactly how many Afghans need to get out; from all accounts, the U.S. government has only a rough estimate of how many Americans remain in Afghanistan, never mind targeted Afghan allies.
Matt Zeller, co-founder of No One Left Behind, offered a detailed and impassioned assessment of the crisis this weekend. He had written in April that, “we have to understand, anyone who worked with us, has likely excommunicated themselves from the society around them thanks to that work. They are viewed by that society as American spies, traitors, and in the worst case, apostates. We have an obligation to save these people while we can — which is now.” His organization estimated before the airlift began that more than 50,000 Afghan wartime allies and evacuees live outside of Kabul, and that asking them to “run the Taliban gauntlet of checkpoints is a suicide mission.”
My reader described a call from one of his former engineers in Kabul:
The Entry Control Point leading to the north gate of [Kabul International Airport] is jammed with Afghans — likely thousands, he could not count. He is camped out with his wife and 4 kids. The [U.S. government] only lets in a few at a time. It’s a trickle. He has [Special Immigrant Visa] status — but he still has to wait days in an entry control point to get in.
I asked him how many planes take off each day. He said, ‘not many, sir. The planes mostly just sit there.’ He is told the chokepoint is Qatar. They have no other places ready to accept thousands of refugees.
Being near the airport is not necessarily a safe spot. The Taliban are reportedly seizing any U.S. passports they find. A gunfight just outside the airport killed at least one Afghan soldier early Monday. The German military tweeted that one member of the Afghan security forces was killed and three others were wounded by “unknown attackers.” The U.S. military is concerned that the Afghan affiliate of ISIS may target the crowds by the airport. And departing military planes are using decoy flares, an indication that they fear someone will fire a surface-to-air missile at them.
As tense as this situation is, it may well get much worse by midnight local time next Wednesday. President Biden said yesterday that the U.S. may not have all forces withdrawn by the end of the month, depending upon the pace of the evacuation. The Taliban declared this morning that August 31 is an intractable deadline, and that breaking that deadline would involve “consequences.”
My reader spoke with another one of his company’s engineers Saturday night, one who had not made it to the airport yet. “He, his wife and five children are hiding in a bedroom of a friend’s apartment in Kabul. Twice yesterday, the Taliban knocked on the door asking for him. He is terrified for his daughters. He has no idea how to get to the airport past the Taliban checkpoints. Airport Road, Tajikan Road and Russia Road are the only ways in and the Taliban controls those routes.”
My reader’s anger, heartbreak, fear, and disgust is palpable. “Somebody claiming to have planned for every contingency is delusional,” he concludes.
Brad Taylor — whom you may know for his thriller novels, but who was also a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Infantry and served for more than 21 years, retiring as a Special Forces Lieutenant Colonel — pointed out this weekend that the U.S. military trains and prepares for “NEOs” (Noncombatant Evacuation Operations) — all the time. There is a playbook for this type of dangerous situation that, for some not-yet-explained reason, has not been used. Taylor concludes that, “We should not be asking the Taliban for clear passage to the airport and then telling [American citizens] in Kabul to make their own way. We should be executing a forcible entry into the city and evacuating every last [American citizen]. The message should be clear: We aren’t hostile to you, unless you’re hostile to us, but we’re establishing corridors of evacuation, and if you attempt to stop us, you will die. And then back up that threat with firepower.”
202 Million Shots Later, Full Approval for Pfizer
After more than 202 million doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine had been injected into Americans’ bloodstreams, the FDA is giving full approval to the Pfizer vaccine. This absurd bit of molasses-like federal-regulatory approval will clear up whether those who said they were uncomfortable with a vaccine that was only under “emergency” approval were telling the truth.
The New York Times reported Friday:
Regulators were working to finish the process by Friday but were still working through a substantial amount of paperwork and negotiation with the company. The people familiar with the planning, who were not authorized to speak publicly about it, cautioned that the approval might slide beyond Monday if some components of the review need more time.
If everyone more or less “knew” that Pfizer’s vaccine was going to be granted full approval . . . just what was in that last bit of paperwork that made it so important? Was it worth waiting another couple of days? And is this FDA-approval process moving fast enough on reformulated boosters (the current boosters are just a third dose of the same stuff) and vaccines for children?
Go to Hell, Andrew Cuomo
The New York governor who so much of the national media told us was the most swell guy ever last year abandoned his dog when he left the governor’s mansion.
Then again, I guess the theme of August is “abandonment by Democratic officials whom the media celebrated in 2020.”
ADDENDUM: Our John Fund offers an astute assessment that helps explain the blistering tone of media coverage of Afghanistan over the past week:
Media figures and the establishment sources who leak to them are boiling over with frustration at how much Biden has disappointed them. . . . Despite all of their efforts, now Biden has insisted on embarrassing them. Make no mistake, there is a genuine collapse of confidence in Biden. They may kiss and make up because Democratic control of Congress is at stake in 2022, but the wounds felt by the establishment from Biden’s incompetence will remain.