The Kabul Airport Bombings

The Daily Escape:

19th century schooner wreckage at Race Point, Cape Cod, MA

The seaweed-covered wreck above is an appropriate meme for our disastrous Middle East policy that today led to even more deaths of US soldiers in Afghanistan. ISIS in Afghanistan has claimed responsibility for the attack.

The latest news is that 11 American Marines and a Navy Medic were killed in a suicide bombing at a checkpoint at the gates of the Kabul airport. It also appears that at least 15 US military were injured. The deaths marked the first US military fatalities in Afghanistan since February 2020, when two American soldiers were killed in an insider attack by an Afghan soldier.

Imagine that you are a Marine guarding the entrance to Kabul airport. Imagine that the day before, you had been briefed about the potential of a suicide vest detonating near your position. Imagine doing your job, checking individuals who want to get past you into the airport, when you know you might get suicide-bombed.

They’re close enough to touch. You can smell their breath, but all you can do is stand there are be hyper-vigilant.

At least when someone shoots at you, you can shoot back. But there’s nobody to shoot at after the bomb goes off.  Just take the dead and wounded to the medic and write up the after-action report. They knew they’d be targeted by ISIS bombers. And, yet, they went ahead and did their duty, processing evacuees and trying to assist in winding down this terrible war.

But pundits gotta spin. Here’s former Ambassador Ryan Crocker with his latest at MSNBC:

“Strategically and for a long, short and medium-term interest, is the decision to completely withdraw from Afghanistan, was a very bad one. That said, the decision having been made the execution of it has been pretty bad.”

It’s a viewpoint, but consider HR McMaster, former Trump National Security Adviser who said on MSNBC:

“Kabul blasts are what happen ‘when you surrender to a terrorist organization’”

Reprehensible. Matt Yglesias gives us a little history on terror attacks in Kabul, just in 2020:

Yglesias also provided a little history on similar bombings at Kabul airport:

“On 8 September 2009, at around 8:22 AM, a suicide bombing took place near the entrance of the airport’s military base

On 3 July 2014, Taliban fighters fired two rockets into the airport, destroying four helicopters. One of the four helicopters belongs to Afghan President Hamid Karzai

On 29 July 2015, three American defense contractors and one Afghan national were killed by a gunman outside the airport in the late evening

On 17 May 2015, a suicide bombing by the Taliban near the entrance of the airport occurred, killing three and injuring eighteen.”

The point is that we have been dealing with violence at the very location where this violence took place for a very long time, without pundits or members of Congress paying any attention to it.

So, as we sit at home, watching the drama unfold in Kabul, let’s salute the courage of our service members who died trying to rescue Americans and others from Afghanistan.

Let’s also give the single finger salute to the media, the pundits and the politicians trying to prove that they are tough enough to put more American soldiers in harm’s way in order to minimize the “optics” of our humiliating loss in Afghanistan.

Expect the “Benghazification” of the end of our time in Afghanistan, particularly if Republicans gain control of the House in 2022. There’s way too much shit to throw at Biden for that not to happen.

And regardless of your politics, spare some sympathy for Biden as well. He’s now under titanic pressure to avenge these deaths. Perhaps he should remember Ronald Reagan, who withdrew the Marines from Lebanon after 241 of them were killed in a bombing of their Beirut barracks in 1983.

Ezra Klein at the NYT quotes Emma Ashford, a senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“There’s no denying America is the most powerful country in the world, but what we’ve seen over and over in recent decades is we cannot turn that into the outcomes we want. Whether it’s Afghanistan or Libya or sanctions on Russia and Venezuela, we don’t get the policy outcomes we want, and I think that’s because we overreach — we assume that because we are very powerful, we can achieve things that are unachievable.”

Sometimes, you just have to cut bait.

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The Afghan Refugee Problem

The Daily Escape:

Cathedral Valley, Capitol Reef NP – photo by Richard Strange

The White House reported that 21,600 people have been evacuated from Kabul in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 58,700 persons evacuated. But there’s already a 50,000-person backlog for US visas for non-governmental organization workers.

Today, let’s talk about 1) Where these Afghan refugees are headed, and 2) The Special Immigration Visa (SIV) program in the US that has come under criticism from politicians and the media.

Let’s start with the SIV program. The State Department has allocated 50,000 SIVs for Afghanistan. PBS reported yesterday that 34,500 of them are already allocated, while about 300,000 Afghans have some history of working with the US, and therefore, may be at risk of reprisal from the Taliban.

Wrongo listened to Congressman Mike Gallagher (R-WI) who is trying to assist a few Afghans with US visas, say that the reason for the backlog is lack of planning by the Biden administration. That’s untrue. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) introduces some reality into the discussion of the SIV backlog:

“Over the last decade, Republicans have pushed to intentionally create a massive backlog in the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program – the one we use to bring Afghan partners to America, by putting onerous conditions on the applications…In 2016, Obama asked to increase the cap for the SIV program. Senate Republicans objected. Then, the Trump Admin started slowing down SIV processing. When Biden took over, there were 10,000 unfilled visas, despite 17,000 applications in the pipeline.”

Sen. Murphy continues: (parenthesis and emphasis by Wrongo)

“Obama admitted over 2,700 Afghan refugees. Trump admitted 400, bc (because) he had dismantled the refugee system. Biden had to rebuild it. And today Trump Republicans are making it clear they will oppose bringing more Afghan refugees to the US. Steven Miller: ‘Resettling [Afghans] in America is not about solving a humanitarian crisis; it’s about accomplishing an ideological objective to change America.’”

Is anyone more repellent than Steven Miller?

Any reporting by the media about the “chaos” in Afghanistan that doesn’t include these facts, isn’t worth your time. Also, let’s differentiate between what’s happening within US control, from what’s happening beyond our control: All the chaos is happening outside of the Kabul airport gates.

Inside, we’re moving thousands of people in a largely orderly fashion to intermediate countries, where the process of their immigration can begin.

This is by far the biggest military evacuation in US history, and it’s being handled surprisingly well. That might change in an instant, anything could happen. But so far, the US media has been suckered into a chaos narrative that’s almost precisely the opposite of the truth.

GZero has an illuminating report on Afghan refugees. They say that the Afghan refugee problem will mushroom into a global crisis this year:

“More than half a million Afghans had already fled violence and instability in their country this year alone, even before the Taliban swept back to power a week ago. But an equal number of new refugees could very well hit the road in the next few months, despite Taliban efforts to stop people from leaving.”

Here’s a chart showing where Afghan refugees are located. Pakistan has nearly 1.5 million while Iran has about 800k:

GZero reports that Europe currently hosts 780,000 Afghan refugees, second only to Pakistan, along with another two million undocumented Afghans. Iran is worried that the Taliban, who are Sunni extremists, may intensify a long history of persecution of Afghanistan’s Shia minorities, pushing even more refugees across the Iranian border. GZero asks:

“This all raises the question: What happens if possibly millions of people who fear persecution get trapped inside their own country? They will probably join the ranks of the 3.5 million vulnerable Afghans who are already internally displaced.”

Since the White House just announced that the US will stick to August 31 as the end date for the airlift of refuges and the complete withdrawal of our troops from Afghanistan, no one knows what will happen to those people left in Afghanistan who have expressed a desire to leave.

Other countries could work to repatriate their citizens by negotiating directly with the Taliban. Most likely, GZero’s prediction of a large internally displaced population will come to pass.

Biden’s decision is certain to spark criticism at home and abroad. Those faulting Biden should answer: Weren’t they originally all for ending this war and taking our troops out? What is the US supposed to do when not even $2 trillion over 20 years was enough?

While you ponder what to do, listen to James McMurtry’s new tune,  “Operation Never Mind“, from his new album out this week, “The Horses and the Hounds”. The song is about how Americans think about our soldiers:

Sample lyric:

we got an operation goin’ on
it don’t have to trouble me and you
the country boys will do the fighting
now that fighting’s all a country boy can do
we got a handle on it this time
no one’s gonna tell us we were wrong
we won’t let the cameras near the fighting
that way we won’t have another Vietnam

(chorus) no one knows,
‘cause no one sees no one cares,
‘cause no one knows no one knows,
‘cause no one sees it on TV

don’t they look just like on “SEAL Team”
Lord don’t they look the best
when we trot them out at halftime
or the seventh inning stretch
they stand up in their uniforms and help us sell the show
dying by their own hands for reasons we don’t know

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More Thoughts on Afghanistan

The Daily Escape:

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley, California photo by Gerold Guggenbheul

Wrongo is as tired of writing about Afghanistan as you are reading about it, but the time to say what needs to be said is when people are paying attention. So, let’s talk about the media’s response to Afghanistan.

Yesterday, Wrongo pointed out that out of a combined 14,000-plus minutes of the national evening news broadcast on CBS, ABC, and NBC in 2020, the year Trump made his deal with the Taliban, a total of five minutes were devoted to Afghanistan. Now, many more minutes are focused on the withdrawal from Afghanistan, and much of that is critical of Biden. From Eric Boehlert:

“Led by the New York Times’ and CNN’s frenzied reporting and analysis, the media have gone all in with the narrative that Biden’s presidency sits on the precipice of ruin in the wake of US’s long-expected troop departure from Afghanistan. (Fact: It does not.)”

Various Biden critics are engaging in fantasies about Kabul’s collapse: if only we’d used more force, demonstrated more will, stayed a few months longer, then the Taliban would have adopted a different strategy. Ryan Crocker, a former ambassador to Afghanistan, was sharply critical of the withdrawal of the last 3,500 troops. Fred Kagan, of the American Enterprise Institute, argued that “keeping American military forces in Afghanistan indefinitely” would be “worth it.”

Another NYT column recently said that Biden should “save his presidency” in the wake of the Afghanistan controversy. Biden’s ending an extremely unpopular war and is bringing the troops home, at least so far, without a single US casualty. But he must “save his presidency”?

It is a huge relief to find out America has been filled all along with people who know, with 100% certainty, how to properly extract the US from Afghanistan.

From Cheryl Rofer: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“As we try to look past the abysmal reporting on the evacuation from Afghanistan, one of the things that strikes me is the inability or unwillingness of reporters to visualize what is required to make things happen in the real world.”

More:

“An evacuation takes coordination among an enormous number of entities – getting the right people in the right place at the right time, along with the airplanes and their fuel, which involves other airports, air controllers, logistics people keeping track of where the planes are, and the military personnel helping out….And then there are the State Department people who are checking identities and preparing paperwork to get refugees into the US.”

Rofer closes with: (brackets by Wrongo)

“The first inclination of too many reporters seems to be to find someone to backbite someone else. It should be to understand the [physical] situation…”

The criticisms downplay the impact of the deal with the Taliban. Once the Taliban had secured an agreement that the US would be pulling out, and that forces would be reduced to minimal numbers BEFORE Biden’s presidency began, they merely had to wait. Trump’s special skill as president was that he accomplished nothing, or he made things much, much worse, in every way.

So far, the airlift from Afghanistan is performing better than the news media’s record over the past four years, when they were reporting on everything Trump said. Now they’re saying that Biden can’t eat the shit sandwich Trump prepared so well.

But here’s a subject that has gone unnoticed by the media: the cost of caring for our veterans. The Watson Institute researches the cost of the Afghan war. They just released an update on the ongoing costs of caring for the military who were injured in Iraq and Afghanistan:

“Between 2001 and 2050, the total costs of caring for veterans of the post-9/11 wars are estimated to reach between $2.2 and $2.5 trillion….This estimate is double the author’s previous projections in 2011 and 2013.”

They say that most of the costs associated with caring for post-9/11 veterans have yet to be paid and will continue to accrue long into the future. The costs are $1 trillion higher than earlier estimates for two primary reasons. First, the number of post-9/11 veterans with disabilities is far higher than originally projected. More than 40% of the troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan have already been approved to receive lifetime disability benefits.

Second, the VA has ramped up their levels of responsiveness. They have expanded the geographical footprint of VA health care, hired thousands of additional medical and support personnel, and expanded clinical specialties in areas such as women’s health, traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD).

These expenditures are already baked into the system. We should be focusing on the fact that these costs will DOUBLE America’s projected military expenses of $2 trillion for Afghanistan.

The post-9/11 wars were the first major test of our all-volunteer military. On September 11, 2001, roughly one in every four American men were military veterans, but over the past two decades, the number of veterans in the population has declined to fewer than one in eight.

Barring reinstituting the draft, the number of military in our population will continue declining. The Census Bureau projects that the number of veterans will be just 1 in 14 by 2040. By 2050, when the costs of providing medical care and benefits for veterans of the post-9/11 wars reach their peak, few living Americans will have direct relatives who were involved in these wars.

So, two hidden costs of the Afghanistan war: A lazy media, and a 40+% casualty rate which is what happens when you continually redeploy the same soldiers into a 20-year long battle.

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Monday Wake Up Call – August 23, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Chaco Canyon, NM – 2021 photo by Freek Bouw. This is the best collection of ancient ruins north of Mexico.

On February 29th, 2020, the US signed an agreement with the Taliban in Doha that provided for a full US and international troop withdrawal on a 15-month timetable. The Taliban promised to take measures to restrict the activities of other terrorist groups (like al-Qaeda) and to negotiate a ceasefire and a political settlement with the Afghan government. (Read the full text of the agreement here.)

Many in the media are asking how the Taliban succeeded so quickly. They’re blaming the Biden administration’s execution of the withdrawal, but that agreement has a lot to do with why things are so chaotic.

Here is a Twitter thread by Joel Cawley about the agreement: (emphasis by Wrongo)

1/ There’s a lot of disinformation floating around on what exactly was agreed in Doha. The more you read this, the more you realize how amazingly out of touch our current commentary has become.

2/ This document specifically spells out a mutual understanding that the Taliban will negotiate a settlement with the Afghan government, just as they did. Less clear, but 100% tacitly implied throughout, is that the Taliban will be the new rulers.

3/ In other words, we knew those “settlements” were surrender agreements. All the Taliban had to do was show this document to each Afghan provincial leader and they could see we were now backing the Taliban.

4/ We even spell out our intent to then provide the Taliban, as Afghan’s new ruling party, development aid, UN recognition, and immunity from any future US military incursion or even threat.

5/ This wasn’t an intelligence failure. We agreed with them in advance on what they would do. This is a failure to properly advise and inform the incoming administration of a critical foreign policy agreement.

It’s clear that Trump’s failure to agree to an orderly transition may have delayed Biden’s team’s full understanding of their agreement with the Taliban. Michael Semple of the Irish Times writes about the consequences of the agreement:

“The US talked up the prospects of a…settlement and the hopes that it would hand over to a power-sharing administration including the Taliban. But throughout the 2018-2021 peace initiative, the Taliban leadership gave their fighters an entirely different narrative. Unambiguously….Taliban fighters were told that they had defeated the US in the war and that the US had agreed to hand over power to them as they left – ‘the Americans have handed us the keys of the presidential palace’ was a frequently repeated phrase.”

Semple adds: (brackets and emphasis by Wrongo)

“Critically, the 2020 deal between the US and Taliban severely curtailed the use of American air power against the Taliban, although [it allowed] the Taliban…to fight on against the Afghan government.”

The US basically quit the battlefield a year before our troops actually left. In the last year, when the US should have been building the resilience of Afghan forces, we reduced our financial support for the Afghan government, weakening a key military advantage which Afghan forces had enjoyed over the Taliban. And after the agreement was signed, the Taliban enjoyed full freedom of movement across the country and started to build their military pressure.

Sarah Chayes, a former NPR reporter who covered the fall of the Taliban in 2001, subsequently ran two non-profits in Kandahar for 10 years. She speaks Pashtu, and eventually went to work for two NATO commanders, and later for a chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Her blog post about the fall of Afghanistan is well worth your time:

“Two decades ago, young people in Kandahar were telling me how the proxy militias American forces had armed and provided with US fatigues were shaking them down at checkpoints….I and too many other people to count spent years of our lives trying to convince US decision-makers that Afghans could not be expected to take risks on behalf of a government that was as hostile to their interests as the Taliban were.”

She notes that the Taliban are a creation of Pakistan:

“The Taliban were a strategic project of the Pakistani military intelligence agency, the ISI. It even conducted market surveys in the villages around Kandahar, to test the label and the messaging. “Taliban” worked well. The image evoked was of the young students who apprenticed themselves to village religious leaders.”

About Hamid Karzai, America’s first puppet president, she says: (brackets and emphasis by Wrongo)

“During my conversations in the early 2000s about the Pakistani government’s role in the Taliban’s initial rise, I learned….[that] Hamid Karzai, the US choice to pilot Afghanistan after we ousted their regime, was in fact the go-between who negotiated those very Taliban’s initial entry into Afghanistan in 1994….Karzai may [also] have been a key go-between negotiating this surrender, just as he did in 1994,”

She also wonders about the role of Trump’s chief negotiator for the agreement, US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad. He’s an old friend of Karzai’s. She asks:

“Could…Biden truly have found no one else for that job, to replace an Afghan-American with obvious conflicts of interest, who was close to former Vice President Dick Cheney and who lobbied in favor of an oil pipeline through Afghanistan when the Taliban were last in power?”

Chayes concludes: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“I hold US civilian leadership, across four administrations, largely responsible for today’s outcome. Military commanders certainly participated in the self-delusion. I can…find fault with generals I worked for or observed. But the US military is subject to civilian control. And the two primary problems identified above — corruption and Pakistan — are civilian issues. They are not problems men and women in uniform can solve. But…no top civilian decision-maker was willing to take either of these problems on. The political risk, for them, was too high.”

When you read all of this, you realize that America’s end game in Afghanistan was bound to be a clusterfuck!

Wrongo has a problem with those who are treating the instantaneous collapse of the Afghani government and army as some sort of argument against Biden’s decision to abide by Trump’s negotiated agreement. The media has now decided to cover the withdrawal, but out of a combined 14,000-plus minutes of the national evening news broadcast on CBS, ABC, and NBC in 2020, a total of five minutes were devoted to Afghanistan.

Those five minutes covered the February agreement between the US and the Taliban.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that Americans are shocked at what the media are now feeding them. And isn’t it astounding how the people who were totally wrong about Afghanistan keep being invited back on TV to tell us what we should be thinking about what’s happening now?

Time to wake up America! We need to acknowledge the errors by giving them a true perspective, even if it doesn’t fit the Blue vs. Red agenda.

To help you wake up, listen to this new tune by The Killers, “Quiet Town”, about the good and bad in small town life:

The animated video is very nice.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – August 22, 2021

On October 19, 2001, 38 days after the WTC was bombed, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld addressed B-2 bomber crews at Missouri’s Whiteman AFB as they prepared to fly across the world to inflict American vengeance on Afghanistan. He told them:

“We have two choices. Either we change the way we live, or we must change the way they live. We choose the latter. And you are the ones who will help achieve that goal.”

And here we are: After dropping over 81,000 bombs and missiles on the people of Afghanistan for 20 years, we’ve failed to change the way they live. So maybe, as Rumsfeld said, we should change the way we live. Maybe we start with less military meddling.

Maybe start by reining in our Exceptionalism and our “war is the answer” reflexes. Maybe that would be an appropriate response to our defeat in Afghanistan. Maybe we should do this before we’re dragged into more wars. On to cartoons.

There’s more than one withdrawal going on:

Sadly true:

Sam gives his usual exit advice, gets it back:

The real strategic mistake:

Old vs new Talibs:

Bush famously painted us in the corner of both Iraq and Afghanistan:

 

Nothing changes when you’re walking an infinite loop:

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Saturday Soother – August 21, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Portage Glacier, outside Whittier, AK – August 2021 photo by nowake

Yesterday, Wrongo finished Michael Lewis’s book “The Premonition”, that tells the story of our failure to contain COVID-19. It is told through the eyes of a cast of compelling characters, including a California public health officer, a couple of idiosyncratic MDs who are White House advisers and a brilliant academic scientist whose lab revolutionized the identification of viral pathogens.

We learn how the pandemic exploited the gaps in the public health system of the world’s most advanced country that Lewis shows to be fragmented and weak politically. Moreover, he shows that the CDC’s response was almost inert when it came to reports from the states that were seeing the first Covid cases.

Early on, the CDC basically had two positions on the pandemic. First, that it wasn’t a big deal, it was overblown. And later, they made a quick pivot when it started spreading in the US. That change came far too late to contain the spread of the virus.

Lewis says little in The Premonition about the US official pandemic response. The organization that comes off the worst is the CDC and its leadership. The White House and Trump are mentioned in passing. Dr. Fauci is mentioned only a few times, while Deborah Birx is entirely absent. The White House COVID task force is seldom mentioned.

The book’s takeaway is mostly about how we have built organizations that are excellent for studying “what happened” and publishing papers about past problems. But are incapable of real time response in a true public health emergency. This is because the top CDC job has been a political appointee since the Carter administration. Lewis told NPR how the institutional failure at the CDC came about:

“The brave ones have all got their heads chopped off. So, it’s sort of institutionalized a cowardice that we’re going to need to face up to so that this business of punishing people who are doing their damnedest to try to save us from ourselves has got to stop.”

The characters in Lewis’s book have fascinating life stories: A thirteen-year-old girl’s school science project on how airborne pathogens spread, morphs with her scientist father’s help, into an important model of how Covid spreads.

A California public-health officer uses her skills and experience to see what the CDC misses and reveals important truths about our public health system. An informal group of doctors, nicknamed the Wolverines, have the skills needed to fight the pandemic: brilliant backgrounds, world-class labs, prior experience with the bird and swine flus  ̶  everything except official permission to implement their findings on behalf of the American people.

One series of facts that floored Wrongo was how important children are to spreading a virus in our population. These insights started with the kid’s model mentioned above. From pages 90-91:

“…there were more than 100,000 K-12 [public] schools in the country, with 50 million children in them. Twenty-five million ride a bus to school….There were 70,000 buses in the entire US public transportation system, but 500,000 school buses. On an average day, school buses carried twice as many people as the entire US public transportation system.”

Moreover, school bus aisles are narrower than normal buses, and better for spreading disease. They observed that when kids stand at the bus stop, they crowd together, unlike adults who give each other personal space. In the halls at school, kids also crowd together. The conclusion was that kids’ different sense of personal space has a key role in the spread of viral disease. More:

“…each elementary school child spent the day in a space with a radius of just 3.5 feet, which when they reached high school, expanded to four.”

The discoverer of this insight is one of the Wolverines, Carter Mecher, an MD who worked at the Atlanta VA hospital system. His conclusion?

“I couldn’t have designed a better system for transmitting disease than our school system”

Wrongo didn’t know that school closure was the most effective strategy to contain the spread of Covid before reading this book. We all know that few families wanted their kids to stay home from school. We know how politicized the issue of school closure became, even in states where it was mandated. There are 130,930 schools in America, all individually and locally managed. And it’s impossible to enforce a mandate on them from afar.

Between a weak public health system, an ossified CDC, and an inability to control the disease transmission in the 130k+ schools in America, Lewis’s book is a devastating look at our ability to deal with Covid and with whatever the next pandemic brings.

With Afghanistan, the delta variant and a looming hurricane hitting the northeast this weekend, it will be difficult to settle down for a Saturday Soother. But let’s give it a try.

Take a seat by a window and listen to “The Last Rose of Summer” by Leroy Anderson. It is part of his Irish Suite, and was arranged in 1947:

This is as beautiful to watch as to listen to.

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Afghan Finger Pointing – Part II

The Daily Escape:

Sunset, Mt. Hood, OR – August 2021 photo by CampsG. Note the haze from wildfires.

Biden’s effort to reframe the Afghanistan conversation to a decision-to-withdraw narrative rather than an execution-of-the-withdrawal narrative – at least for now – hasn’t controlled the narrative. But it’s still early days of media spinning about our failure in Afghanistan.

Kevin Drum reminds us:

“Withdrawing from Afghanistan was always going to be a bloody, chaotic affair no matter what. That’s why no one wanted to do it: It was pretty obvious how it would go down, and no one with any sense wants that as part of their presidential legacy. But the bloodshed was inevitable once the decision to leave was made.”

But are the events of the past few days horrific? Maybe you should re-think that – they haven’t been. Remembering how the Taliban operated when they were in control in the 1990s, we should have expected much worse. The Taliban’s takeover has been far smoother and less vicious than at least Wrongo expected.

That isn’t a pro-Taliban comment. But maybe 20 years of being hit by US bombs and drone attacks has moderated them, at least temporarily. Things could change rapidly. And the chaos we’re seeing, and that the media are complaining about, is simply what happens when a military must withdraw under armed pressure.

A harsh truth is that any US evacuation from Kabul airport requires the concurrence of the Taliban. The US controls the military side of the one runway airport. Here’s what the Kabul airport looks like:

The plan, as articulated by the Biden administration, is that evacuations will continue at least until August 31 at roughly 5000 a day, or 70,000 people in total by then. That of course, depends on the continued cooperation of the Taliban.

This once again calls into question the competence of the US military’s contingency planning. We have a supposed agreement with the Taliban that allows the US to continue to control the airspace and the Taliban to cooperate in allowing foreigners and Afghans who want to depart, safe passage to the airport.

Again, we should question General Milley’s decision to shut down Bagram airbase in July, apparently without ensuring Kabul would be defensible in a worst-case scenario. As Wrongo stated, Bagram is more easily defended and has longer runways and greater capacity than Kabul. Planning of this type is Milley’s job. Early indications so far are that it wasn’t done competently.

Think about how we plan to evacuate our ± 5,000 soldiers protecting the Kabul airport once all of the people we’re trying to evacuate leave. Who protects their exit? Has Milley planned for that?

Let’s look at some curious facts about the Afghanistan end game. Since 2014, the US has provided about 75% of the $6 billion annually needed to fund the Afghan National Security Forces while the remainder of the tab was picked up by US partner nations and the Afghan government.

However, for fiscal year 2021, the US Congress appropriated only $3 billion for Afghanistan’s fighting forces, the lowest amount since 2008. Remember that the fiscal year started on October 1, 2020. This diminution of US support came after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said his government cannot support its army for even six months without US financial aid. This practically guaranteed that the front-line Afghan troops wouldn’t be paid. What was the Trump administration thinking?

Link that to comments by Afghanistan’s Central Bank head, Ajmal Ahmady, who said that the country’s supply of physical US dollars is “close to zero.” Afghanistan has some $9 billion in reserves, mostly held outside the country, with some $7 billion held in the US. These funds are now frozen.

Ahmady said the country did not receive a planned cash shipment last week. From the NYT:

“On Friday, the central banker received a call saying the country wouldn’t get further shipments of US dollars, though the next one was supposed to arrive on Sunday. The next shipment never arrived…Seems like our partners had good intelligence as to what was going to happen.”

Facts don’t lie: the US believed things were heading south and didn’t send the usual cash infusion. So, the administration can’t say they were completely surprised by the speed of the Taliban takeover, somebody high up had figured it out.

A key question that politicians and the media are asking is: “When did we know that the government would fall?” Some would say they knew it from the early days of the war. This from Laura Jedeed:

“I remember Afghanistan well. I deployed there twice — once in 2008, and again in 2009–2010. It was already obvious that the Taliban would sweep through the very instant we left. And here we are today.”

There are many, many military who deployed there who share that view.

For Wrongo, it was clear in 2020 when Trump and Pompeo negotiated a deal with the Taliban, without the Afghan government in the room. That insured that their government would fall.

The military loss of Afghanistan isn’t the end of the world. It’s awful, but there’s a difference. So everyone should calm down. Afghanistan is gone. We’re out of there, and the Taliban are back.

But stop the anger. That’s only a reflex. Think about what country this describes:

“A fractious country comprised of warring tribes, unable to form an inclusive whole; unable to wade beyond shallow differences in sect and identity in order to provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to themselves and their posterity, and so they perish—in the span of a breath—without ever reaching the promised shore.”

Today, it describes Afghanistan. Tomorrow, is it us?

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Afghan Finger Pointing, Part I

The Daily Escape:

Sand Beach, Stonington ME – 2021 Photo by Erin Hutchinson Via Maine Nature Lovers

Billions of words will be written about America’s spectacular and embarrassing failure in Afghanistan. Today, let’s focus on a few of the failures in Afghanistan by our military. For context, America along with our western allies, have failed badly in the four Middle East wars we’ve engaged in over the past 20 years: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and ISIS in Iraq (again), and Syria.

We’ve had 20 years to think about our goals, and to refine our military strategy and tactics. In each case, we fought an enemy that had no air or naval power, who largely had light weapons (rifles, machine guns and rocket grenades), light truck-type vehicles mounted with heavy machine guns, and the ever-present Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).

In Afghanistan, the Taliban enemy favored using speed and maneuver tactics over guerilla warfare.

The Guardian offers background on our military’s training in Afghanistan:

“It started its multibillion-dollar training of Afghan forces in 2002 and three years later took control of training both the police and military, so US military trainers have had nearly two decades to ready the Afghan forces for the Taliban insurgency.”

And when we took over standing up a national Afghan army, we began by transforming it from a mobile light-infantry force that was the equivalent of the Taliban’s, into a combined-arms service with army, air force, and special forces elements.

That is, we remade them in our military’s image and likeness.

This decision meant that the costs of training, equipping, and maintaining the Afghan National Army would be ruinous, but the US taxpayer was paying for it, so not a problem. We had to teach them map reading because our way of fighting is coordinates-based. We taught them to fly helicopters, and to maintain them. We taught them the logistics necessary to get spare parts and aviation gas to remote bases.

This created the self-licking ice cream cone, a self-perpetuating system that has no purpose other than to sustain itself. Our military’s task required advanced military weapons, supplies and training that could only be provided by our glorious military-industrial complex defense contractors.

It worked for 20 years.

There’s a US military agency called the “Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Redevelopment” (SIGAR) that monitors and audits our spending in Afghanistan. SIGAR found that since 2005, the US military had been attempting to evaluate the battle-readiness of the Afghan troops they had been training, but by 2010, acknowledged that its monitoring and evaluation procedures:

“…failed to measure…factors such as leadership, corruption and motivation – all factors that could affect a unit’s ability to put its staffing and equipment to use during actual war-fighting”.

By 2014, it was decided that those assessment reports should be classified, presumably to hide the poor results. SIGAR also found the US military was persistently over-optimistic about Afghan military capability, even though it had no reliable evidence to justify that assessment.

Know that the Generals in charge of Afghanistan through these many years weren’t dumb enough to think that they were building an Afghan army that could win a war with the Taliban. But they said just that. And according to the WaPo, they lied their asses off the whole time:

“In the summer of 2011, Army Lt. Gen. William Caldwell IV made a round of public appearances to boast that he had finally solved a problem that had kept US troops bogged down in Afghanistan….Under his watch…US military advisers and trainers had transformed the ragtag Afghan army and police into a professional fighting force that could defend the country and keep the Taliban at bay.”

More:

“…later….Caldwell said….the Obama administration’s decision to spend $6 billion a year to train and equip the Afghan security forces had produced a remarkable turnaround. He predicted that the Taliban-led insurgency would subside and that the Afghans would take over responsibility for securing their country by the end of 2014, enabling US combat troops to leave.”

Now we see the reality: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“…according to documents obtained for the forthcoming Washington Post book “The Afghanistan Papers: A Secret History of the War,” US military officials privately harbored fundamental doubts for the duration of the war that the Afghan security forces could ever become competent or shed their dependency on US money and firepower…..Those fears, rarely expressed in public, were ultimately borne out by the sudden collapse this month of the Afghan security forces…”

The US military leaders lied – to Congress, and to the American people. They classified the data that their lies were based on, so oversight was mostly impossible. If you need to lie for 10 years about the progress you’re making on the job, it’s likely that you’re bad at your job, the project is simply wrong on its face, or both.

And this week, despite Biden and others saying it was a complete surprise that Kabul fell without a shot, US intelligence officials admitted to NBC on the condition of anonymity, that there was in fact intelligence indicating a Taliban takeover could happen as quickly as it did. A Western intelligence official said:

“…there absolutely was intelligence reporting that it could happen this fast. This was not a surprise.”

A US official said: “we knew the Taliban would take over….We knew most Afghans wouldn’t fight. It was faster than expected, but not that much.”

Now they tell us. What they told us for 10+ years was a pipe dream. That’s why it’s folly to listen to former generals and politicians who suggest that things would have been any different if we waited another six months before withdrawing.

There’s plenty of blame to go around, but the bulk of it falls on the military. They were on the ground.

  • They were the ones who built an Afghan military that was completely unsuitable for the battle at hand.
  • They apparently never grasped the full extent of the Afghan corruption that was undermining the mission.
  • They advised four US presidents that things would work out if they could just have a little more time and a few more troops.

No one wants to be the bearer of bad news. No one wants to admit they can’t do the job they’ve been tasked with. These things also happened to the generals in Vietnam, and the Pentagon swore at the time it would never happen again.

But it did, once they found themselves in a similar situation.

We shouldn’t forget that the Afghan military did fight. They’ve been fighting for years, taking many more casualties than we did. According to Brown University, about 70,000 of them died during the same period that the US military lost 2,442. Many in the Afghan military hadn’t been paid in months. Some were sent to remote bases to fight without food and other basic supplies. No wonder they surrendered their weapons without a shot.

As a former US Army officer, Wrongo is sad to say that Afghanistan will be remembered as a great shining military disaster, a head-on collision of the neo-con nation-building fantasy with reality.

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We’re Done in Afghanistan

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, Atlantic Beach, FL August 2021 photo by Razvan Balotescu

The finger pointing has already begun, but it was always going to end badly. Should we be surprised? Sure, Biden has made mistakes, the same kind as those of his predecessors. He believed what he was told by the CIA and the military, neither of which should be trusted about anything they say regarding Afghanistan.

The foreign policy and military establishment are now doing everything they can to blame Biden, but the bottom line remains that Afghanistan is a massive failure on their part. They continued telling him the same bullshit they told Bush II, Obama, and Trump.

The images coming from Afghanistan are disturbing, and there’s plenty of blame to go around. We spent $2 trillion to prop up the government that failed, and to train and equip the Afghan military over the past 20 years. And they fell in a week. (Full disclosure: Wrongo owns shares in a defense contractor that trained the Afghan military.)

From the WaPo: (brackets by Wrongo)

“The spectacular collapse of Afghanistan’s military that allowed Taliban fighters to walk into {Kabul]… Sunday despite 20 years of training and billions of dollars in American aid began with a series of deals brokered in rural villages between the militant group and some of the Afghan government’s lowest-ranking officials.

The deals…were…described by Afghan officials as cease-fires, but Taliban leaders were in fact offering money in exchange for government forces to hand over their weapons, according to an Afghan officer and a US official.

Over the next year and a half, the meetings advanced to the district level and then rapidly on to provincial capitals, culminating in a breathtaking series of negotiated surrenders by government forces, according to interviews with more than a dozen Afghan officers, police, special operations troops and other soldiers.”

It’s almost like the Taliban were familiar with Afghan culture and society! It’s clear that the US Military and Government sure as hell were not. Former Vice-President Cheney of Halliburton will probably need yet another heart transplant when he hears that Kabul fell without a shot fired.

It’s difficult to know whether the CIA, military, and neo-con foreign policy types involved in criticizing Biden are liars or are deluded. Do they think that America just needed a little more time on the ground in Afghanistan? Or do they know the only real alternative here was an indefinite, colonial occupation, something they know shouldn’t be politically or morally acceptable?

Inside the beltway, there are people who have devoted most of their adult lives to war in the greater Middle East. Obviously, they are going to oppose pulling out. It’s like setting their entire life’s work on fire. No one willingly admits their life’s work is a failure.

The idea that we need to stay in Afghanistan indefinitely has nothing to do with a coherent policy. It’s the neo-con ideology of American Exceptionalism: America is awesome, America kicks ass, America can’t fail, it can only be failed by Biden.

In this case, our “Exceptionalism” as practiced by neo-cons like John Bolton, Mike Pompeo and Fred Kagan, has two parts: First, our mission is to save the world. Second, the Afghans are the reason we couldn’t save the world. Both are opposite sides of the same imperialistic coin of exceptionalism. Why are the Afghans responsible for the unraveling of our illusions? And, isn’t Afghanistan a part of our illusion?

Charlie Pierce says of the neo-cons:

“None of those people have produced an adequate answer to the question of what the hell we were doing there, and what the hell we would do there for the next 10, 20, or 50 years. Sooner or later, we have to learn the lessons of history, because we’ve been deaf to them for so long. In Vietnam, we should’ve learned that the only people who really want the places in which we choose to make war are the people who live there.”

We’ve made a long series of bad decisions. First, we should have left Afghanistan after we helped the Northern Alliance beat the (then unpopular) Taliban. Instead, Bush II experimented with nation-building, drafting a constitution that created a strong central government in a country that is ruled locally. We then installed a puppet regime.

Now, we’re surprised that most people don’t like being told what to do by outsiders.

We should have seen that the Afghan government we created would collapse if we left. The particulars, especially just how quickly it ended may be a surprise, but the error can be measured in weeks, not months. And that’s not a big estimation error in a 20-year war.

There’s a lot of hindsight bias among the neo-cons and some Republicans who are saying Biden “lost Afghanistan”. It was lost years ago. The same scenario could have played out whether Bush, Obama or Trump were leading the withdrawal.

What does it say about Afghanistan, if the government and the civilian military we supported with $ trillions would only stay in place if we kept our military there as an occupying force?

The faux outrage at Biden losing Afghanistan needs to be prioritized on the list of what really matters in America today (in no order):

Afghanistan
Our mediocre education system
The Covid pandemic
Fraying social cohesion
Climate change: forest fires/drought
Vote suppression
Domestic terrorism
Economic inequality
Media lies/disinformation
White supremacy and racism

Wrongo knows which one is his lowest priority. What priority is Afghanistan for you?

Now, our mission is clear: hold the Kabul airport as long as possible and get ALL US citizens and as many Afghan partners out as we can. Along with getting out the thousands of troops we sent in the last few days to secure the airport.

The scenes of chaos at the Kabul airport raises a question of whether we should have abandoned the Bagram Air Base on July 1. It’s farther from Kabul and more difficult to defend, but we probably wouldn’t be seeing its runways swarming with Afghans if we were departing from there.

We can debate the rest later.

Lost in the discussion is the pointless tragedy of our soldiers who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, and for what? Listen to Eric B. & Rakim, a hip-hop duo from NYC, perform their 1992 rap, “Casualties Of War”. They were rapping about Desert Storm, but Rakim was also predicting the future:

Sample lyric:

Cause I got a family that waits for my return
To get back home is my main concern
I’ma get back to New York in one piece
but I’m bent in the sand that is hot as the city streets
Sky lights up like fireworks blind me
Bullets, whistlin over my head remind me…
President Bush said attack
Flashback to Nam, I might not make it back
Half of my platoon came home in coffins…buried in the Storm In bits and pieces…ain’t no way I’m going back to war
When I don’t know who or what I’m fighting for

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Monday Wake Up Call – August 16, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Bear Sculpture, Kent CT – August 2021 iPhone photo by Wrongo

ProPublica reported that: “Secret IRS Files Reveal How Much the Ultrawealthy Gained by Shaping Trump’s Big, Beautiful Tax Cut”. The article shows how billionaire business owners deployed lobbyists to make sure Trump’s 2017 tax bill was tailored to their benefit: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“In the first year after Trump signed the legislation, just 82 ultrawealthy households collectively walked away with more than $1 billion in total savings….Republican and Democratic tycoons alike saw their tax bills chopped by tens of millions, among them: media magnate and former Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg; the Bechtel family…and the heirs of the late Houston pipeline billionaire Dan Duncan.”

Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was the biggest rewrite of the tax code in decades. It is arguably the most consequential legislative achievement by any one-term president. It was crafted in secret, with lobbyist input, and then rushed through the legislative process.

ProPublica says that as the draft of the bill made its way through Congress, lawmakers and hired lobbyist friendly to billionaires were able to shape the bill’s language to accommodate special interests. The final version of the bill led to a vast redistribution of wealth to the pockets of a few wealthy families.

This siphoned away billions in tax revenue from the nation’s coffers. Here’s a chart of the tax savings of the big winners:

This gets a little technical. Corporate taxes are paid by what are known as C corporations, including large firms like AT&T or Amazon. But most businesses in the US aren’t C corporations, they’re what are called pass-through corporations. The name comes from the fact that when one of these businesses makes money, the profits are not subject to corporate taxes. Instead, the profits “pass through” directly to the owners, who pay taxes on the profits on their personal returns.

Pass-throughs include the full gamut of American business, from small barbershops to law firms to, in the case of Uline, #2 on the list above, a packaging distributor with thousands of employees.

Republicans touted the Trump tax cut as boosting “small business” and/or “Main Street,” and it’s true that many small businesses got a modest tax break. But a recent study by the Treasury Department found that the top 1% of Americans by income have reaped nearly 60% of the billions in tax savings created by the provision. And most of that amount went to the top 0.1%.

That’s because most of the pass-through profits in the country flow to the wealthy owners of a limited group of large companies. The tax break is due to expire after 2025, and Democrats in Congress want to end the provision early.

Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden, (D-OR), has proposed legislation that would end the tax cut early for the ultrawealthy. He wants to end the gravy train for anyone making over $500,000 per year. It would be extended to the business owners below that threshold. Wyden’s proposal would make the policy both fairer and less complex, while also raising $ billions for priorities like childcare, education, and health care.

Time to wake up America! The current complaints by Republicans about the Biden efforts to rebuild the economy say that we shouldn’t have the nice things Biden has promised. They now (again) complain about the federal deficit. They continue to sit on their hands about raising taxes on their donors, despite those same donors reaping most of the benefits not only from the Trump tax cut, but from the surge of the national economy since it bottomed while Trump was managing the pandemic.

To help you wake up, watch and listen to “Patria Y Vida” (homeland and life)  the song that has defined this summer’s uprising in Cuba. The title is a take-off on the slogan used by Fidel Castro, “Patria O Muerte” (homeland or death) for 62 years, since the start of the Cuban revolution.

This song of summer is also a deep protest song:

This is a rough time in Cuba. Trump’s sanctions policy sharply restricted the foreign remittances on which many Cubans rely. Then came the pandemic, which decimated the tourism industry. Cuba’s GDP has dropped roughly 11% since 2019.

In response to a recurring chorus saying, “It’s over now,” the singers call to Cuban officials and tell them: “Your time is done, the silence has been broken…we’re not afraid, the trickery is over now, 62 years of doing damage to our country.”

They add, “Let’s start to build what we’ve dreamed of; of what they destroyed by their own hand.”

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