Operation Afghanistan Rescue – WSJ
The Biden Administration would rather no one noticed, but the evacuation from Kabul of Americans and the Afghans who assisted the U.S. has a long way to go. One danger is that the White House will withdraw U.S. troops too soon once again, leaving tens of thousands to the tender mercies of the Taliban.
The rare good news is that by Tuesday the U.S. military had gained control of the Kabul airport, which has a military and a civilian wing. Several thousand U.S. troops are at the airport, and Americans, foreign nationals and some Afghans are able to leave on military or charter flights. Afghans are no longer risking death by clinging to the outside of a C-17 cargo plane as it takes off.
But that still leaves an unknown number of Americans, and thousands of Afghans targeted by the Taliban, stranded in Kabul and the rest of the country. Amid the chaos of the weekend and Monday, the State Department advised Americans to shelter in place and not risk a trip to the airport. But how are people going to get there now amid all of the Taliban checkpoints and AK-47s?
The U.S. military could venture out to rescue them, assuming they can be located. But that’s a mission President Biden is unlikely to approve given his pledge not to put one more American soldier at risk and what must be a White House fear of American hostages in Taliban hands. He’s already had to redeploy more troops to the country than were there before he decided to withdraw in April.
That leaves negotiating with the Taliban. White House national security adviser
said Tuesday that the Taliban has agreed to allow “safe passage” for civilians, presumably Americans and foreign nationals. That’s good news, though we’d like to know what the U.S. agreed to in return. Formal recognition? Foreign aid? You’d think all of the U.S. military equipment they’re confiscating would be enough compensation, but the jihadists know that Mr. Biden wants out—and fast.
That still doesn’t account for the 50,000 or so Afghans who would qualify for U.S. entry under the Special Immigrant Visa program for aiding the U.S. Most of those Afghans aren’t even in Kabul. They’re spread out in the south and east of the country where Americans did most of the fighting. As our
reports nearby, the Biden Administration ignored warnings for months about moving faster to process these visa applications.
The Biden Administration’s temptation now will be not to insist on safe passage to the airport for Afghans. It will also be tempted again to withdraw U.S. troops from the country as soon as the last Americans are out.
That unfortunate message was reinforced on Monday by Pentagon press secretary John Kirby. A reporter asked if “there’s the possibility that U.S. troops will be staying past August 31st at this point?” That’s the deadline the Pentagon set, before the Taliban triumph, for all troops to be out of Afghanistan.
replied: “I won’t speculate . . . the President’s made it clear that he wants this drawdown complete by the 31st. That’s what we’re driving at.” Aug. 31 is in two weeks.
Leaving Afghan translators and others behind would be a betrayal of the U.S. commitment. The sight of the U.S. flying Westerners to safety while abandoning Afghans would harm America’s moral standing for years. Mr. Biden needs to tell the Taliban that U.S. troops aren’t leaving without those Afghans.
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Appeared in the August 18, 2021, print edition.
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