What the heck is going on with our military in Kabul?
One year ago, we had 2,500 U.S military on the ground in Afghanistan in a non-combat advisory and over-watch role. They could go pretty much anywhere in the country and were not taking any casualties. Things were relatively stable by Afghanistan standards.
Yet somehow today, despite having 5,000 troops on the ground from the Marines and 82nd Airborne — that is, fully armed combat infantry — our military is besieged inside a three-square-mile perimeter at Kabul Airport surrounded by Taliban guerrillas. We are told that their only mission is securing the airport perimeter, and we see them struggle even with that task, as hundreds of Afghan civilians swarm the tarmac and clamber onto airplanes taxiing to takeoff.
Somehow, we are supposed to believe that our forces have no capabilities to go out to rescue trapped American citizens, Afghan translators, and other Afghans who worked for us. Somehow, we are not supposed to see up-armored HUMVEEs and MRAP vehicles or the Apache helicopter gunships used to clear civilians off the runways a few days ago. We are also not supposed to see the Chinook helicopters they used a few days ago to get everyone from the embassy onto the airfield.
We are supposed to believe that the U.S. military forgot how to set up alternative pickup points around the city, whether back at the old embassy, at other locations around Kabul, or outside the city in a remote field someplace. We just forgot how to contact trapped Americans by text message or covert means to set up a rendezvous with the Chinooks before the Taliban figure out where they are, with Apaches in over-watch security just in case.
We are supposed to believe we don't have the range to fly to Jalalabad and Bagram and other locations within a several-hundred-mile radius to get our people back to Kabul airfield. We are supposed to believe we forgot how to do all that despite doing so in a dozen other noncombatant evacuations over the past 50 years all over the world.
We are supposed to believe that the secretary of defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and everyone else in military and civilian leadership are unable to read about how to do non-combatant evacuation as described in U.S. Joint Publication JP3-68, "Noncombatant Evacuation Operations," which is downloadable from the public website along with its own multimedia training presentation.
Apparently, the only evacuees we will evacuate are those who are already at the airport or who somehow manage to run the Taliban gauntlet. Everyone else is told to just "shelter in place." The government doesn't mention how long they are supposed to shelter. Otherwise, they are on their own.
We are not supposed to ask whether, between words of carefully crafted official statements, the administration tacitly admitted it cut a devil's bargain with the Taliban — namely, that our forces will confine themselves to the airport, and, in return, the Taliban will refrain from attacking the airport until after we leave. Is it true we lack the capability, or did we bargain away our ability to extract more Americans? Did Biden agree to just abandon thousands of U.S. citizens and tens of thousands of Afghan allies?
We are not supposed to notice that, while we saw columns of smoke rising from the former U.S. Embassy from burning documents, we saw no such smoke over Afghan government buildings. We are not supposed to wonder what happened to the lists of local-national U.S. employees we provided to the former Afghan government.
Maybe the former Afghan officials did not barter those lists in return for their own safety. Maybe those former officials diligently destroyed all their documents before scampering off into exile. Maybe the Taliban leaders posing around the former president's desk are not merely biding their time until U.S. forces and Western news crews flee the country before they round up all the "collaborators" on those lists.
Maybe, but just don't ask.
Denton Scratch is a pseudonym. The author is a retired 30-year U.S. military veteran with experience in planning for noncombatant evacuation operations.
Image: Chaos outside Kabul airport (edited in Pixlr). YouTube screen grab.