By Tom Squitieri
WASHINGTON – The last frenzy days of the current chapter of America’s longest war are set to end after a few more sunsets over the Hindu Kush. Much will be left behind, beyond weapons, dashed dreams, and thousands whose lives now are in jeopardy.
The rubble of relevancy and redundancy, two dancing cousins of Great Power hubris, will frame these last scenes of the US imprint in Afghanistan. As former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld once said, “These are known knowns.”
None look good.
The Pentagon anticipates more terrorist attacks before the August 31 bugout date. “We certainly are prepared and would expect future attempts,” Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said. “Threats are still very real, they’re very dynamic. And we are monitoring them literally in real-time.”
On Sunday, the Pentagon took out a vehicle in Kabul loaded with explosives that officials said posed an imminent threat to the Kabul airport as the last hours of evacuation ticked off. On Friday, another drone took out a vehicle that Pentagon said contained two ISIS planners or implementors, although they have not identified them or substantiated their worth.
All in response to the Thursday suicide attack at the airport that left 13 U.S. service personnel dead, more than 20 wounded and killed and wounded dozens of Afghans.
“The attack on U.S. troops supporting the evacuation in Kabul is a devastating tragedy. John Kerry’s haunting question from 1971 returns in full force: ‘How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?’,” Andrew Bacevich, president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, said. “Like Vietnam, America’s war in Afghanistan was a massive mistake. It is beyond sad that young Americans still die for it.”
We have already seen the helicopters we were told would not come vis-a-vis Saigon to do just that, flying low over rooftops to rescue those trapped in Kabul. Now we have seen the successor suicide bombing to the one that seared the Marines’ humanitarian mission to Beirut revisit this generation of Marines in Kabul.
Add in the augmentation of the military evacuation flights with private and commercial flights, in the frenzy to get people out before the enemy — in case the clock – closes in is calling back to Dunkirk.
“This is an incredible number of people who are now safer thanks to the heroism of the young men and women who are putting their lives on the line each day to evacuate American and vulnerable Afghans out of Kabul,” Major General Hank Taylor, Deputy Director of the Joint Staff For Regional Operations, said. “Threats to our forces and to this operation remain real and significant.”
As the fallout rose from the airport suicide attack, defense and other officials were surprisingly blunt in the morning after the deadly blow: the U.S. was looking at three options to respond once they pinpoint key ISIS locations: drone and/or B-52 attacks; waiting for ISIS to get into an open area and rake them with A-10 gunship or, in a rare case, a special ops mission.
How much that will stop whatever ISIS has planned remains what Rumsfeld would have called “a known unknown.” In 2017, the Pentagon dropped the most powerful conventional bomb in the American arsenal — so large that it had to be dropped from the rear of a cargo plane – onto ISIS strongholds. That slowed but did not scare them away.
So others are doing what they can. With the Taliban growing more hostile and adding checkpoints near Kabul’s airport and throughout the city, an all-volunteer group of U.S. veterans of the Afghan war successfully undertook a private mission to spirit out hundreds of at-risk Afghan elite forces and their families.
At the opposite end, the staff at the Kabul Small Animal Rescue is struggling to raise at least $1.5 million for a cargo plane, travel crates, and food for 120 dogs and 100 cats it wants to fly out of Kabul. They also need the proper permits and visas required to travel and land with animals in another country.
It is always tempting to believe that we live in unusual times. History chides otherwise. After Beirut, the Reagan administration discovered a threat in Grenada and launched a haphazard operation to divert attention from Lebanon. There is a question of if today’s world offers like equivalency to bait and switch. The clutching at shadows that worked in the past seems to have vaporized. Thinking that, however, sets the stage for the next repeat.
It is the same old story.
Evacuation flights are dwindling and soon troops will take the last remaining seats. Crowds will still press the gates, hoping to get in and get out, but are relegated to standing bunched together, looking upward at the contrails of C17s that are leaving and not coming back.
In the opening scenes of Casablanca, a line of desperate refugees waiting for exit visas looks up as one airplane flies overhead. “Perhaps tomorrow we will be on the plane,” one young female says with a faint smile.
She eventually got out. For the thousands of Afghans crushing space near the airport who are repeating a variation of that line over the next few hours, there are no planes for them and there is no tomorrow.