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Daily NEO Journal

Marine checks in an Afghan for his flight from HKIA.

A Marine assigned to the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit checks in Afghan civilians
before their flight at HKIA during the Kabul NEO / airlift. (photo by DoD)



Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Today was the last day for an American military presence in Afghanistan. In the early morning hours of August 31st the last C-17 took off from Hamid Karazi International Airport. Remaining behind were hundreds of American civilians who could not get through the mass of desperate humanity seeking a way onto the airfields and on to planes to take them to safety. The military, for the most part, did a difficult job time constraining circumstances. Yes, there were failure points - but in the midst of chaos and confusion there are always failures. The Department of State deservers the full condemnation of American society. DoS set up the U.S. military for failure by not fixing the broken Special Immigrant Visa system more than a decade ago. It also failed in supporting the American citizens and Legal Permanent Residents (Green Card holders) in a timely manner. The actions of the State Department officials on HKIA and back in D.C. are also incredolous. The stories of the DoS incompetence will soon come out.

Seen on Facebook (paraphased):

 "When I deployed to Afghanistan in the early days of Operation Enduring Freedom
there were numerous hulks of Soviet tanks and aircraft. I thought of those rusted
remains as a symbol of a defeated nation. And now . . ."

The Numbers (Final?)

U.S. Citizens - Over 6,000
SIV Applicants - 700
Non-U.S. Citizens - 73,000
Afghan Nationals - 31,000

The above numbers are of the total number of people evacuated. The DoD has (kinda, sorta) incorporated the people that European and other nations evacuated into the overall count. Most likely the breakdown is somewhere around 60% U.S. and 40% other countries.

What About the SIVs? Some estimates say that about 90% of the Afghans with either approved or pending Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) have been left behind. Many social media reports say that the Taliban are conducting house to house searches of those that assisted the Americans.They have accessed the biometric databases left in the Ministry of Interior. Once found by the Taliban things usually end badly. So staying in Afghanistan is a losing option for the many at-risk Afghans. Land routes to the borders of neighboring countries have numerous Talbian checkpoints where vehicles, passengers, luggage, and phones are searched. And there is no guarantee that you can cross the border.

SIVs - There is a lot of confusion about the difference between an approved and a pending Special Immigrant Visa (SIV). Mike Jason @mikejason73 provides clarity:

A "Pending SIV" is an "Approved SIV" with a DoS mouse click.

International Recognition and Cooperation. Indications are that Turkey and/or Qatar may soon begin running the Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA). The Turks have always had a big presence at HKIA going back to the days of ISAF. China is most likely gearing up for a higher degree of interaction with the new Taliban regime.

DoS Notice. The U.S. Embassy in Afghanstan (which, by the way, is no longer in Afghanistan) posted a message entitled "Security Message: Suspension of Operations (August 31, 2021)".

Biden Speech. The President once again addressed the nation about Afghanistan. The core of his speech is that he finally ended America's long military involvement in Afghanistan. He reiterated that the Department of State repeatedly warned U.S. citizens to leave Afghanistan. Apparently this was an "extraordinary success" according to Biden. He strutted out onto the podium in a powerful and forceful manner; but didn't fail to soften his tone to show some 'empathy'. Right on script.

Jen Psaki - Who could see this coming?

ISKP and the New Narrative. The Biden Administration is making a special effort to make the existance of the Islamic State of Khorasan Province as main threat that emanates from Afghanistan. At the same time they are emphasing the that the Taliban and they are at odds with each other. It's almost as they the would like to recast the Taliban as 'not so bad' because the are the enemy of ISKP. That would play out okay . . . except for the very strong relationship between the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

And the Billions of Dollars? The U.S. has frozen money belonging to the Afghan government. Time will tell if the Taliban gets their hands on it. So maybe the U.S. does have some leverage.

Assisting the Afghans That Got Out. The reponse to the American people to the plight of the Afghans has been overwhelming. While a fraction of the Afghans who were at-risk made it out many are stranded in Afghanistan and face either death or a life on the run. For those Afghans that did make it out there is good news. American in general, and to a limited degree our government, is responding. For those interested in assisting USA Hello has a list of resources for displaced Afghans seeking help.


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August 30, 2021

The noncombatant evacuation operation (NEO) has been completed. The last C-17 Galaxys and RC-135R Stratotankers have cleared Afghanistan air space. The airport is no longer functioning and the Taliban are in full control of the airport and its runways.

Of course, there are hundreds of Americans still in Afghanistan - some who thought going to the airport was too dangerous and are waiting to see if commercial flights open up in the near future. Others did attempt to get out but failed to be put on a State Department 'list' or were stymied in their efforts to gain entry at the airport gates. In addition to the AMCITs there are thousands of Legal

The DoD, DoS, and White House all issued press releases or held press conferences about the conclusion of the operation.

DoD News Conference. A presser was held Monday afternoon, August 30, 2021. Marine Corps General Frank McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command addressed the DoD press corps. He obviously was ill-informed of the situation on the ground at HKIA or was deliberately lying. Hard telling not knowing.
https://www.defense.gov/Watch/Live-Events/#/?currentVideo=27009

President Biden issued a statement on Monday about the situation in Afghanistan. See "Statement by President Joe Biden", The White House, August 30, 2021.

C-17 takes off from Al Udeid Air Base

A C-17 Globemaster takes off from Al Udeid Air Base (AUAB) in support
of Afghanistan evacuation operations. The C-17 has been one of the
primary aircrafts used to transport evacuees to safety and carry supplies
and rations to Kabul, Afghanistan. AUAB is the main hub of transit for
Afghanistan evacuees.
(image from USAF video by Staff Sgt. Danielle Sukhlall, 28 August, 2021)


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August 28, 2021

The window is closing on those seeking flights out of Afghanistan. The military has to vacate the base on the north side of Kabul airport by Tuesday, August 31. In a few days the U.S. miiitary involvement in the long war in Afghanistan will come to an end. The final days will be remembered for the rapid collapse of the Afghan security forces, the fall of the Ghani government, and the callous leaving behind of thousands of Afghans who assisted the U.S. military forces.

There were some Afghans with SIVs who got onto the airfield. It wasn't an easy endeavor for most. Read "Escape from Afghanistan: One Interpreters's Desperate Run Past the Taliban to Safety", Military.com, August 28, 2021.

The Future of the Abandoned. There are many thousands of Afghans who supported the U.S. over the past two decades. The quick turn of events and slow pace of the U.S. State Department to process SIV applications leaves the Afghan interpreters and others in great danger. Most are in hiding. Their options are few. Many will attempt to cross overland to neighboring countries. In the days ahead Iran, Pakistan, and the bordering Central Asian sates will see an influx of Afghans - to include the SIV and SIV (pending) Afghans.

Refuge in Other Countries.

Some will spend years in refugee camps. In the long term - the at-risk Afghans should continue to make inquires about their SIV status and those that do not have a SIV application pending should begin the process. Where the at-risk Afghans are located in Afghanistan will likely determine which country they flee to. A SIV applicant will find it difficult in Iran to continue processing their SIV process as there is no U.S. embassy in Iran.


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August 27, 2021

Security at the airport was a determing factor in how many people can get access to the entry points at the airport. Reports of possible IED attacks cause the entry gates to close - shutting down the opportunity for American citizens and others to get on a flight to the states. Hundreds of American Military veterans have stepped up to assist in the evacuation of American citizens, permanent legal residents, and Afghans at risk. One of these organizations is Team American. Read more in "Just one more: Inside the massive miltary community effort to save Afghans", Military Times.

A blast at Abbey Gate of the Kabul airport killed thirteen U.S. service members and almost 200 Afghans. The attack by ISIS-K closed the airport gates for several hours. See "Satellite images, graphics, and maps show how fatal airport explosion ripped through Kabul", USA Today, September 27, 2021.


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August 26, 2021

It is a sad day in Afghanistan. The thousands of Afghans seeking to get on a flight out of the country made it extremely difficult for American citizens, Green Card holders, and Afghans associated with the U.S. and other nations to be able to get access to the entry points. Threats of vehicle borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) caused the airport to shut down any entry procedures at the gates for individuals and vehicles. The U.S. and other nations advised its citizens to not approach HKIA-N. On Thursday, Augusst 26, 2021, two simoultaneous explosions took place in the vicinity of Abbey Gate and the Baron Hotel along the southeast side of the airport. There were numerous casualties reported - more than a dozen U.S. service members and possibly hundreds of Afghans died in the blast.

The militaries of the many foreign nations at HKIA-N are packing up and departing during these remaining few days before the August 31st deadline. Those evacuees that did make it onto HKIA-N are being processed and flown to the intermediate transit sites.

In all of the dismal news that is taking place there are some heartwarming stories. Afghan families reaching safety overseas. One of these is that of an child born aboard a U.S. C-17 evacuation flight - so, . . . automatic citizenship status? The evacuation saved many Afghans who, because of their association with the U.S., faced certain death at the hands of the Taliban. Unfortunately, many others did not get on a flight to safety.

The alternatives to escaping by air are unattractive. Moving across land to the borders to the north, east, south, and west involve passing through multiple Taliban checkpoints. Many border crossings are currently blocked. Eventually 'smuggler' routes will likely be established where Afghans can find safety in refugee camps. However, the scenes of Aghans fleeing at the border are heartbreaking. (CNN, 26 Aug 21).

Over the past day the U.S. and other nations flew almost 14,000 evacuees out of Kabul aboard C-17s, C-130s, and other aircraft.


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August 25, 2021


With the news that the U.S. will not extend its deadline for its troops at Kabul airport a number of activities and events will occurr. The U.S. and other foreign nations manning the access gates to the Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA-N) will start prioritizing (even more) who gets into the gates. They will place the highest priority on their own citizens, of course. Afghans associated with the foreign national involvement in the long Afghan conflict will find it more difficult to gain entry. Allied and partner nations will start to diminish their activities on the airport relating to bringing in and flying out evacuees and spend an increasing amount of time preparing to fly out ahead of the August 31st deadline.

Volunteers were playing a major effort to save Afghans. Several groups banded together in the effort. "Trying to pull off an infinate number of miracles." CNN, August 25, 2021. Read more about the round-the-clock volunteer effort to save Afghans.

On August 25 a DoD press conference took place. Press Secretary John Kirby and the SACEUR commander provided details of the noncombatant evacuation operation. Some of the details provided:

- Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany recieved 55 flights. There are (as of 25 Aug 2021) 5,783 evacuees at that location. Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy has 662 evacuees. When evacuees land at these locations they are immediately provided food, water, and shelter - as well as medical care if needed. Screening by the Department of State and Department of Homeland Security is conducted prior to onward movement to the United States. Bases in Spain may be used if needed to handle the evacuee flow.


Evacuees boar C-17 at HKIA-N

Families begin to board a U.S. Air Force Boeing C-17 Globemaster III during
an  evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 23.
U.S. service members are assisting the Department of State with an orderly
drawdown of designated personnel in Afghanistan.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Samuel Ruiz).

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Tuesday, August 24, 2021

The situation is dire for thousands of American citizens that are stranded in Afghanistan. It is just as terrible for the many thousands of Afghan citizens that assisted the United States and other nations during the past twenty years. The Taliban are conducting house searches for any individuals associated with foreign nations - and depending on their involvement are arresting or executing them. Intepreters, pilots, members of the elite units of the police and army are especially targets.

Meanwhile American citizens and Afghans in Afghanistan are telephoning, texting, or emailing their family members, former American colleagues, and private sector organizations (like Team America) in an attempt to get assistance to flee the country. The Taliban checkpoints are turning away people heading to the airport that do not have foreign citizenship or some sort of status with a foreign nation. U.S. officials are not evacuating people who do not have a passport, green card, or SIV documentation.

The next few days will be dedicated to evacuating AMCITs, green card holders, and SIVs. After that the U.S. forces and other foreign military troops will begin their preparations for movement back to their home countries.

President Biden's Big Decision. The president has decided on the extension - there will be none. The U.S. military will be wrapping up operations soon and pulling out. "Biden decides to stick with August 31 final pullot from Kabul", Associated Press, August 24, 2021.

Video of U.S. Activities at Al Udeid Air Base (AUAB). Many of the evacuees leaving Kabul airport on U.S. military flights have been destined for the U.S. air base in Qatar. Upon arrival they are met by U.S. DoD, State Department, and others with medical care, food, water, and other resources. Watch a 2-minute video dated Aug 24, 2021 courtesy of U.S. Central Command on happenings at AUAB.
https://www.dvidshub.net/video/811136/afghanistan-evacuation-operations

 


Kabul Airlift Medical Screening

An Afghan family walks toward a medical screening station while in-processing at Camp Buehring, Kuwait. Although the operation is State Department-led, the Department of Defense has been tasked with assisting with providing transportation, security, logistics and medical support for Special Immigration Visa holders to various locations, where they will go through a rigorous paperwork process prior to arriving at their final destination.
(U.S. Army Photo by 1st Lt. James Mason).

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Monday, August 23, 2021

The situation for Afghans in the Kabul airport area is dangerous. The gates are closing and then reopenly sporadically. Latest reports on social media say the entry gates at Kabul airport have been closed going into Sunday because HKIA North (military side sometimes referred to as HKIA-N) is over capcity - between 10-16K. If someone does get through a U.S. controlled gate (versus European) it is because they are a American Citizen (AMCIT) with a US passport or perhaps because they have a 'green card'. People are getting crushed in the crowds that are just outside the gates. Some of the gates have had threat warning advisories. Evacuees are advised to bring extra water and food to the gates as the waits are very long.

HKIA. The military side of the airport is overloaded with evacuees - many in different stages of processing. Flights have resumed taking the evacuees to the various intermediate staging bases or processing locations in the Middle East and in Europe. Food, water and hand sanitizer are in short supply (COA  0800 Kabul 22 Aug 2021 according to Thomas Gibbons-Neff - a correspondent at HKIA-N).

Deadline for Extension Decision. President Biden must decide by Tuesday whether to extend the withdrawal date beyond August 31st. It is going to take a few days to get 6,000 troops and their equipment out of Afghanistan. If you crunch the number for the troops and individual equipment: 6,000 going out on C-17s is a lot of flights. Then add in the collective equipment, helicopters, etc. A logistical challenge to do in 7 days let alone 3 or 4 days. Read more in "US military gives Biden a deadline to decide on extending Afghanistan evacuations", CNN Politics, August 31, 2021.

Gates

There are reports that only American citizens and green card holders and citizens of NATO countries will be allowed by the U.S., allied, and partner nation troops manning the gates. Some social media reports indicate that the Talbian will only let AMCITS and other foreign nationals through their checkpoints if they have a valid passport. Reports say that SIV holders and applicants will be turned away. Some gates lack documentation teams - so that means evacuees may be brought in but then they are in 'limbo' until processing can get underway. See "Afghan visa applicants told to stay away from Kabul airport as US races to meet exit deadline", CNN, August 23, 2021.

Firefight at Kabul Airport. One Afghan guard was killed during a clash with unidentified gunmen. The firefight involved U.s. and German soldiers. "Firefight involving Western forces at Kabul airport, Afghan guard killed", Reuters, August 23, 2021. CNN is reporting that a member of the ANDSF helping with security at a gate was killed with sniper fire. Other members of the ANDSF returned fire . . . but in the direction of some U.S. Marines - who then opened fire, injuring four Afghans. The four Afghans are in stable condition and there were no U.S. casualties. Fox News is reporting that German troops were present at the gate as well and the incident occurred at the "North" gate (located on Russian Road adajacent to HKIA-N). The shootout may affect the status of the gate - meaning it could be closed for hours or days.

HKIA-N

"Other Gates" and More Evacuees. Part of the security provided at the military side of the Kabul airport is provided by Afghan security forces that are still operational and working with U.S. and other countries troops. There is speculation that many of the evacuees inside HKIA-N were let in by the ANDSF folks at other locations along the perimeter of the airfield. This complicates things as these evacuees lack the proper documentation to get on a flight out of Kabul.

Electronic Visas. Some SIV applicants received their SIVs electronically. Meaning that they were sent screenshots of the SIV visa. Unfortunately, these 'electronic' visas were sent without names or document numbers. They were quickly copied as screenshots and sent by Afghans to thousands of other Afghans who were not eligible for access to the airport. So the airport was flooded with Afghans with no real SIV visa. One could say this was sort of an "Opps" on the part of the Department of State.

Intermediate Transit Sites

Some social media outlets are reporting that the transit sites (Ramstein AFB?) is already overwhelmed - with zero COVID precautions and not enough toilets. Putting a large number of folks in a big hangar suitable for large aircraft does have some drawbacks. But it is better than being outside one of the entry gates at the Kabul airport.

Flights

According to the White House the United States flew 10,400 people out of Kabul airport over a 24 hour period. There are still thousands still inside the airport waiting for processing and flights. The numbers of flights out and evacuees on flights (and remaining at HKIA) are fluid and depends on your news source. CNN is reporting that more flights are due in on Monday to evacuate 20,000 people - saying that 33 C-17s will be flying during Monday. Each can take out up to 400 people for a total of about 13,000 people.

Japan. The Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) is sending a transport aircraft to assist in the evacuation process. The aircraft will bring back Japanese citizens who worked in the embassy, for the Japan International Cooperation Agency, and other organizations. In addition, it will assist in evacuting Afghans who worked at the Japanese Embassy or with other Japanese missions or organizations.

Big Picture

August 31st Deadline. The Taliban have issued a stark warning about delaying the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. A Taliban spokesperson, Dr. Suhail Shaeen, says that it is a 'red line'. (Sky News, August 23, 2021) Editorial Note: If the Taliban do grant an extension it would likely be September 11, 2021 . . . to set themselves up with a public affairs victory.

CANSOF Outside the Wire. Canadian special forces have been leaving HKIA and assisting in the evacuation of Canadian citizens and Afghans associated with Canada's long presence in Afghanistan. (CBC.CA, Aug 23, 2021).

Humanitarian Basis of Entry to the U.S. The Special Immigrant Visa process is lenghty and the people managing it at the Department of State overburdened right now. Perhaps the DoS should have started this in ernest about a decade ago - they wouldn't have this problem right now. Those Afghans that have not completed or started the SIV process may opt for evacuation on a Humanitarian basis. Individuals who are outside of the United States may be able to request parole into the U.S. under this basis. Read more on this topic at the website of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

AMCIT Repatriation Assistance Request. The Kabul Repatriation Assistance unit has published a site where an American citizen can request repatriation. Text if from the site:
"The U.S. Embassy in Kabul is collecting information from U.S. Citizens who may need assistance returning to the United States due to the security situation in Afghanistan. The information collected in this form will only be used by the U.S. government for the purpose of facilitating the return travel to the United States. If you are not already enrolled, please sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) at http://step.state.gov to ensure you receive travel and health notifications from the U.S. Embassy".
Repatriation Request Form (online)

Operation Flyaway - Raven Advisory LLC. One emergency Afghan rescue mission is a collaborative effort between U.S. veterans, philanthropists, Veteran advocates, and the private sector, designed to rescue Afghan llies at imminent risk of being killed by the Taliban. The operation begins with extraction and ends with resettlement. Learn more about Operation Flyaway.


Evacuees Arrive NAS Sigonella 22 Aug 2021

Afghan evacuees disembark a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III at Naval Air Station Sigonella, Aug. 22, 2021. NAS Sigonella is currently supporting the Department of Defense mission to facilitate the safe departure and relocation of U.S. citizens, Special Immigration Visa recipients, and vulnerable Afghan populations from Afghanistan. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Daniel Young, 22 Aug 2021)

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Sunday, August 22, 2021

Status. The gates are all closed as of 1800 EST (0230 Kabul) 22 Aug 2021.

Task Force Dunkirk. "Current and former U.S. military special operations and intelligence operatives are using their own networks of contacts to get elite Afghan soldiers, intelligence assets, and interpreters to safety as they've become increasingly disillusioned and fed up with the U.S. government-led evacuation effort in Kabul." Read more in "US special operations forces race to save former Afghan comrades in jeopardy", by James Gordon Meek and Matt Seyler, ABC News, August 22, 2021.

Video on HKIA. A five-minute long video best describes the chaotic situation at Hamid Karzai International Airport. (ABC News, August 21, 2021)
https://abcnews.go.com/WNT/video/americans-warned-avoid-kabul-airport-specifically-instructed-79581090

Biden Speech - Sunday Afternoon (Aug 22nd). POTUS says that the US is evacuting at-risk Afghans to two dozen intermediate staging / processing centers on four continents. He says the Taliban have been cooperative thus far and hopes the US doesn't have to negotiate for a withdrawal extension beyond August 31st. He is still referring to Afghans as Afghanis. There is a plan (already executing?) to move groups of Americans to safety and into the Kabul airport.

Civil Reserve Air Fleet Activation. SECDEF Austin has ordered the U.S. Transportation Command to activate segments of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet. The current activation is for 18 aircraft from six different airlines. The aircraft will not be used in Afghanistan. They will fly the legs from the temporary safe havens and interim staging bases. This allows military aircraft like the C-17 to focus on operations in and out of Kabul. Read more in "Department of Defense Activates Civil Reserve Air Fleet to Assist With Afghanistan Efforts", Department of Defense Release, August 22, 2021.

The Numbers

 At least seven Afghans died outside the entry points of the Kabul airfield on Saturday - some crushed in the crowd. Less people were evacuated in the past 24 hours than in the previous 24 hours. This is due in part to the airbase in Doha nearing full capacity as well as the backlog of people waiting to be processed (paperwork) inside the HKIA military area. By the end of Friday there were 10,000 evacuees inside HKIA (mil) . . . and Saturday this number grew, prompting the closure of some of the gates to reduce congestion. And there are still thousands outside the gates waiting to get in.

Advice for Afghans Seeking to Evacuate

There are a number of organizations that are providing information to Afghans needing to leave Afghanistan or to friends or family members that want to get them out. One of these organizations is the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI). They have posted a webpage entitled "Resources for Afghan Allies" that provides helpful information on making a safety plan (SIV, P-2, or other), seeking repatriation assistance (US citizens), getting SIV or P-2 status, tips on evading the misuse of biometric data, and how to delete your digital history. Many of these tips are in Pashto and Dari as well as English. And there is a button for donating to the USCRI.
https://refugees.org/resources-for-afghan-allies/

The Gates

Overnight in Afghanistan and into Sunday morning the HKIA gates were reported to be closed by most social media accounts. News reports indicate that the gates have remained close so that HKIA-N can reduce the number of evacuees on the airport. Once the flights take enough evacuees out then the gates will likely reopen.

 If the evacuees paperwork is correct then entering through a U.S. line at the entry point should work - if you can get in front of a U.S. troop and present your paperwork. If the papework is not that good then trying the Europeans may be the best option. (from comments on social media platforms - Twitter, FB, etc.).

The first obstacle is getting through the Taliban checkpoints without being beaten. Along the journey into HKIA the evacuee must contend with criminals and Afghans with no paperwork who will attempt to steal documentation in hopes of getting onto HKIA. Depending on the time and the day the Taliban have been beating up people trying to evacuate. They have seizing or tearing vital documents. Evacuees should try to have copies of these documents on their phone, stored on the cloud, or photocopies sent to a trusted friend.

At some gates the next obstacle are former members of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) - probably from former Afghan Army or police SOF units. Then the evacuee must convince the U.S., allied, or partner nation force that they have the right paperwork - sometimes from within the crowd at a distance of 20 to 40 feet.

Evacuees going to the gates should bring water, food, and documents. The wait can be long and dangerous. If with children, keep them close to avoid them getting lost in the crowd or crushed. Conditions at the gates change every hour and every day. The State Department is trying to monitor the situation and direct evacuees in 'the system' via email and text as to which gate to go to, which ones to avoid, and when to be there.

There are some social media reports that the Taliban Badri 313 Unit may now or soon will be in charge of security for the Kabul airport. If true, this could change the situation at the airport in a drastic way - for the better of the worse.

HKIA

Survival on KIA. It may not be comfortable but once processed any airplane ride is in the evacuees future to a new home. Some news reports say that there is a shortage of water and food on the airbase.

Evacuee Processing at HKIA - US. A key factor in the congestion at HKIA is the amount of time it takes to process evacuees. American citizens (passport holders) are processed quicker ( . . . and on their way). However, Afghans (all categories?) are processed much slower. Apparently the Department of Homeland Security is assessing the Afghan evacuees biometric data - which is run through numerous databases to ensure there are no criminals, terrorists, or former Taliban members attempting evacuation. Critics say the biometric screening should be done in the United States or at a mid-point transit site in order to keep the people flowing through the system.

Evacuee Processing at HKIA - European and Other Nations. There appears to be a distinct difference in how evacuees are processed between the U.S. and other allied and partner nations. Most social media accounts are steering Afghans toward Dutch, German, and other troops - and stating that avoiding U.S. troops is a good course of action. The processing of evacuees by European and other nations is not as comprehensive and the paperwork requirements less stringent - and therefore more likely to get gate entry, quicker processing, and a with a greater likelihood of flying out.

Flights

The U.S. has plenty of aircraft capacity - so that is not a limiting factor. In addition, to keep the C-17s and the crews in the Middle East / South Asia region the administration may be utilizing the U.S. airlines for the flight leg from Ramstein AFB and airbases in the Middle East going to the United States. This could involve the activation of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet. Read more in "Pentagon Tells Airlines Be Ready to Fly Afghan Evacuees to United States", by Marcus Weisgerber, Defense One, August 20, 2021.

The airport is usually open to limited civilian traffic but it is VFR only. Scheduled commerical airliners are making trips from HKIA. Contract air requires an approved PPR.

NAS Sigonella. About 140 evacuees from Afghanistan landed at Naval Air Station Sigonella as part of Operation Allies Refuge. More arrivals are expected. The first group traveled on a KC-10 Extender from Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar.  NAS Sigonella is serving as a transit location for evacuees before their onward movement to other locations. (FB, 22 August 2021).


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Saturday, August 21, 2021

Green Beret Foundation - No One Left Behind

No One Left Behind is one of several veterans organizations
composed of veterans and others providing assisting in the evacuation,
relocation, and support of Afghans. https://nooneleft.org

The air evacuation of U.S. embassy personnel, U.S. contractors, U.S. citizens, foreign nationals, and Afghan citizens who could prove a working relationship with other countries continues. Hamid Karzai International Airport has been secured by U.S. military forces alongside the military forces of other nations. There are currently 5,800 U.S. troops at the airport, although this number is likely much higher now.

ISIS-K Terror Threat. The US military is establishing "alternative routes" to Kabul airport because of the terror group ISIS-K poses to the airport and its surroundings. US officials are saying that there is a strong possibility ISIS-K is trying to carry out an attack at the airport. (CNN, Aug 21, 2021) On another note, a French A400M dispensed flares as it departed HKIA on Aug 21, 2021 - probably some concerns about MANPADs.

Time is Running Out. The U.S. military and partner nations will be starting the retrograde process of military equipment and personnel at some point to be able to be out by the end of August nine days from now. That means the evacuation of U.S. citizens and Afghans at risk will be drastically scaled back. (DOI 1100 21 Aug 2021).

Tick Tock. The clock is ticking. Over the past week since evacuations have begun the US miltiary has airlifted 2,500 US citizens out of Kabul. There are approximately 10 - 15K US citizens still in Afghanistan. In addition there are about 22K Afghan SIV applicants with 50K familiy members in Afghanistan. Interesting (and heartbreaking days ahead).

Evacuation Process - On and Off. The process of boarding evacuees has halted during different stages of the NEO - this is based largely on the transit points (Doha, etc.) being overloaded.

The Numbers. The facilities at Qatar are a almost full capacity so flights there are carrying less people. The US military footprint at HKIA is 5,800 and 3,800 people evacuated by US military in the last 24 hours. (as of 1100 EST 21 Aug 21). Pentagon says that C-17 flights may increase from an average of 12 a day to up to 30 a day very soon.

Gates / Getting onto HKIA

Chaos at the Gates. Big crowds of people without the proper documentation have congested the area around the entry gates onto the military side of the airport. It is almost impossible for a passport holder or SIV applicant to move through the crowd to get to the gate and attract the attention of an American or soldier from other countries. Many on the ground observers state that the situation is 'total mayhem'. When gates become unmanageable they are closed temporarily.

Closed Gates? According to a Twitter post by Thomas Gibbons-Neff, NYT Kabul-based corresponent, all gates at HKIA are closed (DOI 20210900L21AUG21). Of course, the gates close and then reopen several times a day. Social media accounts indicate that most of the gates have been closed for most of Saturday.

Getting Through the Gates. The greatest difficulty for a potential evacuee is navigating through the crowd to get close enough to a gate entry point and attract the attention of the American (or other) troops guarding the gate. The gates are deluged with Afghans with no documentation but who are desparate to leave Afghanistan. Many times there are 'spotters' (US contractor, government official, or others) at the gate who know a certain individual or group is approaching for entry. The spotter can see the person that needs to gain entry but the hardest part is getting through the last 30 to 40 feet.

Brit Forces Leaving the Compound. British units are leaving HKIA to gather evacuees . . . but apparently US units are restricted to HKIA. Lots of questions on this topics at the DoD briefing this morning (Aug 21, 2021). Questions not really answered by the DoD briefers.

Chopper Rescue of Americans From Hotel. Three Chinook helicopters rescued 169 Americans on Thursday from the Baron Hotel - which is just adjacent to the airfield. The hotel had a landing zone suitable for helicopters.The original evacuation plan was for the Americans to leave the Baron Hotel and walk to the nearest gate (Abbey Gate), but the massive crowds at the gate precluded this. Read more in "Inside the mission to rescue 169 Americans from a hotel outside the Kabul airport", Military Times, August 20, 2021. The choppers are probably being used to pull evacuees from other locations as well.

Additional Chopper Activity. U.S. Helicopter sorties have been for a few days picking up Americans at pre-selected HLZs that are located outside of the airport. The pickups are likely facilitated by intelligence officers and/or SOF - according to the Associated Press (AP).

French SOF Assisting. French special forces troops and members of an elite police unit have escorted several hundred people from the French Embassy in Kabul where they sought shelter to the Kabul airport three miles away.They utilized a convoy of armored vehicles and buses to make the movement. Coordination with the Taliban facilitated the movement. The French citizens and Afghans were then flown on a French A400M miitary transport aircraft from Kabul to a French military base in the United Arab Emirates, and then on to Paris. "French Special Forces Escorted Citizens, At-Risk Afghans From Embassy to Airport", CNSNEWS, August 19, 2021.

And on HKIA

Supplies, etc? With the thousands of miltiary personnel and waiting evacuees there may soon be shortages of water, food, and fuel. Evacuee numbers already processed (US) waiting on flights continue to grow - due to bottlenecks at the intermediate transit sites (Doha, etc.).

Flights

Contract Commercial Air for ME to US Leg? Augmenting the evacuation process by using contract commerical aircraft from the Middle East intermediate transit points to the US could free up more C-17s for the Kabul to ME leg.  "Here's How the US Could Get Afghanistan Evacuees to the United States More Quickly", by Marcus Weisgerber, Defense One, August 20, 2021.

Khost Airport Now Open?. There is a Twitter post that reports a Talib saying that a civilian airstrip in Khost "is ready to operate" and that UN and ICRC planes may be landing there soon. (DTG 21070LAUG21).

Contract Air - Permission Denied. Representative Mike Waltz (R-FL) posted on Saturday, August 21, 2021, that private sector groups that are funding chartered aircraft for HKIA are having their flight plans stymied.

Contract Air for HKIA - Flight Plans Disapproved.

Intermediate Transit Locations

Ramstein AFB. There are reports that Ramstein AFB, Germany is receiving evacuees (a Ramstein Air Base FB post says 300 arrived on 21 Aug 2021 on two C-17s). The C-17s took off from Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. Ramstein is serving as a transit location while the evacuees await further transportation to more permanent resettlement locations. On a related note, the Germans have deployed six A400Ms to the region for evacuation purposes.

Transit Countries.Some evacuees may find themselves in Bahrain, Kazakhastan, Uzbekistan, or several other countries for a short stay before heading to the states. A number of nations have stepped forward indicating they would accept evacuees from the U.S. airlift on a short-term basis.

Private Sector Mobilizes

Informal Networks. In addition to the U.S. DoD and DoS and allied countries conducting their NEO effort there are informal groups of current service members and veterans, current and retired government employees, and others engaged in activities to assist the NEO. These groups provide information to and assist Afghans onto HKIA and transports out of the country. While their contributions may be small (in numbers) to the Afghans they help it is a lifesaver. One such group is known as "Team America". Read more about it in "Team America has success evacuating Afghans, seeks help as requests grow", by James R. Webb, Military Times, August 18, 2021.

Digital Dunkirk. Veterans and others are mobilizing online to help Afghans fleeing the Taliban. Read more in "A 'Digital Dunkirk' to Evacuate Afghan Allies", by Amy Mackinnon, Foriegn Policy.

Private Sector Assistance. Ark Salus, an American nongovernmental organization, has launched Operation on Wings of Eagles. The organization was formed by both civilians and former members of US special operations units that helped train the Special Mission Wing and other Afghan special operations units such as the GCSPU and KKA. The mission of Ark Salus is to assist the families of the Afghan SOF units in their evacuation from Afghanistan. Hundreds of the familiy members have reached the safety of the military side of the Kabul airport. But now they need to be included in the evacuation process - a tough task given they have not begun the SIV or P-2 process. Once authorized for a flight (if that happens) they will need assistance in the United States or other countries. Enter Ark Salus. Read more in "How We Can Help Afghan Special Operators Fight the Taliban", by Jariko Denman, Coffee or Die Magazine, August 17, 2021.

NOLB. This private organization, No One Left Behind, set up to assist Afghan evacuees is working a host of issues related to the NEO. One initiative is using chartered aircraft to move evacuees. NOLB is also coordinating with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to move evacuees from Afghanistan. The first two of seven planned UAE evacuation flights has landed in the UAE (as of 21 Aug 2021).

Afghan Evacuation Coordination Team. The  AECT is an organization of ex-officials, aid workers, and volunteers working to evacuate US and at-risk Afghans through non-governmental chartered flights.
https://www.afgevac.org

Evacuation Process - Steps

A Long Voyage for the Afghans Seeking to Depart Afghanistan. There are many steps to getting to the United States for an Afghan evacuee. The first is getting to Kabul from the many different regions of the country. Next is moving through the Taliban checkpoints to get to the airport. Then the potential evacuee has to move through the massive crowds of people blocking the entry gates - probably one of the most difficult steps. Next is having the proper paperwork to get through the 'gate guards'. The people guarding the gates include American soldiers, Turkish soldiers, Afghan SOF, and others. Once in then the processing with the State Department takes place. Then the wait for a plane, travel to a transist location (Doha, etc.), arrival in the States, and finally sponsorship by U.S. government and private organizations.

Arrival in the States. Afghans will be housed at Fort Lee, Virginia, Fort Bliss, Texas, or Fort McCoy, Wisconsin as part of Operation Allies Refuge. DoS has the lead on OAR with DoD supporting.

Other Notes

Afghan Commandos at HKIA. There are remnants of Afghan SOF units (ANA and police) at the Kabul airport assisting with security. SECDEF Austin says that the US military will evacuate Afghan commandos upon departing Kabul.

Tension Among Allies? Apparently there is some tension among allies on the ground in Kabul as well as with the U.S. bureaucracy in D.C. Reportedly (may or may not be true) elements of the 22nd SAS were asked by the U.S. to cease their forays into Kabul to rescue people and bring them back to the airport. (Doubtful, but could be true). Back at home there appears to be tension between foggy bottom, the Pentagon, and the White House. (Washington Examiner, Aug 20, 2021). NOTE: THE ARTICLE HAS BEEN CRITICIZED AS BEING INACCURATE.

Fact Checking Bidens Speech. On Friday afternoon the President addressed the nation about the chaos in Afghanistan. No real info was provided but he did get a chance to once again explain his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan. According to Biden, al Qaeda no longer has a presence in Afghanistan. This is at odds with a United Nations report (July 2021) that said AQ is present in 15 provinces and operates from the southwest of the country under Taliban protection.



Afghan evacuees arrive at Ramstein AFB, Germany

Afghan evacuees aboard two C-17s arrive at Ramstein AFB, Germany

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Friday, August 20, 2021

Fuel Shortage. t is reported that fuel on HKIA is limited so aircraft can't refuel on the ground. Most conduct an in-flight refeuling after takeoff from HKIA.

Ramstein AFB, Germany. An airbase in Europe is gearing up to receive evacuees if necessary. The base is setting up temporary housing facilities with cots in case some come their way.

The Numbers as of 20 August 2021. The U.S. has flown out 13,000 people on U.S. military aircraft since August 14th and since the end of July more than 18,000. There are about 5,800 troops on the ground. Over the last 24 hours (ending 0300 EDT 20 Aug) 16 C-17s and one C-130 departed Kabul. These flights contained 6,000 passengers including a couple hundred American citizens.

DoD Briefing Transcript. The Department of Defense briefing on Friday, August 20, 2021, was conducted. You can read the transcript.

Germany. An update (20 Aug 2021) by the German Joint Forces Command says that more than 1,640 people have been evacuated in 11 shuttle flights. There are hundreds of Germans still trapped in Kabul and other parts of Afghanistan. A KSK detachment (Special Forces Command) and two H145M LUH SOF helicopters are being transported to HKIA via a A400M aircraft to assist in the evacuation process. KSK elements have been at HKIA since Monday, Aug 16, 2021. (Der Speigel, 20 Aug 2021).

Flights Halted and Restarted. It appears that U.S. flights at Kabul airport stopped for at least eight hours. There are 9,000 or 10,000 evacuees on HKIA processed and waiting to board aircraft. But there is no where to fly them to. Qatar has reached full capacity and can't take any more. The ramp space at HKIA is also filling up.

Biden Speech. The president, during his mid-afternoon speech on Friday afternoon, stressed topics such as humanitarian issues, Afghan women, current mission, no talk of expanding the mission beyond Kabul airport, focus on current mission, says the U.S. credibility has not been damaged, seems to think that al Qaeda is gone from Afghanistan, says our over-the-horizon capability to hit terrorists in Afghanistan is robust, mentioned something about 169 Americans managed to 'get over the wall' (whatever that means), defends his response to the current situation, and continously turned the discussion to his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan. Painfully noticed, is his use of the term "Afghanis".

Afghan vs Afghani

Aircraft Flying in the Kabul Airspace. There is a lot of activity going on at the airport and the surrounding airspace. A team with Reuters has put together an informative article with great images and graphics explaining the air activity. Read "What's flying over Kabul?", Reuters, August 20, 2021.

And Guam? Since June the island of Guam has been an option. A letter was sent to President Biden by the Governor of Guam on June 12, 2021 saying that Guam was ready to assist in relocation efforts if necessary. So . . . are flights to begin heading to Guam?

Other Nations. Poland is attempting to get 300 Afghans who assisted that nation during the conflict into the evacuation process.

International SOF Convention. Commentators on social media say that HKIA is a huge international SOF get-together. Brits, Germans, French, and Spanish are mounting forays into Kabul to rescue their citizens. There will be some great stories exchanged in October during the Global SOF Foundation Symposium in Warsaw, Poland.

823 Afghans Evacuated by REACH 871, not 640. On Sunday, August 15, 2021, a radio transmission between the crew of a C-17 and air controller indicated that the aircraft had over 800 passengers. The number was revised to 640 a few days later. Now Air Mobility Command is saying the actual number is 823 Afghan citizens. The initial count of 640 inadvertantly included only adults, 183 children were also aboard. The 640 number was based on how many bus seats were filled departing the aircraft and didn't account for the number of children in laps.

REACH 871

Security at Gates. The gates to HKIA are open each day, but will close from time to time when the outside crowd tries to overwhelm the gates. Once calm is restored the gates reopen. U.S. troops are using tear gas when necessary to control the crowds. The Talbiiban use warning shots to discourage the crowd at the gates. Watch a video of activities at a British controlled access point. (Gandhara, 20 Aug 2021). Apparently those who are selected for flights out of HKIA by the US are receiving emails with instructions from the State Department. A combinaton of foreign forces, Afghan NDS and Commandos, and the Taliban are providing security at the entry points.

Chaos at the Gates. Many in the crowds do not have the proper documentation to allow them entry. Some are waving paperwork that they hope will tie them to the U.S. or other foreign nations - giving them access to the airport. When people with the proper documentation try to get through they and the gates are mobbed.

Wounded Marine Returns to Duty. A Marine wounded by gunfire has been returned to duty at HKIA. He was part of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit which deployed (elements) to HKIA on Sunday, August 15, 2021. (Marine Corps Times, Aug 29, 2021).

Marines at HKIA. AV-8B Harriers working with the 24th MEU are providing aerial overwatch of the evacuation process. Some of the Marines are working in the evacuation control center assisting in the processing of American citizens, Afghan SIV applicants, partner nation citizens, and other Afghans for evacuation from Kabul. The Marines have MV-22 Ospreys and KC-130s on standby in the region for recovery operations in the event an aircraft crashes.

Intermediate Staging Areas. Many of the US flights from HKIA are landing at Al Udeid Air Force Base in Doha, Qatar. This is the home of the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing. News reports say that this staging area for the Kabul airlift is now (Friday, August 20th) at full capacity. The government of Bahrain has given permission for evacuation flights to land at Isa Air Base.

Status is Important. If the evacuee is a U.S. citizen, green card holder, or in the SIV applicant process they will likely proceed to the U.S. to one of the three installations currently receiving evacuees. If they don't fit this category - there has been no final determination about whether they will be able to come right back to the United States or on what timetable.

Aid Workers - Lack of Support? Thousands of aid workers who worked for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) providing humanitarian assistance find themselves scrambling for a way out of Afghanistan. Many governments provided assistance through 'implementing partners' - meaning they contracted the aid work out to private organizations or business entities. Some of these organizations no longer exist. Read more in "I'm knocking on every door: Afghan aid workers, kin wait for visas", by Amruta Byatnal, DEVEX, August 20, 2021.

Criticism Mounts. The Biden administration is under fire from Congressional members of both political parties for the diaster in Afghanistan. Representative Dan Crenshaw (R-Tx), a former Navy SEAL, calls for the retaking of Bagram Air Field as well as expanding the perimeter around the airfield. Meanwhile units of the UK, French, and other countries are rescuing their citizens in Kabul. There is the distinct possibility that either DoD or an intel agency is already doing this - they just haven't gotten the publicity and the DoD is not quite ready to chat it up in its press conferences. But there could be some changes in the future - see "Night Stalker Special Ops Helicopters Now in Kabul Could be Critical to Evacuation", The Drive, August 20, 2021.

NEOs Explained. Information is provided in this news article what a noncombatant evacuation operation is in "Former Navy SEAL Explains How Civilians Are Evacuated From Places Like Afghanistan", by "Frumentarius", SANDBOXX.

Calls for More Assistance for Translators. The plight of Afghans at risk trying to escape Afghanistan and the vivid images from HKIA has dominated the news cycle in the United States and around the world. Thousands are articles are posted saying that the U.S. and the world needs to do more. One such article is by Chris Karwacki, a senior strategist at the U.S. Department of Defense and a board member with No One Left Behind. His article is entitled "Our Moral and Legal Responsibility to Save Afghan Translators", Diplomatic Courier, August 20, 2021.



Thursday, August 19, 2021

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Security. More troops from the U.S. and other nations are slowly arriving at the Kabul airport. As of late mid-day Thursday there were 5,200 U.S. troops on the ground. 

Flights. The military flights are coming and going from the military portion (north side) of the airport. There is limited commercial airline activity at the civilian terminal (south side). The military flights are taking place on a round-the-clock basis. The commercial terminal is operating during daylight hours.

Passengers. The last few thousand people that have flown out on U.S. military flights over the past day or two include a mix of American citizens, SIV applicants, and at-risk Afghans. Total number evacuated in recent days is 7,000 (since August 14th), more than 12,000 since DoD began assisting DoS in July 2021.

Special Immigrant Visas. The State Department is coming under attack for their slow response in processing visas. There are some reports that SIV applicants need to wait to have their visas processed then they can get airlifted out of Kabul. Many are calling for the airlift to come first and then the processing begins. It is a confusing situation for sure. See "Sluggish Visa Process Strands Thousands Who Worked for US", New York Times, August 19, 2021. (subscription). See also "More Seats Than Passengers: Paperwork, Taliban Slow Afghanistan Evacuation", Defense One, August 19, 2021.

Getting Past Taliban Checkpoints. The Taliban control access to the airport with checkpoints at the entrance to the civilian terminal and a have a presence at the three entry points to the military side of the airport. Access for foreign nationals and Afghans with passports and visas is very restricted at the moment. The Taliban checkpoints around the airport are preventing people from entering even if they have a passport, a U.S. green card, SIV documentation, or flight tickets. Most major news media outlets are reporting beatings by the Taliban on Afghans wishing to depart Kabul are taking place on a constant basis.

Humanitarian Corridor? The calls for a more proactive action by the U.S. to go into Kabul and the hinterlands to rescue U.S. citizens are getting more numerous. Many advocate for the U.S. to secure the airport road that runs from the airport to the 'green zone'. Some SOF elements from other countries (UK, France, Spain) are currently running vehicles along this road rescuing their countrymen. See "As US military sticks to the airport, British and French forces are rescuing their citizens in Kabul", Military Times, August 19, 2021.

Evacuation Control Point Coordination. The Taliban checkpoints and the process at the entry control points are the problematic sticking points right now. The State Department is conducting the process of entry to the airfield with assistance from the U.S. military and others. Many expats from other countries have complained on social media that U.S. troops have not allowed them access through any of the access gates to HKIA's military side of the airport. DoD says there are 'multiple gates' open, unknown if this means there are more than three gates.

Processing Once on HKIA (Mil). One of the hurdles of getting people onto planes (once past the Taliban checkpoints and U.S. troops guarding the three gates) is the paperwork processing that takes place before boading aircraft.

State Department Charging for Flights? Apparently the Sate Department was charging some evacuees $2,000 or more or asking them to sign promissory notes ahead of evacuation flights. That practice has stopped as of August 19, 2021?

Holding Areas at the Airport. Once through the entry points and through the 'get ready to fly' process then they are provided meals and rest areas until gong on a flight.

Leaving Kabul? Most of the U.S. military flights are being flown to safe staging areas in the Middle East (Qatar, etc.). What happens there has yet to be thoroughly briefed - everyone's attention is on Kabul. Presumeably there is a screening process (medical, security clearance, etc.) as well as a holding / rest area for sleep, eating, and hygiene. From there the Afghans will likely flow into the channels of Operation Allies Refuge - where they will fly to the U.S. and find themselves at a U.S. Army installation.

Projected Numbers. It is estimated that there are between 10,000 and 15,000 U.S. citizens in Afghanistan. Many of these are dual citizens. There were roughly 20,000 applicants in the Special Immigrant Visa program as of July 2021. A few thousand of the approved SIV holders have been moved from Afghanistan since July. All told, there are abut 50,000 to 65,000 Afghan partners and their families trying to get out of the country.

Aircraft. There are a variety of aircraft - military, commercial, and contract - flying in and out of Afghanistan. Scheduled commercial traffic is not overflying Afghanistan but instead taking a northern route over the 'Stans or a southern route over Iran and Pakistan. Kabul residents are reporting on social media loud, low flying jets in the skies. The Pentagon disclosed that it is flying armed F/A-18s on overwatch over the airport. C-17 air crews have been busy helping in the Kabul airlift - read more in an article by Task & Purpose (Aug 19, 2021).

U.S. Missons Sets. 1. Security at the airport, 2. air operations, and 3. assist State Department in the processing of individuals at the airport gates. This does not include going out into Kabul to rescue U.S. citizens (as the Brits, French, Spanish, and contractors with PMCs are reportedly doing). Apparently there are some 'extracullicular activities' taking place - see "Afghan officer who fought with US forces rescued from Kabul", Military Times, August 19, 2021.

Foreign Assistance. There are a host of nations with troops on the ground and flowing aircraft in and out of Kabul airport. Prior to the fall of Afghanistan Turkey was going to provide security for HKIA. Now things are different although Erdogan says it may still help with the security over the long term. Turkey currently has hundreds of troops at HKIA assisting with security. (Reuters, Aug 18, 2021).

Miscellaneous. The United Nations has starting to move some of its staff out of Afghanistan. It remains committed to serving Afghanistan, but is removing 1/3 of its staff. (Reuters, Aug 18, 2021). A bipartisan group of 55 senators are urging President Biden to speed up the evacuation process in Kabul. New Zealand has aircraft taking out Kiwis and interpreters who worked for them - but it is a limited category of people.

DoD Briefings. These take place every day, usually in mid-afternoon - and links to transcripts are posted here once available. The latest DoD update took place around 11:00 on Thursday, a video of the press conference can be viewed here. The Department of Defense released a press release around mid-day on Thursday, August 19th: "Flow of Evacuees out of Kabul Continuing Apace, Officials Say", DoD News.

Synopsis of Thursday's DoD Briefing: People are now being prioritized over all other cargo. No security problems within HKIA. F-18s are conducting armed overwatch flights. Press Secretary John Kirby would not say if the August 31st deadline for the Kabul NEO would be extended. Main missions preclude conducting opns into Kabul city proper. Kabul airport has plenty of fuel available to conduct operations into the near future. Medical assets are being brought in to establish a 'field hospital'. Limiting factors of the NEO is not flight availability, rather access to the airport. This includes Taliban checkpoints, security at the airport, and processing at the entry control points, and how many people are waiting in the holding areas to board aircraft. The DoD spokesmen are to be commended on their mastery of the art of 'double speak'.

Other Options? There is talk about establishing air bridges to other Afghan airports to bring U.S. citizens and others to HKIA. State and DoD is silent on this.

 


Kabul NEO Entry Control Checkpoint

A Marine escorts two Afghan civilians during processing through an
Evacuee Control Checkpoint (ECC) at HKIA. DoD Twitter, August 19, 2021.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2021

The air evacuation of U.S. embassy personnel, U.S. contractors, U.S. citizens, foreign nationals, and Afghan citizens who could prove a working relationship with other countries continues. The military side of the Hamid Karzai International Airport has been secured by U.S. military forces alongside the military forces of other nations. There are currently 4,000 U.S. troops at the airport.

Security. During an Aug 18th afternoon briefing General Milley (CJCS) said that security is good within the military section of the Kabul Airport. Currently 4,500 troops on the ground. There are 1,300 Marines on deck to flow in - members of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit and Special Marine Air-Ground Task Force - Crisis Response. (Each GCC has a SPMAGTF-CR unit similar to the one for Africa). Apparently the Taliban do not control any part of the airport - to include the civilian terminal. The entire airport is under the control of international forces.

Flights. The Pentagon says the combined international effort may be able to fly as many as 5,000 to 9,000 people out of Kabul each day by August 31st on hourly evacuation flights. Currently the evacuation flights are leaving at less than full capacity. Limited civilian flights are taking place on the civilian side of the airport. There are also some foreign contracted flights that are coming and going. In the past 24 hours (as of 0300 D.C. time today) there have been 18 C-17s and one C-130 arriving at HKIA - bringing in 700 additional troops and some equipment. The outgoing aircraft have taken out about 2,000 passengers.

Foreign Assistance. The number of nations involved in evacuating their citizens, their Afghan workers, and other foreign nationals is worth noting. Large and small nations are contributing to the effort. For instance, on Wednesday Kazakhstan evacuated 25 Kazakh citizens (embassy personnel), 14 Kyrgyz citizens, and Russian and Lithuanian citizens who applied to the KZ Embassy for assistance.

Getting to the Planes. The Taliban control the civilian terminal and south side of the airport. Access for foreign nationals and Afghans with passports and visas is very restricted at the moment. The Taliban checkpoints around the airport are preventing people from entering even if they have SIV documentation and flight tickets. There is no apparent secure way for people to enter the airport to get on flights. There are varying reports on the degree of access to the military side of the airport for people wishing to leave. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman acknowledged that the Taliban are blocking Afghans from reaching the Kabul international airport. Many expats from other countries have complained on social media that U.S. troops have not allowed them access through any of the access gates to HKIA's military side of the airport. However, many critics say the DoD and DoS are downplaying the difficulties and threats of violence for Afghans and others seeking access to HKIA.

Numbers. It is estimated that there are between 10,000 and 15,000 U.S. citizens in Afghanistan. Many of these are dual citizens. There were roughly 20,000 applicants in the Special Immigrant Visa program as of July 2021. About 2,000 have been moved from Afghanistan since July.

Aircraft. Among the many aircraft flying into Afghanistan today is a MC-130J Combat Shadow II tanker with the callsign ARSON55. Online radar applications have shown some unusual aircraft operating in Afghanistan and flying out to other countries. Some of the other types of aircraft flying include a Romanian Air Force C-130B Hercules, Spanish Air Force Airbus A400M, RAF KC Voyager, and Turkish Air Force Airbus A400M.

U.S. Missons Sets. 1. Security at the airport, 2. air operations, and 3. assist State Department in the processing of individuals at the airport gates.

Evacuation Control Point Coordination. It was reported that a Dutch aircraft landed and then took off empty because U.S. guards at the entry control point would not let Dutch citizens enter the airport interior. In addition, there are reports that U.S. troops are turning away Afghans with U.S. Green Cards. The DoD is working to refine the process at the entry gates.

DoD Briefing. SECDEF Austin and Gen. Milley provided a briefing on the situation in Afghanistan. Coordination and deconfliction with the Taliban is taking place to ensure that US citizens and Afghan with SIV documentation can get access to the military section of the airport. Agreements with the Taliban and limited number of forces on the ground limit capabilities.

Other Options? The 621st Contingency Response Group out of Joint Base McGuire-Dix- Lakehurst has arrived at HKIA. This unit can quickly open airfields and establish, expand, sustain, and coordinate air mobility operations. It can certainly be used at HKIA - but there are other possibilities. Perhaps an 'air bridge' with other locations in Afghanistan to bring more AMCITS and others to HKIA. One unrelated topic is the news that some rotary aircraft (UH-60s) are being flown into HKIA.

Supporting SIVs. When (if?) Afghan SIV holders make it to the United States the DoD is prepared to assist the State Department with temporary housing, sustainment, and support in the U.S. - in the numbers of about 22,000. This should be a piece of cake considering the support provided to the thousands of people that flow in across our border each day. Relocation sites include Fort Bliss, Fort McCoy, and Fort Lee. The DoD will coordinate with DoS, DHS, and the DHHS.

Other Briefings. President Biden chose today to brief the nation on measures to reduce the COVID threat in the U.S. DoD press secretary John Kirby held an off-camera press briefing.

Optics. The constant barrage of pictures and video on social media of Afghans trying to get past Taliban and U.S. checkpoints onto the airfield are at odds with statements from the DoD, DoS, and White House.

State Dept Alert. The U.S. State Department has a webpage with instructions for those seeking evacuation from Afghanistan. The U.S. Embassy in Kabul (the one now at the airport) has issued a security alert (on Aug 18th) providing instructions on how to get into HKIA.

 

The Pentagon Press Secretary announced that the President has ordered the reduction of civilian personnel at the US embassy in Kabul.

 


10th Mountain Division soldiers stand security at HKIA Aug 2021
Soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division stand security at HKIA in August 2021
during the noncombatant evacuation operation. (DoD photo)

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Tuesday, August 17, 2021

The air evacuation of U.S. embassy personnel, U.S. contractors, U.S. citizens, foreign nationals, and Afghan citizens who could prove a working relationship with other countries continued. U.S. KC-135 Stratotankers circled over the skies of northeast Afghanistan ready to refuel military transports taking off from Kabul airport. The military side of the Hamid Karzai International Airport has been secured by U.S. military forces alongside the military forces of other nations. The Taliban control the civilian terminal and south side of the airport. It is estimated that 4,000 U.S. troops were on the ground by the end of Tuesday.  The Pentagon says the combined international effort may be able to fly as many as 5,000 to 9,000 people out of Kabul each day by August 31st.

People Evacuated on Tuesday. U.S. officials say that the U.S. military evacuated 1,100 U.S. citizens, U.S. permanent residents, and their families on 13 flights from Afghanistan.  Spain sent a group of special forces and support personnel to assist in the evacuation. An Indian military aircraft loaded with passengers departed Kabul. Other nations were evacuating their citizens and Afghan workers as well. Some flights leaving Kabul were close to empty. Depending on configuration a C-17 has seating to support up to 188 passengers. The veterans community is gearing up to assist the Afghans as well. Team America is a small group that quickly formed up and went into action - read more in "Team America has success evacuating Afghans, seeks help as requests grow", Military Times, August 17, 2021.

New NEO Command. Initial news reports indicate that a headquarters element of the 82nd Airborne Division may be heading to Kabul to provide greater coordination of the noncombatant evacuation operation. The new headquarters, lead by Maj. Gen. Chris Donoghue, will be formed around the nucleaus of staff from the 82nd Airborne Division. 2. The overall mission will remain under Navy Rear Adm. Peter Vasely, the commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan - Forward.

Miltary Aircraft Coming and Going. The military transports that land on the ground at the airport quickly dispatch their incoming cargo (usually troops) and then load the outgoing cargo (people). They are on the ground for the shortest period possible. Some of the aircraft flying into and out of Afghan airspace included KC-135s (US), RC-135V/W (US), A400M (RAF, France), AC-130 Gunship (US), C-17s (US, RAF, RCAF, Qatar), KDC-10 (NAF), and others. The DoD is hopeing to conduct hourly evacuation flights from Kabul aas the airlift endeavor accelerates.

Commerical Flights. As of early Tuesday, there were no commercial flights landing or taking off from the civilian terminal at Kabul airport. By the end of the day there were limited commerical flights. Online flight-tracking data shows that no commercial flights are currently overflying Afghanistan. Most commercial flights are routed through Iran, through Pakistan, and then on to their final destination.

The Stranded. The State Department reports that there are thousands of U.S. citizens awaiting flights out. The Pentagon estimates that there are between 10,000 to 15,000 Americans still in Afghanistan. Many of them are sheltering in Kabul with no mechanism to tranverse through the Taliban checkpoints to get to the airport. However, there are also a large amount of Americans dispersed across the country.

The Taliban. Thus far the Taliban have not interfered with operations on the military side of the airport. The civilian terminal is not open for business although there are thousands of Afghans there hoping to catch a flight out of Afghanistan.

News and Social Media. Graphic videos of Afghans swarming the runways have been aired on social media and news media outlets. Some have depicted Afghans clinging to the landing gear of C-17s as the aircraft took off. These Afghans either fell from the sky after takeoff or were crushed inside the landing gear compartment once the landing gear were retracted. A C-17 was reportedly inoperable for a short period of time due to landing gear malfunctions after a flight. Other videos circulating on social media incluided scenes of foreign nationals, third country national contractors, and Afghans bording aricraft.

Press Conference. The White House press secretary and national security advisor held a news conference on Afghanistan beginning after 1:00 pm on Tuesday afternoon. Of course, the topics of the conference strayed into other areas as well.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yKiHgK_0w5g

CENTCOM Statement. The Commander of U.S. Central Command issued a statement on the situation on the ground after his visit. He said that the military is "prepared to fully support U.S. Embassy efforts to process and evacuate U.S. citizens, partners, special visa applicants, and Afghans at risk."


REACH71 C-17 Galaxy

REACH71, a U.S. C-17 Galaxy, took off from Kabul airport on Sunday, August 15, 2021
with 823 Afghans aboard. (Photo by C-17 REACH71 crewmember)

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Monday, August 16, 2021

After a day of chaos at the Kabul airport military evacuation flights had resumed. The civilian terminal did not reopen and no civilian flights are landing or taking off. The Pentagon reported that seven C-17s departed Kabul on Monday evacuating about 750 people, including 165 Americans.

Situation at the Airport Through the Day. By Monday afternoon the Taliban had assumed control of the civilian side of Kabul Airport while the United States maintained control of the military side of the airport. Reports indicate that Afghans are firing weapons at U.S. troops. The DoD said that if air operations can resume it can fly out 5,000 people a day from the Kabul airport.

The movement of personnel from the Kabul airport was temporarily suspended because Afghan citizens had swarmed the runway, jet ramps, and aircraft on both the military and commercial side of the airport. They had swarmed the airfield once on Monday morning and then again on Monday afternoon. Some aircraft, including a German Air Force A400M, have been unable to land and had been forced to circle above Kabul. German and Turkish aircraft had to divert to either Pakistan or to countries north of Afghanistan.

Afghans were clinging to the sides of a U.S. C-17 cargo plane as it took off on Monday. Videos on social media showed at least two people falling to their deaths from hundreds of feet as the aircraft took off. A separate C-17 took off with about 640 passengers onboard. Two AH-64 Apache helicopters were hovering low over crowds in an attempt to disperse them off the runway so that C-17 cargo planes could take off. 4.

Access to Airport. Those trying to get to the Kabul airport will find they have to travel through numerous Taliban checkpoints. Currently the Taliban have control of the perimeter of the airport to include all of its gates. Unfortunately, the Taliban - as of Monday - were blocking access to the airport.

U.S. Military at Kabul Airport. Some reports indicated that there were 2,500 U.S. military personnel at the military side of the airport by Monday. The Pentagon announced that another 1,000 paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division will head to Kabul. This is the third battalion from the 82nd with orders to proceed to Kabul. This will bring the total to 7,000 to provide security over the next few days.

Pentagon Updates. The Pentagon press secretary finally confirmed that a non-combatant evacuation operation (NEO) was being conducted. Up until Monday, he refused to use the term NEO. A Pentagon spokesman said that there is a 'preliminary report' that one US servcie member has been wounded at the Kabul airport. The term denotes an emergency evacuation from a foreign country. Late Monday evening the Pentagon posted a summary of its afternoon press conference on Afghanistan. Shortly before 3:00 pm on Monday the Department of Defense issued a news release about U.S. troops providing security at HKIA to enable the safe departure of U.S., allied, and Afghan partners from Afghanistan.

Behind the Scenes. The CENTCOM commander met with Taliban representatives in the Middle East to convey to them that the sole US mission was to evacuate people safely.

Other Countries.

Germany. On Monday a German aircraft flew in military forces to provide security. It departed with 7 people cleared for exit from Afghanistan. Germany may have to evacuate up to 10,000 people - including 2,500 local support staff, human rights activists, and people working for non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

France. Two military transport planes and special forces troops were sent by France to help evacuate French citizens and Afghans who worked for France.

Italy. 70 embassy staff and Afghan employees were evacuated on an Air Force KC 767 from Kabul and landed in Rome on Monday. The Italian evacuation has been named Operation Aquila Omania.

Australia. A 250-man contingent was sent by Australia to Kabul to help evacuate stranded Australian staff and allied workers in kabul.

United Kingdom. The UK announced that it is increasing its military support for the evacuation of British nationals and ex-British staff. As of Sunday more than 300 people have been taken by the UK from Kabul. UK military personnel are working along with other international partners at the airport. The British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace admitted on Monday that Britain was unlikely to be able to evacuate all its Afghan allies from Kabul.

New Zealand. A C-130 transport was sent to Kabul to evacuation over 50 New Zealanders, Afghans, and others. The NZ military contingent is about 40 personnel assisting in the evacuation.

Spain. Two A400M's to help evacuate Spain's embassy staff and Spanish nationals remaining in Afghanistan. They should both arrive on Monday.

Czech Republic. An evacuation flight took off from Kabul and landed at Prague with 46 people onboard on Monday. They included Czechs, Afghan embassy staff, and Afghan interpreters.

Biden Addresses the Nation. President Biden announced on Monday that he would curtail his Camp David 'vacation' due to end on Wednesday and return to the White House to address the nation at 3:45 about the Afghanistan situation. In his address he stated that he made the right decision to withdraw from Afghanistan providing a number of points to buttress his decision. He did acknowlege that he was surprised with the quickness of the Afghan government's fall from power. He spent more time than necessary placing blame with others - could have been done at a later time. He acknowleged the sacrifices of Amercian veterans and their families. Not much said about the plight of the Afghans. Biden stated that the reason there was a delay in bringing Afghans with processed or pending SIVs to the U.S. is that some Afghans did not want to leave in an earlier date. The reaction to this statement was swift and vigorous. 3.

The Afghans. Stories of heroism on the part of Afghan commandos are numerous. One story is about an Afghan interpreter turned Afghan commando who moved his men from Kandahar to Kabul and now is at the airport hoping to leave Afghanistan. Artilce by Wesley Morgan entitled "He spent his adult life helping U.S. soldiers. Now, he's desperately fleeing Afghanistan", The Washington Post, August 16, 2021.


Afghans swarm a C-17 during takeoff from HKIA on Sunday, August 15, 2021.

Afghans swarm a C-17 during takeoff from HKIA on Sunday, August 15, 2021
(image from video posted on numerous Twitter accounts)

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Sunday, August 15, 2021

The Department of State and Department of Defense issued a joint statement on Afghanistan on August 15, 2021:

"At present we are completing a series of steps to secure the Hamid Karzai International Airport to enable the safe departure of U.S. and allied personnel from Afghanistan via civilian and military flights.  Over the next 48 hours, we will have expanded our security presence to nearly 6,000 troops, with a mission focused solely on facilitating these efforts and will be taking over air traffic control. Tomorrow and over the coming days, we will be transferring out of the country thousands of American citizens who have been resident in Afghanistan, as well as locally employed staff of the U.S. mission in Kabul and their families and other particularly vulnerable Afghan nationals. And we will accelerate the evacuation of thousands of Afghans eligible for U.S. Special Immigrant Visas, nearly 2,000 of whom have already arrived in the United States over the past two weeks. For all categories, Afghans who have cleared security screening will continue to be transferred directly to the United States. And we will find additional locations for those yet to be screened."

The Biden administration has curtailed the number of fights to the US for Afghans who worked alongside the US so it could prioritize the evacuation of American personnel from the Kabul airport.

A C-17 identified as REACH 871 is reported to have taken off from the Kabul airport with about 640 people on board. This is a large number of people flown on a C-17 although it did not exceed the safe weight limits of the aircraft. The air unit belongs to the 436th Air Wing based at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. NOTE: This number has been revised upwards to 823 people.

On Sunday some new reports said that there were two thousand Afghans with suitcases on the runway preventing aircraft from taking off. Security at the civilian side of the airport was non-existent. One C-17 was swarmed by people on the runway. One video depicts Afghans running alongside the aircraft while others were clinging to the wheel wells. Another video shows two AH-64 Apache helicopters preceding the C-17 on the runway to clear Afghans from the runway. After takeoff several Afghans fell to their deaths. Upon landing at an airbase in the Middle East human remains were found in the wheelwell.

The first UK evacuation flight from Kabul landed at RAF Brize Norton on Sunday night. The Dutch and Swedish embassy personnel left their embassies for the Kabul airport on early Sunday morning. No word on whether they took any of their Afghan staff with them.


DoD Press Secretary John Kirby

DoD Press Secretary John Kirby briefing press on the Kabul NEO.
(From DoD online briefing, August 2021)

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Saturday, August 14, 2021

John Kirby, the DoD Press Secretary, announced that the President had authorized the deployment of about 5,000 troops to Afghanistan to ensure a safe and orderly drawdown of US personnel. The 5,000 included the 1,000 troops already in Kabul, 3,000 previously ordered to augment the 1,000, and a battalion of the 82nd Airborne Brigage Combat Team.

The U.S. embassy began evacuating embassy personnel to the military side of the Kabul airport on Saturday.


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Thursday, August 12, 2021

 

 

 


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