Disclaimer: This post was written stream-of-consciousness without much editing or reflection. After a good night of sleep and further consideration, I’ll no doubt have different thoughts on my detailed recommendations, so don’t bother critiquing it. The main message here is we’ve got to pick a decisive course of action and follow it with zeal and ardor right now, or this will all get much worse.
The terrorist organization ISIS-K carried out multiple bombings and small arms attacks in Kabul, Afghanistan today, killing 60 Afghans and 13 US military servicemembers. First, I pray for the dead and injured, their families, and in the case of US military personnel, their comrades-at-arms. President Biden is now faced with even more difficult choices.
Off the top of my head, he can either:
1.) End the evacuation of Americans from Afghanistan, and pull the remaining troops out of the country to avoid more attacks like the one occurred today. Of course then, instead of US troops getting blown up at airport checkpoints, we’ll have the American civilians we left behind getting beheaded in the coming weeks over and over on videos released on the internet with ISIS-K’s watermark.
2.) Have troops on the ground continue dithering about and evacuating our people at a lackadaisical pace that smacks of incompetence and a leadership vacuum, in a reactionary manner as we’ve been doing. This will just lead to more attacks with diminished success of the goal: Getting our people out. Sitting around behind concertina until the clock strikes 12 is the ultimate half-measure, and would frankly be the last option I’d choose.
3.) Rip the band-aid off and take bold, decisive action that has a “no later than” date. Not a “restarting the war” plan, but a “limited action for a limited time, executed with unlimited energy, ferocity, and commitment” plan. Let’s call it the “Operation: Aug 31st Be Damned, We’re a by Gawd Superpower and We’re Not Leaving Our People Behind.” I’ll keep working on that title.
- 30 Days in Duration
- Reinforce the airport drastically, push troops into the neighborhoods surrounding the airport to seize key terrain and clear those areas of ISIS-K fighters. (What’s the 173rd Airborne or the remainder of the 82nd up to these days? Another Marine Expeditionary Unit or BCT from the 101st Airborne would do nicely as well.)
- Then use those cleared and secured areas as “quarantine zones” where American citizens and eligible Afghan allies can pass through preliminary (aggressive layers) of security and, once cleared be admitted entrance into the “quarantined zone” where they can receive food, water, and essential medical care if necessary and eventually make their way into the airport and onto a plane out of that powder keg. The other benefit of an expanded footprint around the airport is it creates more standoff from ground fire for aircraft landing and taking off.
- Send patrols to retrieve American citizens and SIV holders stuck elsewhere in the city (or in any other place in the country where they are accessible to our forces but not able to get to the airport). As has been said by a stellar former colleague of mine from 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) named Joe Kent, Kill or destroy anyone or anything that stands in the way of that objective.
- The Taliban will have to step aside and wait on our exit a few more weeks. Sorry, fellas. (Side Note: I would be perfectly willing to explore some form of coordination and deconfliction with the Taliban to ensure the security of at checkpoints and entry control points, since ISIS-K blowing up civilians is a disaster for the Taliban too, and parallel aims can be a powerful ally maker for short periods.)
- Berlin Airlift our people home, with our boys and girls with big guns coming out last this time around.
Would this be the right course of action? I have no idea. I’m not a statesman. There are far more considerations than I could possibly know as a private citizen (DIMEFIL is complex.). I’m a retired guy with a high school diploma and some community college hours sitting on his couch in rural Texas. However, I do have some experience in the country, and some experience selecting the least terrible course of action out of many unpalatable options. As I’ve written before, doing almost anything decisively and boldly is better than milquetoast and half-hearted attempts at “prudence” and “caution.” Playing not to lose helps you stack up a lot of “L’s,” as we’re seeing.
Two things I believe wholeheartedly:
- Decisiveness and bold leadership are needed. Right now. From the President, Secretary of Defense, and Central Command Commander on down to the Battalion and Company Commanders at the airport in Kabul.
- You give our warfighting troops a clear mission and decisive leadership and they’ll get it done. None of our warfighting troops want to be the last man or woman to die in Afghanistan. However, if they were given the choice between standing around aimlessly on the airport grounds waiting for guidance and leadership, getting on airplanes and leaving Americans behind, or decisively working towards a clear and achievable goal of going and getting our people, the overwhelming majority of servicemembers with whom I served would gladly accept the risk. Troops accept risk gladly if they can see the utility of it, and understand why it matters. Imagine this:
“Listen up, everybody. We’re kicking out today to go into the XYZ neighborhood, 400m north of Checkpoint 123. There’s four families of American citizens, including women and kids, totaling 24 people holed up on that block, and we’re gonna go get them, load them up, and bring them back here so they can get on a plane and fly back to the States. We’re gonna kill anybody that tries to prevent us from doing that. OPORD is at 1900.”-US Army and/or USMC Officers and Senior NCOs in the near future, hopefully.
That matters. Think our troops would embrace that mission? You’re damned right they would. I’m glad I am retired and can spend my life in low-risk leisure with my family. after nine combat deployments and several more to “sketchy” countries. That said, sitting on this couch I’d find myself terribly envious of troops empowered to go out and do that kind noble work.
It’s time to leave Afghanistan, but we cannot walk out the door leaving our citizens behind. I understand the war weariness of the American public. Believe me I understand the military spouses who don’t want that uniformed duo knocking on their door. That said, we must be willing to use our all-volunteer military to protect American civilians. Aside from the immorality of abandoning our own, the entire world is examining our resolve. We are being measured. Our competitors will use our actions in the coming days and weeks as indicators of how far they can go in their hostility towards our interests in future years and decades.
We have a mission: Get our people and get out of Afghanistan. We must do the former before we do the latter, and abandonment of our people to avoid further risk would be to our everlasting shame. Every day each of us gets to wake up and decide who we want to be, and the actions we choose define us. Today we’ve suffered catastrophe and loss, but tomorrow we get to wake up as a Republic and decide who we want to be, and what actions will define us. I sincerely pray that our leaders choose a wise and just path.