Give them credit for sticking around as long as they did. The embassy staff has worked heroically in a lost cause, trying to get out as many American citizens, legal residents, and allies as possible in a badly planned and managed retreat. With rockets now raining down on Hamid Karzai International Airport, the time had come to evacuate and prepare for the final exit:
The final U.S. departure from Kabul airport is under way and “core diplomatic staff” have departed, a U.S. official who left Kabul earlier on Monday told Reuters.
A second official confirmed that the bulk of diplomats had pulled out.
No one is sure whether the highest-ranking officia, charges d’affaires Ross Wilson, still remains in Kabul. He appeared to be tweeting from there a couple of hours ago, denying reports that Americans had been turned away at the gates of the airport:
This is a high-risk operation. Claims that American citizens have been turned away or denied access to HKIA by Embassy staff or US Forces are false.
— Chargé d’Affaires Ross Wilson (@USAmbKabul) August 30, 2021
The new attacks from the streets of Kabul have made it much more difficult to fly in and out of the airport. Those attacks have morphed from suicide bombers to improvised mobile rocket launchers — single-use launchers, as it turns out. Richard Engel offered another look at the rocket attacks, from his new location in Doha after finally evacuating Kabul himself:
— On Assignment with Richard Engel (@OARichardEngel) August 30, 2021
Whatever the cause, the attacks appear to be having an impact. Only 1200 people got into the air over the last 24 hours, a marked downward departure from earlier rates of evacuation. That brings the total number of evacuees to 116,700, according to the White House, but only a small fraction of those have been American citizens, legal residents, or Afghan allies. The vast majority of those appear to be those Afghans fortunate enough to get into the airport in the first days of the collapse.
We have now reached the stage where hard questions have to get answered. How do we get all of our troops out of the airport? Presumably the White House and the Pentagon have a plan for falling back in an orderly fashion to maintain security on the field as planes touch down and then take off again with all of our military personnel. Had the Afghan army remained in place, that would have been a relatively easy withdrawal. Thanks to Joe Biden’s decision to cut out all support for the Afghan army, that option is no longer available.
In other words, we have to trust the Taliban to watch their backs. Maybe that will work — in fact, we should all pray that it does. However, the risks are high that once troop levels fall below a level than can maintain perimeter security on the field, both the Taliban and ISIS — and perhaps just the civilians angry at being abandoned — will easily overwhelm the remaining forces and create even more hostaging opportunities for the terrorists, or worse.
We’re down to hours either way.