Fdd's overnight brief

August 17, 2021

In The News


President Biden said he stands “squarely behind” his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, speaking from the White House Monday as he drew bipartisan criticism over the swift collapse of the government and the ensuing chaos. – Wall Street Journal 

Kabul’s international airport was in the throes of chaos Monday as desperate Afghans tried to flee on departing U.S. jets, Taliban gunmen roamed the terminals, and U.S. troops killed at least two men, a sign of the disorder in the wake of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan. – Wall Street Journal 

Desperate and defeated, Naqibullah Laghmanai was calling everyone he could think of Monday morning in Houston, trying to get his family out of Afghanistan. He was on hold with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for at least the 10th time in recent weeks, he said. He was crafting a plea to the Canadian Embassy, though his family never worked for the Canadians. He was calling members of Congress. – Wall Street Journal 

On their first day in control of Kabul, Taliban fighters commandeered streets and searched the homes and offices of government officials and media outlets, spreading fear and menace across the Afghan capital. – Wall Street Journal 

The ascent of the Taliban has redrawn the diplomatic map for the U.S. and its rivals as they compete to shape the future of Afghanistan. China and Russia already are moving to build ties with the Taliban and have hosted Taliban officials even before the U.S. military completed its troop withdrawal. In recognition of Beijing and Moscow’s expanding influence in Kabul, Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the Chinese and Russian foreign ministers on Monday. – Wall Street Journal 

In 2001, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a co-founder of the Taliban, tried to arrange the group’s surrender to the new U.S.-backed Afghan government. It was rejected. He spent most of the past decade under arrest in Pakistan. – Wall Street Journal 

British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace appeared to break down during an interview Monday as he discussed the fate of those attempting to flee the Taliban in Afghanistan. – Washington Post 

After almost two decades of war in Afghanistan and just weeks before the scheduled withdrawal of U.S. forces, the Taliban swiftly returned to power in the capital of Kabul on Sunday, toppling the government and driving thousands of people into a desperate race to escape the country. – New York Times 

The fall of Kabul leaves the Biden administration facing the once-unthinkable prospect of whether, and how, to engage with a Taliban-led government in Afghanistan’s capital — or cede all influence in the country to an extremist group that brutalized Afghans and harbored Osama bin Laden as he planned attacks on America. – New York Times 

Military flights evacuating diplomats and civilians from Afghanistan resumed early on Tuesday after the runway at Kabul airport was cleared of thousands of people desperate to flee after the Taliban seized the capital. – Reuters 

The head of Afghanistan’s central bank has fled Kabul, questioned the loyalty of Afghan security forces and blamed President Ashraf Ghani and his inexperienced advisors for the country’s swift and chaotic fall to the Taliban. – Reuters 

A spokesman for the Taliban on Monday suggested impostors are behind reports of door-to-door raids in Afghanistan as militants are said to be hunting for U.S. military allies still residing in the country. – Washington Examiner 

President Joe Biden ignored his own administration’s failures when he tried to explain why desperate civilians in Afghanistan’s capital have been left stranded and in danger from the Taliban because of the swift U.S. departure. – Associated Press 

The Taliban declared an “amnesty” across Afghanistan and urged women to join its government Tuesday, trying to calm nerves across a tense capital city that only the day before saw chaos at its airport as people tried to flee their rule. – Associated Press 

Built and trained at a two-decade cost of $83 billion, Afghan security forces collapsed so quickly and completely — in some cases without a shot fired — that the ultimate beneficiary of the American investment turned out to be the Taliban. They grabbed not only political power but also U.S.-supplied firepower — guns, ammunition, helicopters and more. – Associated Press 

The Taliban will be denied access to any Afghan reserves held in US accounts, a US administration official told AFP on Monday. – Agence France Presse 

US President Joe Biden said Monday that a longer war in Afghanistan would have benefited China and Russia, even as his top diplomat consulted the two adversaries on the swift Taliban victory – Agence France-Presse 

The mood was somber Monday in the corridors of the Pentagon, where US military personnel watched helplessly as chaos erupted at Kabul airport and privately criticized the slow pace of Joe Biden’s administration in evacuating US-allied Afghans who fear Taliban retribution. – Agence France-Presse 

A U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III safely evacuated some 640 Afghans from Kabul late Sunday, according to U.S. defense officials and photos obtained by Defense One. – Defense One 

Current and former U.S. diplomats who served in Afghanistan have watched the events of the past week with horror as the Taliban stormed through the country and ultimately seized control of the capital, Kabul, on Sunday, undoing two decades of hard-won progress in the country. – Foreign Policy 

Editorial: We had hoped that Mr. Biden would accept some responsibility and explain how he would fix this mess. He did none of that, making it clear that he himself is the main architect of this needless American surrender. It does not bode well for the rest of his Presidency. – Wall Street Journal 

Editorial: The point of leaving Kabul is to save resources that may now be devoted to geopolitical struggles with Russia and China, Mr. Biden argued. Supposedly these rivals would have been delighted to see U.S. forces tied down indefinitely in Afghanistan. Maybe so; but then it is hard to imagine that they are not delighted today, as U.S. allies in Europe and Asia are dismayed, at the incompetent handling of the withdrawal. – Washington Post 

Paul Wolfowitz writes: Under the present chaotic conditions, even the most effective evacuation will leave many deserving people behind. Therefore, a covert-action directive should be issued to U.S. intelligence agencies, working with the Defense Department, to establish an “underground railroad” out of Afghanistan after our official military presence ends. – Wall Street Journal 

Walter Russell Mead writes: The Taliban’s sweeping military victory should not have surprised Mr. Biden. The core of the argument for withdrawal, an argument he has embraced for more than a decade, is that the Afghan government and military are so irredeemably weak and corrupt that it is pointless for America to support them. To expect that such a government and such an army would cohere long enough to provide its vanishing betrayers a dignified retreat is magical thinking of the silliest kind. – Wall Street Journal 

William McGurn writes: In the history books, the stink of our second Saigon will hang over Mr. Biden’s legacy. But with more than three years left to his presidency, the idea that we have another Jimmy Carter at the helm may be even scarier. Especially if that is the read in Beijing, Moscow and Tehran. – Wall Street Journal 

Marc A. Thiessen writes: The mission in Afghanistan was never to turn that country into a Jeffersonian democracy. It was to ensure that Afghanistan had a government whose leaders did not wake up every morning thinking that America must be destroyed — and did not provide sanctuary for terrorists determined to bring that destruction to the American homeland. That mission was succeeding — until Joe Biden’s misbegotten, incompetent, unconditional retreat handed Afghanistan over to the United States’ enemies, who will turn it into an Islamist militant haven once again. – Washington Post 

Henry Olsen writes: As helicopters frantically evacuate Americans from the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan — an ominous echo from the fall of Saigon — the world is asking is what comes next for U.S. foreign policy. The loss in Vietnam was followed by years of U.S. retreats and defeats, culminating in the Iran hostage crisis. President Biden and Democrats in Congress must not allow that to happen again. – Washington Post 

Nasrin Nawa writes: This is how the hopes, passions, careers and plans of many young Afghans are crumbling. We already felt betrayed after the United States decided to strike an embarrassing “peace deal” with the Taliban in Doha, but now we see that the international community and even our own leaders have decided to turn their backs on us. – Washington Post 

Catherine Rampbell writes: “The very last hours of a very long war can be the defining image,” said Mike Breen, a retired U.S. Army officer who is now president and chief executive of Human Rights First. “That’s what lingers for a generation.” After 20 years of humanitarian failures, we still have time for one last honorable act.. – Washington Post 

Zachary Faria writes: The fact that the Taliban held a press conference from freshly conquered Kabul before Biden did one at all is disgraceful, but it is not surprising. Biden showed us this is exactly who he is during the campaign. Biden has spent over half of his life working in Washington, D.C., but he still has no answers. – Washington Examiner 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: For now, the Afghanistan debacle is a major setback for the US globally in terms of image and the perception that US-backed systems tend to be as weak and temporary as the grass that greens with the spring and withers in the fall. – Jerusalem Post 

Paul Sperry writes: If Obama and Biden had left the five Taliban thugs to rot in Cuba, Kabul more than likely would not be back in the clutches of the Taliban right now. And maybe Americans wouldn’t have sacrificed more than 2,400 troops and $1 trillion in vain. – New York Post 

Gideon Rachman writes: The fall of Kabul to the Taliban — 20 years after it was driven out — will end American influence in Afghanistan, probably for decades. In that sense, it is comparable to the overthrow of the Shah of Iran in 1979, the fall of Saigon in 1975 or the Cuban revolution of 1959. – Financial Times 

Edward Lucas writes: The West is losing not because we lack economic or military clout, or because our societies are fatally flawed, but because our decision-making is irresolute. We prefer short-term pain avoidance to long-term gain. As the British MP Tom Tugendhat put it, we choose to lose. – Center for European Policy Analysis 

Carlo J.V. Caro writes: As the Taliban takes over Kabul, we can see how intelligence and failing to exploit the structure of our enemy was a critical element for the failure of counterinsurgency in Afghanistan. – Jerusalem Post 

Noah Rothman writes: Advocates for American retrenchment abroad fancy themselves a serious sort. […]So, if they are not moved by the sight of Afghans we abandoned to the Taliban clinging to U.S. transport planes, tumbling to their deaths from hundreds of feet up, perhaps they will be moved by the grave implications to U.S. interests and global security. If not, we can safely assume that their interests are not as benign as they insist. Perhaps pursuing what’s best for America at home and abroad isn’t their only or even foremost motive. – Commentary Magazine 

James Jay Carafano writes: In the face of America’s enemies, the default position of Obama-Biden foreign policy default is accommodation and appeasement. Unfortunately, the bad guys are not stupid. They had eight years to study the Obama playbook, and they know what to do with it: Exploit the deliberate self-weakening. Biden is carrying on exactly the same foreign policy. Caving to Russia on Nord Stream 2. Refusing to confront China on the origins of COVID. Pleading with Tehran to let the U.S. back in the Iran Deal. – 19FortyFive 


Iran continues to produce uranium metal, which can be used in the production of a nuclear bomb, the United Nation’s atomic watchdog confirmed Tuesday, in a move that further complicates the possibility of reviving a landmark 2015 deal with world powers on the Iranian nuclear program. – Associated Press 

Iran’s new ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi on Monday said that the “defeat” of the United States in Afghanistan must usher in a durable peace in the neighboring war-wracked country. – Agence France-Presse 

The United States on Monday voiced alarm over Iranian production of uranium metal reported by the UN nuclear watchdog as it urged the clerical state to return to talks. – Agence France-Presse 

Iran and Hamas on Monday effusively welcomed the final capitulation of the Afghan government to Taliban insurgents over the weekend, praising the hardline Islamist organization for its “brave leadership” in defeating the “American occupation.” – Algemeiner 

The US State Department has refused to meet with Iranian-American activists speaking out against the new hardline president of Iran, according to a report in the Washington Free Beacon. – Arutz Sheva 

The United States on Monday voiced alarm over the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report which stated that Iran is producing uranium metal. – Arutz Sheva 

Jonathan Spyer writes: Iran sees the U.S. administration completing a headlong flight from Afghanistan. This will reinforce the sense of a crumbling regional order. Washington also may be looking to end commitments in Iraq and Syria, in line with bringing down the curtain on the so-called forever wars. […]Tehran senses it is time to push forward, against weakened and isolated enemies hesitant to push back. – Wall Street Journal 

David Billet writes: Iran has proven that their thirst for bloodshed outweighs their desire for peace, and sanctions can enable western countries to inflict a price for harming their citizens without resorting to direct confrontation. If Iran continues to harm the interests of the United States, the State of Israel, or any other western country, military action must be taken to reign in this murderous regime. – Arutz Sheva 


Palestinian terrorists fired two rockets from the Gaza Strip toward the town of Sderot on Monday afternoon in what appeared to be the first such attack since May’s 11-day conflict in the Palestinian enclave, the military said. – Times of Israel 

In response to the Taliban re-conquest of Afghanistan, Hamas on Monday congratulated the Afghan people for “defeating” the US. – Jerusalem Post 

The Taliban’s sudden conquest of Afghanistan after US forces withdrew is a reminder that Israel can only count on itself for its defense, former Israeli ambassador Arthur Lenk tweeted on Sunday. – Jerusalem Post 

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz has signed an order confiscating 23 tons of chocolate bars bound for the Gaza Strip. The chocolate, N12 reported Monday, is believed to have been intended to be sold by Hamas in order to use the funds for terror purposes. – Algemeiner 

Editorial: For Israel, the main message of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan is the reminder that the Jewish state ultimately can only rely on itself. Although Israel’s interests and those of the US usually align and the two countries are veteran and strong allies, when push comes to shove Israel has its own special needs which it must protect. No foreign or international peacekeeping force can ever be relied on to protect the State of Israel the way the IDF can. – Jerusalem Post 


Lebanon reeled Monday from a deadly explosion that burned alive people desperate to fill plastic containers with fuel in a country sinking ever deeper into darkness and chaos. – Agence France-Presse 

President Michel Aoun said he hoped a new Lebanese government would be formed within the next couple days, as efforts to agree one were spurred on by a fuel crisis that has brought much of the country to a standstill and sparked warnings of anarchy. – Reuters 

Lebanon’s Christian Kataeb Party called on Monday to prepare for a field confrontation to bring down the Lebanese government “by all available means,” after at least 27 people were killed in a fuel tank explosion in Akkar in northern Lebanon. – Jerusalem Post 

Hezbollah has built inter-regional tunnels stretching across hundreds of kilometers to connect the terror group’s three strategic areas in Lebanon and move large forces in fast convoys underground, according to a recent report published by the Alma research center. – Algemeiner 

Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah promised to import gasoline and diesel from Iran to Lebanon amid an ongoing oil shortage in the country, hours after a fuel tank exploded in northern Lebanon, killing 28 people. – Jerusalem Post 

Emily Schrader writes: The terrorist organization Hezbollah, with the backing of Iran, is rapidly turning Lebanon into a failed state. The world must stand with the people of Lebanon against such activity and give back sovereignty to the people of Lebanon, not the ayatollahs. – Jerusalem Post 

Gulf States

Saudi Arabia on Monday urged Taliban insurgents who seized Afghanistan’s capital Kabul, completing a sweep across the country, to preserve lives, property and security as stipulated by “Islamic principles”. – Reuters 

Bahrain will initiate consultations with the other Gulf Arab monarchies regarding the situation in Afghanistan in its capacity as current chair of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the kingdom’s government media office said on Monday. – Reuters 

Neville Teller writes: The equivocal position of the PMF within the structure of the state is a major cause of Kadhimi’s failure to get a firm grip on the chaotic situation. The sad truth is that, given the strength of pro-Iranian voices within Iraq’s parliament and in the establishment generally, the PMF have become too powerful for Prime Minister Kadhimi to control fully. […]The big question is what Kadhimi’s real priorities are, and what path he is likely to take if he does indeed win a second term as prime minister of today’s chaotic Iraq. – Jerusalem Post 


A year into the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, a Chinese security scholar warned the country’s paramilitary officers about the Taliban’s reach close to home. – Washington Post 

China moved on Tuesday to tighten control of its technology sector, publishing detailed rules aimed at tackling unfair competition and companies’ handling of critical data. – Reuters 

China carried out assault drills near Taiwan on Tuesday with warships and fighter jets exercising off the southwest and southeast of the island, in what the country’s armed forces said was a response to “external interference” and “provocations”. – Reuters 

China has expressed a willingness to hold talks with the U.S. to promote a “soft landing” in Afghanistan, while heavily criticizing Washington and again demanding that the Biden administration halt its attacks on China. – Associated Press 

China has said it will respect the “choices” of the Afghan people, in the first sign that Beijing was ready to give its cautious support to a Taliban-led government in Kabul. – Financial Times 

Thomas Shugart writes: Detailed analysis of the ground forces required for China to decide to invade, as well as whether they could be successfully transported by a military-civil-fused fleet, would be (and should be) an appropriate topic for a well-resourced team of analysts, working at a classified level. What is clear is that the answer to the question, “How many transports does the Chinese military have?” is very probably, “more than you might think”. – War on the Rocks 

South Asia

The Taliban’s stunning takeover of Kabul sent shock waves around the world — with immediate implications for the complicated knot of three regional powers in Afghanistan’s neighborhood: Pakistan, India and China. – Washington Post 

As the Taliban swept into Kabul on Sunday after a dramatic military offensive, the leaders of neighbouring Pakistan did not hide their schadenfreude at the ignominious end to the 20-year US mission in Afghanistan. – Financial times 

Editorial: But Mr. Khan may rue what he wished for. Jihadists want to control Pakistan and its nuclear weapons, which would instantly become a dangerous Islamist caliphate. Mr. Khan’s glib anti-Americanism may be an effort to appease Pakistan’s extremists, but he should watch that they don’t come for him first. – Wall Street Journal 

Douglas London writes: A multilateral effort such as this would require a complicated, expertly choreographed mix of measures that served the various parties packaged so that all might proclaim victories at home to justify perceived concessions or redirection. […]The reality is that things in Pakistan might need to get a lot worse before the various parties feel pressed to make concessions. And with the Taliban now in control, many a nervous Pakistani general understands that could come much sooner than expected. Only by then, it might be too late. – Middle East Institute 


Hong Kong’s leader on Tuesday warned one of the city’s top legal bodies against getting involved in politics, in the latest sign of the government telling professional bodies to toe Beijing’s line. – Agence France-Presse 

Taiwan would not collapse like Afghanistan in the event of an attack, Premier Su Tseng-chang said on Tuesday, offering an indirect warning to powerful neighbour China not to be “deluded” into thinking it could take the island. – Reuters 

Bruce Klingner writes: For both Japan and the United States, balancing the benefits and risks of Tokyo developing strike capabilities will be difficult. It behooves Tokyo to develop the ability to reduce missile strikes against Japan and for Washington to have more capable allies. To get there, constitutional, legal, budgetary, technical, and societal hurdles will need to be overcome. It will require a dedicated and powerful prime minister to convince the Japanese public to accept a dramatic expansion of Japan’s post-war security role. – Heritage Foundation 


Russia’s ambassador to Afghanistan praised the Taliban’s conduct on Monday and said the group, still officially designated a terrorist organisation in Russia, had made Kabul safer in the first 24 hours than it had been under the previous authorities – Reuters 

While many countries are scrambling to empty their embassies and remove their staff from Afghanistan, Russia is staying put — it has long prepared for the arrival of the Taliban in Kabul. – Agence France-Presse 

Samuel Ramani writes: Although Russia has relinquished its mediation aspirations in the GERD dispute and avoided offending any conflicting party, Moscow’s stance has strengthened its relationship with Ethiopia and strained its partnership with Egypt. As Ethiopia prepares to host the 2022 Russia-Africa summit in October, Russia will continue supporting an AU-led resolution of the GERD crisis and seek to reduce tensions with Egypt by exploring new avenues for cooperation. – Middle East Institute 

Yonah Jeremy Bob writes: Will Biden be more effective than Trump in rolling back Chinese and Russian global moves seeking global and technological influence? It is unclear given that China and Russia focus single-mindedly on a complex mix of carrots, giving individual countries, including Democratic ones such as Germany, major economic deals and boosts; and sticks, threatening the security or economic stability of countries that become dependent on them. – Jerusalem Post 


As cities in Afghanistan have fallen to the Taliban with lightning speed amid the U.S. military’s pullout, Europe has been wrangling over what to do about any potential influx of refugees. Some countries fear a repeat of 2015, when the arrival of more than a million refugees and migrants caused political chaos. – Washington Post 

Britain cautioned the Taliban on Tuesday that Afghanistan must never be used to launch terror attacks but added that the West must try to positively influence the insurgents who have grabbed power after the United States withdrew its forces. – Reuters 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday expressed his dismay over the recent authorization of legislation in Poland that will severely restrict claims on properties seized by the state after World War II. – Times of Israel 

Poland on Monday recalled its ambassador to Israel two days after Jerusalem did the same, over a Polish law curbing World War II-era property claims, which the Israelis have slammed as “antisemitic.” – Associated Press 

Editorial: The moral responsibility here lies above all with the coalition countries involved in the Afghan conflict, who should be ready to accept numbers reflecting the size of their economies and involvement. Especially with elections looming in Germany and France, this risks being politically poisonous; EU attempts to impose “quotas” for Middle Eastern migrants in 2015 dissolved into rancour. – Financial Times 

Alexis Mrachek writes: When the Ryanair incident occurred this May, the White House promised to hold the Lukashenka regime “accountable for its abuses.” It is reassuring to see that the promise was kept and implemented on the one-year anniversary of Lukashenka’s bogus election. The Executive Order and sanctions send a strong signal that the United States stands for the Belarusian people and against Lukashenka’s illegitimate and repressive regime. – 19FortyFive 


Gunmen have abducted 15 students and four staffers from a school in northwest Nigeria, police said Monday. A police officer and two security guards were killed in the attack on the College of Agriculture and Animal Science in Zamfara state, police spokesman in the state, Mohammed Shehu, said in a statement on Monday. – Associated Press 

Special forces from the United States will soon deploy to Democratic Republic of Congo’s restive east to gauge the potential for a local anti-terrorism unit to combat Islamist violence, President Felix Tshisekedi said on Sunday. – Reuters 

Sudanese leaders on Monday visited a disputed area along the country’s eastern border with Ethiopia, amid growing tensions between the two East African nations that have seen Khartoum ordering its envoy to Addis Ababa home for consultations. – Associated Press 

United States

Several U.S. allies issued expressions of guarded regret about the nature of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, though they largely avoided direct criticism of President Biden as critics in Washington attacked the administration for misjudging the situation on the ground. – Washington Post 

On Monday, the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA) released a study identifying left-wing organizations as “significant” sources of antisemitism and anti-Israel activity on American colleges and universities. – Algemeiner 

The U.S. is preparing to send an amphibious warship to support the ongoing disaster relief efforts in Haiti following a massive earthquake that shook the island nation on Saturday, a defense official told USNI News on Monday. – USNI News 


General Dynamics Mission Systems, focused on moving its Knifefish unmanned underwater vehicle through low-rate initial production, has opened a new UUV manufacturing and assembly facility here. – Defense News 

The U.S. Army has given the green light to proceed into a competition to replace its aging, runway-dependent Shadow unmanned aircraft system with a new tactical drone. – Defense News 

For the first time ever, a U.S. Air Force T-38 will be outfitted with an augmented reality training system that allows it to dogfight against simulated Russian and Chinese fighters projected inside the pilot’s helmet. – Defense News 

US Army engineers at the service’s Command, Control, Communications, Computer, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C5ISR) Center are leveraging blockchain technology for a new tactical-level data management capability. – Janes 

Long War

Even before the Taliban’s stunning takeover this week, American military and intelligence officials were racing to devise plans for containing extremist threats emanating from Afghanistan, a task they knew would be more difficult following completion of President Biden’s order to withdraw U.S. forces. – Washington Post 

Now that the Taliban are back in power, there are already worries that Afghanistan will again become a breeding ground for Islamist radicalism and terrorism, aided by new technologies and social media. – New York Times 

The United Nations Security Council said Monday the international community must ensure Afghanistan does not become a breeding ground for terrorism under the Taliban, following an emergency meeting in New York. – Agence France-Presse 

Britain cautioned the Taliban on Tuesday that Afghanistan must never be used to launch terror attacks but added that the West must try to positively influence the insurgents who have grabbed power after the United States withdrew its forces. – Reuters 

Islamist militants will seek to benefit from the turmoil in Afghanistan, said French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday, adding that France would do all it could to ensure Russia, the United States and Europe responded with a common purpose. – Reuters 

Yossi Melman writes: As with any crisis, the emerging situation within and outside of Afghanistan also presents an opportunity. The Sunni states, as well as Iran, worry that the Taliban will renew its alliance with Al-Qaida, and that together they will return to spreading the idea of global jihad in the form of pre- and post-9/11 terror attacks. This concern and the profound shift in American policy could spur Israel strategically to pursue greater cooperation with Sunni states like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Kuwait – Haaretz