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Evacuation of Afghan civilians in Kabul.

Photo by Department of Defense

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

On Tuesday morning, the Pentagon provided an update on the number of people who have been airlifted out of Kabul since the U.S. began evacuations in the last week of July. In that time, 63,900 people have left Afghanistan on U.S. military flights. However, the more impressive number might be what's happened in the last few days. As the Taliban moved in, the U.S. and allies have accelerated operations.

The media may be focused on claims of "chaos," but what the numbers show is a military evacuation flight leaving Kabul every 45 minutes and a flight coming in or out every two minutes. In just the last 24 hours before the morning briefing, 37 U.S. military evacuation flights carried 12,700 away from Kabul. Another 57 flights involving allies, commercial, and charter aircraft carried out 8,900. That's 21,600 people flying out in a day.

The previous day military spokesmen reported over 10,000 evacuations. It may not match the kind of traffic seen in many major U.S. airports, but then, Kabul's airport has, along with other difficulties, only a single runway. The Pentagon describes it as "an exhausting pace" that involves over 200 aircraft and 6,000 troops from the U.S. along with allied forces. With a week to go before the current "red line" for U.S. forces to leave the country, Army Gen. Stephen Lyons said he was confident that the military can keep up, or even increase, the pace of people coming out.

On Tuesday morning, NBC News reported that Kabul International is now an "extremely busy airfield" where departures were "orderly" with no one cutting lines, bags being searched, and "even candy for the kids." They also reported that "the Taliban are helping make it go smoothly by providing security outside the airport." But while that segment ran on the Today show, it would be hard to find anything equivalent on any news site, including NBC's, where all the headlines are of "chaos," "pressure," and how how this supposed failure is crashing approval ratings for President Biden.

In a Tuesday afternoon press conference, President Biden noted that 50 flights have left Kabul in the last 12 hours. That included 19 U.S. military evacuation flights and 31 other flights from coalition partners. In total, 70,700 people have now been evacuated. Biden said that he had held extensive discussions with G7 partners, praised allies for the evacuees they were taking in, and explained that Afghan coming to America will have undergone background checks. Biden also took a moment to mention that Trump had destroyed the SIV program, causing some delays in clearing Afghan evacuees.

Biden also mentioned, as had previously been discussed, that he has asked the military and State Department to prepare contingencies if the U.S. is unable to evacuate those who want to get out by August 31. However, he acknowledge that the longer the U.S. is present on the ground, the more inviting a target Kabul's airport comes for militants who want to strike a blow against both the U.S. and the Taliban.

On Tuesday morning The Washington Post reported that CIA Director William Burns held a covert meeting on Monday with the Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar—the same man that Donald Trump pressured Pakistan to release from jail. Baradar not only led the negotiations with Trump that created an agreement which excluded the existing Afghan government, he is now expected to take over as the new president when the Taliban leadership settles in.

That meeting likely means the U.S. has informed Baradar that, despite previous announcement that the U.S. would be out by August 31, that deadline may be extended if necessary to get Americans and Afghans who worked with the American military out of the country. Even though it was Biden who gave the August 31 date for when he expected operations to be complete, he has been definitive in saying that those Americans and Afghan allies who want to leave will get that opportunity. Despite the accelerating pace of evacuations, that may require staying more than the week that remains.

On Tuesday morning, military advisers stated that the U.S. should attempt to stick with the August 31 date, and anonymous sources told Politico that Biden agrees with that decision. There is absolutely no doubt that the U.S. will attempt to get everyone out in that time. There's also no doubt that, no matter what date the U.S. leaves, there will still be reports of Americans or others who got left behind. That's inevitable. But no matter what's being said publicly, the meeting between Burns and Barador is a good indicator that in private the Taliban is being informed that, in spite of threats, the U.S. will remain at the Kabul airport if there are still lines of people attempting to leave.

That meeting might also serve another purpose: getting the Taliban to provide more assistance in getting people out of the country. In fact, there might be a direct relationship between that meeting between Burns and Baradar, and NBC reports that Taliban forces are helping evacuations run "smoothly."

That's because, no matter how quickly the Taliban rolled over the U.S.-trained Afghan forces, the last thing they want is to actually reengage with the U.S. military. Baradar doesn't want to give the U.S. any excuse to take actions such as bombing military bases now occupied by the Taliban, or pushing U.S military forces back toward the heart of Kabul to provide an expanded corridor. More than anything, Baradar simply wants the U.S. to be gone. So hearing that the U.S. might need to extend their departure date should light at least as big a fire under Baradar as it is for leaders at the Pentagon.

Staying around past the end of this month is a contingency that no one wants to deal with. The increasing pace of departures from Kabul International Airport make that contingency less likely. And the best thing about the meeting between Burns and Baradar may have been that it reminded the Taliban to save their gloating until after the U.S. military is not around.

Tuesday, Aug 24, 2021 · 12:45:00 PM EDT · Mark Sumner

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