The Big Story Military flights to the United States continued flying out of Kabul Wednesday as senior U.S. military officials negotiated with the Taliban, now firmly in control of Afghanistan, to ease restrictions on movement inside the capital so they could expedite evacuating Americans still in the country. More than 1,100 U.S. citizens and permanent residents, out of an estimated 11,000 who remained in the country at that time, flew out of the Afghan capital Tuesday on 13 separate flights. After initially promising “safe passage” to the airport, the Taliban then established checkpoints and curfews in the city and reportedly blocked some Afghans from reaching the airport. On Tuesday, Pentagon officials said that U.S. Gen. Frank McKenzie had negotiated a deal with Taliban leaders in Doha, Qatar, to allow American evacuations to proceed without interference, but that deal apparently required additional negotiations on Wednesday inside Kabul. Also on Tuesday, the United States sent more than 1,000 additional troops into Kabul to assist in securing the only remaining airport under American control after the U.S. military handed over control of Bagram air base in July. Americans stuck in Afghanistan have been instructed to remain in place instead of trying to reach the airport themselves, register online with the embassy, and wait until they are contacted.\n\nRead more at: https://apnews.com/article/joe-biden-middle-east-kabul-taliban-3b850a19ba426dfa82e3f0533c33402d\n\nToday’s Back Pages: Slick Rick in Afghanistan\nThe RestTaliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid emerged in public for the first time Tuesday to promise that the group would respect women’s rights in accordance with its enforcement of Islamic law. In other words, it will not respect women’s rights. Mujahid also said the Taliban would not pursue revenge against Afghan soldiers and officials who opposed the group or harbor international terrorists in the future. While this is being presented to other countries as public relations rhetoric intended to convey the brutal fundamentalists’ new more “moderate” approach, it is also being directed at audiences inside of Afghanistan. The Scroll has word from a source briefed on the situation that the Taliban is telling NGOs inside the country that it will allow women to return to school and work as long as they cover their head with a hijab. \n\nAt least three Afghans were killed while protesting the Taliban Wednesday in the eastern city of Jalalabad. With Afghan Independence Day falling on Thursday of this week, the protestors had taken down a flag of the Taliban and tried to raise Afghanistan’s national flag, according to a Reuters report citing two witnesses and a former police official.\n\nAnyone who wants to understand how the United States spent the past 20 years in Afghanistan and how that led us here might start by examining the gender equality programs detailed in the thread below. Is there anything wrong with gender equality? No, of course not—unless, that is, you attempt to force it on a tribal society at the point of a gun and expect them to thank you for it.New report from the US gov on gender equality in Afghanistan. What are we still doing in Afghanistan, you ask? US has spent $787 million on gender programs, not including gender included in other programs. Hope to challenge stereotypes and patriarchy 1/n pic.twitter.com/uwDdxAZrdR\n\n— Richard Hanania (@RichardHanania) March 3, 2021\nThe misbegotten gender equality initiatives in Afghanistan were part of the rule, not an exception. Take a look at this thread documenting how the U.S. opium eradication campaign in Afghanistan, which cost $8 billion, actually resulted in more opium being produced in the country.An underrated mistake in US policy in Afghanistan was its long-running effort to suppress the cultivation of opium poppy and, in turn, the production of heroin and other opiates.\n\nA thread. 1/19\n\n— Jeffrey P. Clemens (@jeffreypclemens) August 15, 2021China continued its monthslong policy of drastically curtailing the power of the country’s tech industry when the Chinese government’s antitrust body released proposed new rules Tuesday banning activities that it says hurt market competition. Combining old-school Communist party language with the new Chinese hybrid of state capitalism, the draft rules put out by the State Administration for Market Regulation demand that companies practice “self-rectification” while also prohibiting them from leveraging user data to steer traffic away from competitors.Robert Sylvester Kelly, 54, the Chicago-based R&B singer better known as R. Kelly, was slated to appear in a Brooklyn court today for the opening arguments in a federal sex-trafficking case. Once known for his distinctive vocal phrasing and eccentric lyrics, Kelly has been accused of sexually abusing multiple women, including minors.\n\nFederal mask mandates for public travel were supposed to expire on Sept. 13, but the Transportation Security Administration has extended them through Jan. 18. The mask requirements apply on commercial flights, buses, and trains.\n\nThe president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, Neel Kashkari, called cryptocurrency “95% fraud, hype, noise, and confusion” at an economic summit on Tuesday. The criticisms from Kashkari come just weeks after the trillion-dollar federal infrastructure plan was held up by wrangling over new plans to tax cryptocurrencies, suggesting that, criticisms aside, the government sees them as an important and growing source of revenue.#BPThe Back Pages Slick Rick in Afghanistan\n\n\nEvery few months, I get a text or email from my friend Rick in upstate New York asking how I’m doing. The subject line will say something like SITREP, army talk for “situation report,” and in the body of the email he’ll write, “How you?” Sometimes the subject will say “How You?” and there’s nothing in the body.\n\nRick and I were in Afghanistan together in 2012. He was not a fan of mine at first. I showed up to the unit in 2011 shortly after graduating from Army Ranger School and feeling rather full of myself, only to be treated like a leper. That was all right with me. There is something in the particular isolation of being the new guy and proving oneself in a hostile or indifferent environment that I have always taken to. I later learned that the reason for the weird looks and dismissive remarks was because Rick, a natural leader, had turned everyone against me because I didn’t own a car at the time. Since I’m from Brooklyn, not having a car felt like the state of nature to me. As an upstater, Rick saw me asking people for rides and deduced a grave character flaw. After a few months, he saw that I was good at my job and decided I wasn’t so ate up as I looked at first. We got to be fast friends.\n\nI knew many exceptional soldiers and NCOs over the years, but only three officers stood out for their ability to lead and to turn chaos into order. Rick was the only one I’d call my friend. He started off as paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division, where he won Soldier of the Year before making sergeant and eventually getting out to become an infantry officer in the New York National Guard. That’s where I met him as my battalion’s operations officer.\n\nHe had already been to Afghanistan, while my previous deployment was to Iraq. We had an intense and dizzying nine months to train together before heading overseas. After about five months, we started to feel almost ready for the mission. Then the mission got canceled, and we were told we’d be going home. Then we were assigned to a new mission to go to Kuwait, to which I said “so long fellas,” and that they were welcome to send the Military Police after me, but that I’d run away to Mexico before doing a yearlong deployment in the Kuwaiti sandbox. Then they changed the mission again, and instead of the whole brigade going to Afghanistan, it would just be my battalion. Only instead of going east near the Pakistan border as originally planned, we’d be sent west to a base near Herat, a prosperous and secure city by Afghani standards. It fell last week to the Taliban.\n\nIt took around four months after we landed in Afghanistan before we started to feel like maybe we had finally caught on to the esoteric secret of our mission, what exactly we were supposed to accomplish in a war already a decade old. Shortly after that, the deployment was cut short, and we got ready to go home.\n\nOn our last big mission, we spent 10—or was it 12?—days together sleeping outside in a patrol base in southwest Afghanistan in a rather exposed patch of desert waiting to exfiltrate the Italian Army out of a remote combat outpost. I will never understand why the Italians placed their base in an impossible-to-defend cup at the foot of several mountains crisscrossed with dry wadis. But that is neither here nor there. The base had the most glorious chow hall I have ever seen. With less than a day before we had to get out of dodge, the Italian’s soldier-chef was trying to figure out what to do with the two whole wheels of Parmigiano-Reggiano he still had in storage.\n\nWhen I get emails from Rick asking me how I’m doing, sometimes weeks go by before I respond. When I do I usually write something longer and ask him about his kids and his wife—I’ll never forget how she brought me a goody basket of whiskey and treats when we got back from Afghanistan and I had to stay alone in a hotel before going home—or what he thinks about this or that development. Last time, I asked him what he thought about what was going on in Afghanistan. A few days passed before he responded: “shit show.” That was all he had to say.