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What Happened: August 26, 2021

Tablet’s afternoon news digest: At least 12 Marines killed in Afghanistan’s deadliest day in a decade

The Scroll
August 26, 2021

The Big Story

Thursday was the deadliest day for U.S. troops in Afghanistan in a decade. At least 12 Marines were killed and 15 wounded by a coordinated attack initiated by a suicide bomber outside the Kabul airport that also killed dozens of Afghan civilians. Western government officials had begun instructing people to stay away from the airport Thursday after a senior U.S. official reportedly warned Wednesday night that the local franchise of the Islamic State known as Islamic State Khorasan, or ISIS-K, was planning an attack at the airport. Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby called it “a complex attack” involving explosions at multiple locations. The term “complex attack” typically refers to scenarios in which an initial explosion is used to make targets more vulnerable by drawing them into a “kill zone” for a follow-up attack involving additional explosions or gunfire. It’s the kind of attack that can’t be randomly carried out by a lone individual and requires a level of core competence in tactical planning and logistical coordination that multiple groups in Afghanistan—including ISIS-K, the Taliban, and the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani Network—have demonstrated in similar past attacks.

The Taliban has had a contentious relationship with the more maximalist ISIS-K and issued a statement Thursday condemning the attack in Kabul. In a matter of days, the Taliban has gone from being a sworn enemy of the United States to a security partner. The Wall Street Journal’s Yaroslav Trofimov reported Thursday afternoon that General Kenneth F. McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command said that “we share a common purpose” with the Taliban and that the group can be used as a “tool” to provide security for evacuation efforts around the airport.

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Today’s Back Pages: Now What?

The Rest

Delta Air Lines is introducing a “fine” on employees who don’t take a COVID-19 vaccine. In a memo sent out Wednesday, the airline’s CEO warned workers enrolled in the company healthcare plan that they would face a $200 monthly surcharge if they don’t get vaccinated by Nov. 1. The airline, which accepted $2.7 billion in federal relief funds related to COVID-19, is also working with the local government in Georgia to run the largest vaccination center in the state at the Delta Flight Museum.

Online content platform OnlyFans made its name and fortune as a hub for bespoke pornography, abruptly announced last week that it was banning porn, and has now reversed that decision after backlash from pro-pornography and anti-hypocrisy activists. The company insisted all along that it has nothing against sexually explicit content and only implemented the ban because financial institutions wouldn’t process payments to the performers who make it. 

A planned meeting between President Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s advisers was called off due to the attack in Afghanistan. 

Following the FDA approval granted earlier this week to the Pfizer vaccine, the pharmaceutical company Moderna has completed its application to also get its COVID-19 vaccine approved. Moderna started the application process in June and is currently selling its vaccines under an emergency-use authorization. The U.S. government invested roughly $6 billion in the production of the Moderna vaccine. That’s slightly less than the $6.3 billion the company earned in revenue in the first six months of 2021—an astronomical increase over the $75 million the company earned over the same period in 2020.

Special operations veteran John Robb speculates that the attack in Kabul is part of a siege tactic aimed at shutting down the airport.

Kabul: Siege warfare is in the physical realm. It’s about disconnection. Reducing options until there are none.


Mob runway/slow flights
Take over civilian side of airport
Mob at gates slow evac
Stop Afghans from entering
Shut gates (bomb)
Shut airport runway

— John Robb (@johnrobb) August 26, 2021

The United States is leaving an estimated 75,000 vehicles and 208 aircraft in Afghanistan, including Blackhawks like the one featured in a recent video posted to social media that shows a team of Taliban members lamping inside the helicopter. Along with the vehicles, the United States is also leaving behind some 600,000 weapons, according to Open the Books, a government watchdog group.

A top rabbi in one of Israel’s religious Haredi communities, Chaim Kanievsky, is aggressively backing the government’s vaccination efforts. “A teacher or an educator who hasn’t been vaccinated won’t come to teach,” Kanievsky said. While Kanievsky comes from the non-Hasidic branch of Israel’s Ashkenazi religious world, The Times of Israel reports that Hasidic leaders are also embracing vaccines: “The rebbes or grand rabbis of the Belz, Gur, and Viznitz communities have all called upon their followers to get a third COVID-19 shot as part of the booster campaign.”
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In one of her first acts after taking over from Andrew Cuomo, New York’s new governor, Kathy Hochul, revised the state’s COVID-19 death count from 43,400 up to 55,400. “Transparency will be the hallmark of my administration,” Hochul told MSNBC on Wednesday, implicitly pointing a finger at her predecessor. Cuomo’s administration refused to release its statistics and stonewalled investigators for months after the governor’s nursing home policy was alleged to have contributed to thousands of COVID-19 deaths in the state.

The Back Pages

Now What?

At the 10,000-foot geostrategic level, President Biden’s decision to end an unwinnable war is still sound policy and good leadership. On the ground, the withdrawal from Afghanistan has been a disaster combining inept planning, rampant buck-passing, absent leadership, demagoguery, and cover-ups. In that sense, a predictable end to the war’s two-decade legacy of delusion and defeat.

At every step, the White House’s incompetence over the past month has been excused by apologists. Some are sincere opponents of the war who point out correctly that many of the attacks on Biden are made by people who want to prolong the U.S. folly in Afghanistan. Others are partisan hacks who defend the administration out of instinct and self-interest. But, whatever the motivations, the consequence has been a dangerous lack of transparency and oversight that allowed the White House to repeatedly dissemble and obfuscate when faced with difficult questions, such as “How many Americans are left in Afghanistan?” At other times, the administration has gone beyond defending its costly bumbling to outright malevolence, blaming Americans who are still stranded in Afghanistan for their own lot because they “chose” not to leave.

The tragedy at the airport today may not have been inevitable, but it wasn’t unforeseeable. The closest thing Afghanistan has now to a stabilizing central authority is the Taliban, but even they don’t so much control the fractious country as exercise a precarious majority of power within its porous borders. So the longer the chaotic evacuations went on in that kind of unstable environment, the greater the chances that one of the many hostile, power-seeking factions in Afghanistan would take the chance to attack a vulnerable gaggle of Americans attempting to flee.

“We must brace for the reality that as dire as the situation is now, it can rapidly get much worse,” I wrote last Friday, in the Aug. 20 edition of The Scroll. “The small contingent of U.S. troops securing the airport is vastly outnumbered.” At the time I was mostly focused on the possibility of a breakdown in the de facto truce between the United States and the Taliban. To be clear, we still don’t know who was involved in the planning for Thursday’s attack or whether the Taliban’s condemnation means that no one in the organization played a role. But the preliminary reports point at ISIS-K, a splinter group of only a few thousand people with a reputation for savagery.

Reports that the United States is now relying on the Taliban to ensure the safety of its own citizens point to the absolute incompetence of the withdrawal. Being reliant on the Taliban for anything as essential as the security of Americans is another disaster waiting to happen.

Tablet’s afternoon newsletter edited by Jacob Siegel.

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