“Been a tough day.” Those were the opening words of an official statement by former Vice President Joseph R. Biden. Tough is an understatement. On August 26th, 2021, there were two suicide bomber attacks outside of the Hamid Karzai International Airport, that resulted in the death of thirteen (1) American service members, and another eighteen being wounded. The oldest of those killed was thirty-one (2) years old. Not since the tragic events of Operation Red-Wing (3) in 2005, popularized in the book Lone Survivor, has there been such a loss of American life. At least sixty (4) Afghani’s have also died as a result of the cowardly attack. The group that claimed responsibility for this attack is an offshoot of the decimated Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). They call themselves ISIS-K, (5) the K stands for Khorasan, a region that is split between Iran and Afghanistan.
A military planner/strategist often contends with the fact that much of what they do ends up on a shelf as a plan, only for use when needed. Most of the time these plans are not needed; and it’s equally important to know that we don’t want them to be needed. For when they are, something bad has happened. During my time as an officer in the United States Army, I served for a time as an operational and strategic planner, and often drew the task of writing plans in support of Noncombatant Evacuation Operations (NEO). Some of those plans were specifically built for Afghanistan while I worked out of a Bagram headquarters in 2011. Like many veterans and those still on active duty, I never thought the world would witness the catastrophic collapse of Afghanistan in less than two weeks. It’s a rare moment when the best laid plans are impacted by decisions no planner can control or contemplate.
The world is in chaos as it watches Afghanistan fall into the hands of the Taliban. As the region crumbles, a question is being asked. How many Americans are still trapped in the Graveyard of Empires? When Pentagon Press Secretary, Former Rear Admiral John Kirby, (1) was asked this question, he had a very simple answer, ‘I don’t know.’ (2) That answer was further amplified by White House Communications Director, Kate Bedingfield, (3) who said: “We don’t have a precise number. What we’re doing is working to identify how many Americans are there.” Former Vice President Biden has said that there could be as many as ten to fifteen thousand Americans still there. Then there is the case of not (4) being able to know how many Americans and Afghani’s are being flown out.
The Graveyard of Empires. That is the name that has been given to the land that is Afghanistan. It was in this land that the infamous 1842 British retreat from Kabul (1) took place, resulting in the survival of only one man out of a force that consisted of 16,000 people. In the mountains of the Hindu Kush, the mountain range that makes up much of the land-locked country, it was here that the Soviet Union began to fall, ultimately leading to the rise of the original Taliban. For nearly a decade, 1979-1989, (2) the Soviet Union maintained a military presence in Afghanistan to try and support a government that was nothing more than a puppet for the Soviets. At one point in time, there were more than a hundred thousand Soviet soldiers in the country. But the Afghan people do not like foreign invaders, and they despise puppet governments. This led to the rise of the Mujahideen, a group of Islamic guerilla fighters from Afghanistan and around the world, who decimated the Red Army. There were various factions within the Mujahideen, and for nearly five years after the Soviets had withdrawn, there was a struggle for power.