Evacuation Flights Abroad; Tantrum at Home

UNSPECIFIED - AUGUST 19: In this handout provided by the Australian Department of Defence, a Royal Australian Air Force C-130J Hercules arrives at Australia's main base in the Middle East region after returning from ... UNSPECIFIED - AUGUST 19: In this handout provided by the Australian Department of Defence, a Royal Australian Air Force C-130J Hercules arrives at Australia's main base in the Middle East region after returning from Kabul, Afghanistan. Royal Australian Air Force aircraft and personnel were deployed at short notice to the Middle East region, committed to supporting urgent government efforts to evacuate Australian citizens and visa holders from Afghanistan. (Photo Australian Department of Defence via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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August 24, 2021 9:03 a.m.

Here’s an update on the definitely failed evacuation and abandonment of everyone who ever worked for us in Afghanistan. According to the White House, 21,600 people were evacuated over the last 24 hours bringing the total number to 58,700. I know a tone of sarcasm is a bit jarring in what is a very serious and dangerous situation. But in addition to a story of great significance and human drama we’re coming off one of the biggest and most revealing press tantrums I’ve ever seen. Yesterday I said I thought we were only days away from pundit-bewailers shifting to taking credit for turning the greatest military debacle in history into a historically successful airlift. But I was wrong: it’s already happening.

Yesterday I couldn’t help but notice this article in The Atlantic by George Packer. Much of the article is quite good, a look at one family’s struggle to get out of the country. But this second paragraph on what Packer calls the “digital Dunkirk” of largely online efforts of private citizens to secure flights and evacuation for Afghan interpreters, aide workers, friends, etc jolted my attention.

At this point the phrase is too generous. In the spring of 1940, British and French forces were rescued from Dunkirk by a collaboration between the British government and ordinary people sailing their own vessels into the English Channel; it was a miraculous success. Thus far, only a fraction of endangered Afghans have gotten out of the country. The private rescue effort in Afghanistan is basically running separate from the United States government’s Operation Allies Refuge; it became necessary because the official evacuation is beset by chaos and bureaucratic blockage. Private citizens are intervening because the government, as a retired military commander told me, is “overwhelmed.” People involved in this collective effort have said that it’s the only aspect of the fall of Afghanistan that relieves a bit of their shame.

Talking about your own work as all that relieves the “shame” of American abandonment is a remarkable thing to commit to paper, digital or otherwise.

Let me say that I know a lot of people who’ve been scrambling to accomplish this. Most of the ones I know are ex-military people working from the US to expedite paperwork, make connections for Afghans they worked with during their tours of duty. It’s incredibly honorable work. But note this line from Packer. “The private rescue effort in Afghanistan is basically running separate from the United States government’s Operation Allies Refuge; it became necessary because the official evacuation is beset by chaos and bureaucratic blockage.” This is simply a remarkable thing to say when literally no one is flying out of the country right now other than through an airlift made possible by the US government and US military. There are US military planes; there are private charters; there are American civilian airliners requisitioned by the US government; there’s a mix of civilian and military flights from US allied countries. But the entire thing is possible because at least six thousand US military personnel are occupying and running the airport. Literally the entire evacuation is made possible by a US government effort.

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Is it a collaboration? Absolutely. Because people need to get to the airport. Many need to get travel documents expedited. They need to find a particular flight. None of what I’m saying here is meant to take away from all the work private individuals and aid organizations are doing. It is incredibly honorable, selfless. But to portray this as some solo effort amidst US abandonment and an “overwhelmed” US government is as remarkable as it is, frankly, gross.

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