The “Fall of Kabul” colloquially refers to the capture of the city of Kabul, capital of Afghanistan, on 15 August 2021 and, only slightly tangentially, the ensuing debacle at Kabul Intl Airport. While capture might be something of a misnomer to purists, there can be no argument that by the middle of the week of 16 August Taliban forces effectively controlled the city and its environs. Though most of the information available is centered on Hamid Karzai International Airport, additional imagery and ground truth about the actual occupation of the city is slowly becoming available.
Edit: But first, an important question answered.
Q: How can I help Afghan refugees?
A: Start with the Combat Flip Flops Afghan Refugee Extraction
Warning: there is graphic imagery below.
Read on for additional ways to help.
Warning: It will be a difficult task to write about this inexcusable travesty of American foreign policy and military strategy without using our entire repertoire of profanity, but we will try. If you are any form of apologist who has found a way to justify, excuse, or rationalize this appalling event (whether for partisan or other reasons), you should probably fuck off to another website now. Or just fuck off. For those querulous few who have questioned our opinion(s), I cannot speak for the team here. I will speak only for me: yes, we should have withdrawn from Afghanistan. In fact, we should have done so years ago. However, the irredeemable, unprofessional, and ad hoc manner in which the penultimate activity of “Operation Freedom Sentinel” was conducted is — and should be treated as — criminal.
Political and military careers should end over this.
The Fall of Kabul
NOTE: WE ARE AWARE THIS IS INCOMPLETE. VETTING IMAGERY AND INFORMATION TAKES TIME. PLEASE BEAR WITH US.
Operation Allies Refuge
Kabul Airlift: Evacuating Afghan SVIs, Allies, and American Citizens
Operation Allies Refuge is the official name of the United States military operation to evacuate Afghan citizens who are/were at great risk of retaliation by Taliban and related forces after the end of the NATO mission in July and the remaining months of Operation Freedom’s Shield.
British, French, and other military personnel (notably not Americans) were operating, and as of this writing continue to operate, within the city to “recover” their own nationals (and other civilians). However, their ability to do so seemed to be more by the sufferance and in some areas inattention of the Taliban leadership as it was their ability to project firepower.
The militaries of other Coalition forces were deployed to Hamid Karzai International Airport, including Australian troops and German, Norwegian, and Polish SOF personnel, but initial reports make it unclear whether any of those formations are pushing out of the airport area — or indeed even if “friendlies” are in control of the MANPAD footprint.
United States military personnel, primarily of the 24th MEU (Marine Expeditionary Unit) and the 82nd Airborne (elements of which are always on standby as part of the IRF, or Immediate Response Force), deployed to Afghanistan to reinforce soldiers of the 4th Battalion, 31st infantry of the 10th Mountain Divisions 2nd Brigade Combat Team shortly after some those soldiers returned to Ft. Drum. 4-31 INF was already in-country providing security for the airport.
None of the US Task Force were, as of the end of the first week, pushing patrols out of the immediate vicinity of the airport. This inaction was reportedly a source of significant friction between the command staff of the 82nd Airborne and that of the British Paras, though we do not know as yet if that was due to a National Command Authority directive or indecisiveness and hesitation on the part of the local US commander.
And we may never know.
On 18 August, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin advised reporters at a press conference that despite having 5,000 or more troops on the ground at the Kabul Airport, the United States did not have the “capability” to reach out from HKIA to retrieve US citizens or approved Afghans.
“The forces that we have are focused on the security of the airfield. And you know how important that is, and you know what happens if we — if we lose the ability to provide that security,” Aspin said.
This statement was made literally as British and French soldiers (less than 1,000 and approximately 200 soldiers deployed, respectively) were doing exactly that. So too were operators of the Bundeswehr’s KSK, who conducted one or missions under the name “Blue Light” during the week of August 23rd. There were approximately 300 German soldiers on the ground at HKIA (not counting aircrews, etc.)
Granted, none of these contingents had overall responsibility for securing the entire site, but it defies credulity that the United States could not project power into Kabul and its suburbs. This appears to have been a sentiment shared by the troops on the ground during the entirety of the “Kabul Airlift” operation. Numerous anecdotal reports, social media posts, and unofficial communications from Marines and Airborne troopers made it clear the inability or unwillingness of their leadership to commit to action was at least as galling to them as it was to their British, French, Afghan Commando, and other allied counterparts.
Edit 28 AUG 21: Reuters.com is maintaining a list of Afghanistan evacuees by nationality. You can find that here.
Kabul Intl Airport
[Hamid Karzai International Airport, or HKIA]
By the time the US-backed government of Afghanistan collapsed the only large-scale safe way out of the country was Kabul Intl Airport (formally the Hamid Karzai International Airport).
Thousands of Afghans and foreign nationals thronged the airport in an attempt to escape the country before the Taliban completely assumed power. The images and videos from this have provoked visceral reactions from people around the world. Many hearken back directly to the abandonment of Saigon in Vietnam in April, 1975.
How the very last aircraft with American aboard will manage to depart, with no friendly troops on the ground to assure safety, I cannot imagine.
Warning: there is graphic imagery below.
Abbey Gate / Baron Hotel Attack
A complex attack* on the airport was conducted late Thursday night (Kabul time). Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K) was reckoned to be most likely responsible for the attack, which has thus far claimed the lives of at least 12 military personnel and an unknown number of civilians [this will be updated as more info is available]. Attacks reportedly occurred at the Abbey Gate and near (possibly immediately adjacent to) the Baron Hotel. As of approximately 18h00Z, 26 August 21, it appeared that the Abbey Gate and Baron Hotel attacks consisted of at least two explosions, both suicide bombings with one thought to be the result of a VBIED.
Initial reports (which are, as we know, always wrong) ranged from “3 US Marines wounded and numerous Afghans dead” to “at least 60 Afghans and 10 US Marines killed”. The actual total number of casualties reported over the next few hours varied depending upon the source of information (the latter came from the Jerusalem Post, for instance). The commander of US Central Command (CENTCOM) later advised that twelve US military personnel were killed and another 15 injured. At least one of the dead is reportedly a “Devil Doc” (US Navy “Greenside” Corpsman assigned to a Marine unit).
These are the first US service members killed in Afghanistan since February 2020 and the largest number killed in a single incident in combat in approximately a decade.**
Edit 02h00Z 27 August 21: It appears that at least two of the US military personnel killed today were sailors (see icastualties.org).
It’s very likely that some of the dead are actually Taliban fighters, as ISIS-K “RUMINT” indicates they detonated one device near Taliban personnel. How this will affect the dynamic of the environment remains to be seen, though it doesn’t take a genius to predict there will be an even greater amount of “friction of war”, violence, and casualties.
The following images, purportedly from the aftermath of the attack, have been circulating on social media. They are of unknown provenance.
As of 19h30Z we do not know if these are from the Abbey Gate or Baron Hotel.
A Complex Attack
*Note: A complex attack in this particular usage reflects an actual military definition, in this case specifically by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. The UNAMA definition of “complex attack” is “…a deliberate and coordinated attack that includes a suicide device, more than one attacker, and more than one type of device (e.g. IED and mortars). All three elements must be present for an attack to be considered complex.”
The Pentagon’s use of the word complex when reporting is significant unless made in error, in that it tells us at least some of what occurred at the Abbey Gate.
There are often two or more phases to a complex attack using the three elements described above. These phases are frequently synchronized or timed for a specific effect. An example (and this is just one example) of this might as a diversionary or channeling/focusing event, followed by indirect fire and then a VBIED (Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device) used to cause casualties among responding personnel (medics, reinforcements, etc.). A maneuver element, i.e. insurgents on the ground exploiting the damage and confusion, might also be involved.
A similar term when referring to terrorist attacks is CCTA, or Complex Coordinated Terrorist Attack. The two phrases are sometimes used interchangeably but that is technically incorrect.
**Fourteen Marines and an Iraqi interpreter from Lima Co. 3-25 Marines were killed in 2005 when their AAV was destroyed by an explosive device near Haditha, Iraq. That same year, 16 US personnel were killed when Turbine 33, an MH-47, was shot down at Sawtalo Sar Afghanistan. Six years later, in 2011, 31 service members were lost when a CH-47 (“Extortion 17”) was hit with an RPG and went down in Wardak Province, Afghanistan.
Scenes from the Fall of Kabul
Scenes from the Withdrawal
Desperate Afghans Fall From C-17
One of the most memorable of many terrible moments during the evacuation of the Kabul airport was that of desperate Afghans attempting to climb onto the outside of US military aircraft as they taxied down the runway. Some actually managed to hang onto the sides of the plane(s) until airborne, after which at several fell to their deaths. One of those was a 19-year old soccer player from Afghanistan’s national youth team. Another was an Afghan dentist named Fada Mohammad. Four bodies were later photographed on the runway. At least two dropped onto neighboring rooftops of Kabul’s Mandawi Market.
According to USAF accounts, the aircraft in question was just landing. When swarms of would-be evacuees began thronging toward them, the crew opted not to stop, intending to take off again until the crowd could be removed from the flightline.
Some, like the man seen below, were trapped by retracting landing gear and died in the air. This aircraft was diverted to a base in the Arabian peninsula so the corpse could be removed and the evacuation flight continued.
The Taliban Take Control
The last American aircraft of the Kabul Airlift, a C-17, took off from Hamid Karzai International Airport moments before the (self-imposed) deadline for the complete withdrawal of US military personnel.
Life After Taliban Control
Complex Coordinated Terrorist Attacks
NATO defines a complex coordinated attack as one that employs “…multiple hostile elements which employ at least two distinct classes of weapon systems, i.e. indirect fire and direct fire, improvised explosive devices, surface to air fire, et al.
The Joint Counter Terrorism Workshop Series (JCTAWS) defines a complex, coordinated assault as a “…“a coordinated assault on one or more locations in close succession, initiated after little or no warning, employing one or more of the following: firearms, explosives, and arson”.
The US Department of Homeland Security offers the following definition of a complex, coordinated attack: “CCTAs are acts of terrorism that involve synchronized and independent team(s) at multiple locations, sequentially or in close succession, initiated with little or no warning, and employing one or more weapon systems: firearms, explosives, fire as a weapon, and other nontraditional attack methodologies that are intended to result in large numbers of casualties.”
The Lashkar-e-Taiba attack on multiple locations in Mumbai in 2008 is an extraordinary example of a successful complex, coordinated terrorist attack.
Please check back for updates, this is a work in progress.
There were a number of sources referenced for this compilation. Many of them did an extraordinary job of reporting as close to real-time as is possible. Virtually none of this article would have been possible without them. This list is also a work in progress.
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