Friday News Dump: What’s Next In Afghanistan?

Welcome to the Friday news dump, a roundup of the week’s most important and interesting stories. This is usually an exclusive feature for paying Uprising subscribers, but I am making today’s edition available to everyone since there are a couple programming notes about upcoming features in the newsletter. If you enjoyed this news dump, please consider subscribing.

The war in Afghanistan came to a formal end on Monday as the last U.S. troops left the country after almost 20 years. While America’s longest war is already fading from the headlines, there are many lingering questions.

  • The struggle is just beginning for the Afghan refugees who left the country in the American evacuation. Tens of thousands of refugees were taken to Qatar where they are being held in an airbase used by U.S. and Qatari forces. According to multiple accounts, the space where they are being held is so cramped and hot that some refugees reportedly made signs declaring: “I can’t breathe.” Two American congressmen, Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) and Rep. Peter Meijer (R-MI), visited the facility during their unauthorized trip to Kabul last week and expressed grave concerns about the conditions. In a conversation with The Uprising shortly after he returned to the states, Meijer said: “I worry that it's only a matter of time before some folks perish at some of those facilities.” The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment about how many refugees remain at the base and whether they will be moved to a cooler location. 

  • Here in the States, the evacuation led to major political fallout. A slewofpolls conducted in the past week showed that even though a majority of Americans supported Biden’s decision to leave Afghanistan, they disapprove of the way the evacuation was handled. The chaotic exit — during which U.S. troops rushed to evacuate American citizens and Afghan allies as the Taliban rapidly overtook the country — has tanked Biden’s approval rating. Meijer and Moulton are among many members of Congress who had urged the administration to expand and expedite efforts to evacuate vulnerable Afghans for months leading up to the withdrawal. Moulton has said he would welcome a congressional investigation into the missteps. In his conversation with The Uprising, Meijer described the situation as “enraging,” adding: “I could see the nightmare scenario that we warned the administration about months ago unfolding.” However, it’s worth noting that some of the Republicans criticizing Biden for his handling of the withdrawal — including Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) and Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ)voted against expanding the evacuation of Afghans who worked with the U.S. forces. Republican commentators like Tucker Carlson are also attacking efforts to settle refugees in this country.

  • Prior to the American withdrawal, many people in Afghanistan were dealing with food insecurity. The Taliban takeover has accelerated the problem: Mary-Ellen McGroarty, the World Food Programme’s country director in Kabul has said that the current situation “is absolutely horrendous and could morph into just a humanitarian catastrophe." (Full Disclosure: Your humble Uprising correspondent’s wife works for the organization’s American offshoot, the World Food Program USA.) 

  • While the troops have gone home, military operations in Afghanistan have not actually ended. In a speech at the White House on Tuesday, Biden vowed to continue drone strikes against ISIS-K, the Afghan affiliate of the militant group Islamic State that the U.S. has blamed for a suicide attack that left 13 American troops dead in the final days of the withdrawal. According to The Hill, the subsequent drone strikes “appeared calibrated to send a message to militant groups that though U.S. forces were leaving the country, military operations are likely to persist.” The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment about continued drone strikes. Without troops on the ground, experts warn drone operations could have higher civilian casualties. One of those retaliatory strikes, conducted on August 29, reportedly left 10 civilians dead. 

  • The Supreme Court’s shadow docket decision allowing a law that effectively banned abortion in Texas raises the possibility other states may adopt similar measures. The development also increases pressure on 83-year-old liberal justice Stephen Breyer to retire. In a tweet on Thursday, Ben Rhodes, a former top adviser to President Obama said: “For everything he cares about, Breyer retiring would be a lot more impactful than writing more dissents.” Breyer has indicated he does not want to “stay there till I die” and hopes to avoid seeing “somebody appointed who will just reverse everything I've done.” However, even if Breyer does step aside, Biden will still need to get a justice confirmed, which will require the support of moderate Democrats in the Senate. Biden is also facing pressure of his own to reform — or potentially expand — the Supreme Court due to the entrenched conservative majority. On Thursday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki pointed to a commission Biden named to study potential reforms that is due to submit recommendations by October 6. Psaki said those will likely factor into Biden’s decision but specified that she doesn’t know “where he’s going to land.”

  • The Democrat-led House of Representatives select committee investigating the January 6 attack has asked telecommunications companies to preserve phone records associated with Republican lawmakers, former President Donald Trump, and members of his family who participated in the “Stop The Steal” rallies against Trump’s election loss that precipitated the attack on the Capitol. On Tuesday, one day after news of the preservation request broke, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy responded by threatening the companies with retaliation if the GOP retakes Congress. McCarthy was subsequently revealed to be among the lawmakers whose records were subject to the preservation request. One Republican who participated in the January 6 rally, Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC), referred to the people who have been arrested in that attack as “political hostages” and “political prisoners” during a GOP event in his home state on August 29. Cawthorn suggested he and his colleagues are eager to “try and bust them out,” and when an audience member asked when he would “call us to Washington again,” Cawthorn said it was something he is “actively working on.” 

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Next Tuesday, September 8, The Uprising will play host to author and advocate Lila Nordstrom, who will be discussing her new book “Some Kids Left Behind: A Survivor's Fight for Health Care in the Wake of 9/11.” Nordstrom is one of my former classmates at Manhattan’s Stuyvesant High School, making her one of the closest children to the collapse of the Twin Towers in 2001. Her book explores how the students struggled to receive assistance as they battled health problems associated with the attack and how their experience relates to victims of other disasters. Nordstrom will join us in a discussion thread on September 8th from 12-1 PM ET, and readers will be able to ask her questions along with me.

I will be posting our last book club event, which took place over the summer, very soon! I am still dealing with formatting the video and transcript for that one, which is part of why I am trying a new approach for the chat next week. 

FUN FACT: I am coming to you this Friday afternoon from beautiful Luray, Virginia on the edge of Shenandoah National Park. This town is home to the Luray Caverns, which are the largest ever discovered in the eastern United States. The caverns are home to the world’s largest musical instrument, the Great Stalacpipe Organ, which was the brainchild of a musician and Pentagon engineer named Leland Sprinkle. Technically, the stalacpipe organ isn’t an organ at all. It’s a lithophone, which produces sound by striking 37 different stalactites located throughout the cave. Sprinkle hand selected the stalactites based on the tone generated when striking them. The instrument has been operating for over 60 years.