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The British ambassador to Afghanistan has arrived in the UK, with the last British soldiers to leave Kabul expected to touch down within hours. Vice Admiral Sir Ben Key, chief of joint operations, said that while he “pays testament” to everything achieved by British forces over the last two weeks, “We know that there are some really sad stories of people who have desperately tried to leave that – no matter how hard our efforts – we have been unsuccessful in evacuating”. Speaking at RAF Brize Norton, he said the 31 August deadline imposed by the Taliban prevented them evacuating more people “who had helped us so wonderfully and courageously over the last 20 years”. Photos of exhausted UK service personnel in aircraft coming back from Kabul showed how “deeply tired” they were having “given their all over the last two weeks”, he said. “Some of the pictures that have come back in the last few days have painted a really good impression of just how desperate and difficult those conditions have been in the last few weeks”. “They have been sleeping in rough conditions, eating off ration packs and their sole motivation has been to help as many of the Afghans and British entitled personnel as they possibly could” – Afghanistan: British ambassador home as last UK troops leave (BBC News UK)
An image from six days after the city was taken over by the Taliban shows five aircraft – at least two MI-17 helicopters, two Black Hawks and a third helicopter which could also be a UH-60, according to Angad Singh, a military aviation expert at Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation. The Taliban has also captured the remaining nine Afghan airbases, including those in Herat, Khost, Kunduz and Mazar-i-Sharif – but it’s not clear how many aircraft they have seized from there as satellite images are not available from these airports. Capturing aircraft may have been easy for the Taliban, but operating and maintaining them will be difficult, says Dr Jonathan Schroden, director at the CNA consulting group and former adviser to the US forces in Afghanistan. Jodi Vittori, professor of global politics and security at Georgetown University and a US air force veteran who served in Afghanistan, agrees the Taliban lack the expertise to make these aircraft operational. “So there is no immediate danger of the Taliban using these aircraft,” she says, pointing out aircraft could have been partially dismantled before the Afghan forces surrendered – Afghanistan: Black Hawks and Humvees – military kit now with the Taliban (BBC News World Asia)
Islamic State’s Afghan affiliate, known as Islamic State Khorasan Province and also as Isis-K, detonated a bomb that not only ripped apart lives, but also served as a bloodcurdling warning of what it may be capable of. The longer-term impact of the attack is harder to assess, beyond the obvious point that it is alarming – or terrifying, if you are an Afghan – that an Islamic State offshoot now occupies the position that it does. The danger is that the Afghan state and civil society, after the west’s shamefully conducted withdrawal, will collapse altogether. Already, 300,000 people have been displaced following the Taliban’s advance over the summer. Already, following the attack, there are reports of unprecedented numbers of Afghans feeling across the border to Pakistan – The Guardian view on Afghanistan: chaos turns to carnage (The Guardian UK edition – News – US Politics – Editorial)
The 20-year military entanglement in Afghanistan began, in effect, with a terrorist attack in which Americans were killed. The success of Thursday’s attack, claimed by a group, Isis-K, whose name is unfamiliar to most people outside the country, intensifies the concern that Afghanistan will again become a haven for jihadi groups. With the US military presence removed, and the Taliban an undisciplined force, it would be wishful thinking to rely on the commitment made by the militants last year to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a base for al-Qaeda or other jihadis. The Taliban are determined to fight Isis-K. But another Taliban affiliate – the Haqqani network which Taliban leaders put in charge of Kabul’s security – has suspected links to Isis-K. The White House insists it can run a counter-terrorism campaign using “over-the-horizon” military and intelligence assets based elsewhere. The intelligence failure to predict the Taliban’s reconquest of Afghanistan raises doubts over the ability of the US military to wage a campaign from afar – America’s ‘forever war’ is a long way from over (Financial Times Opinion The FT View)
Summarised with SMMRY.