Show an ad over header. AMP

I am the FIRST

Biden braces for brutal defeat in Afghanistan

The Biden administration is preparing for the fall of Kabul and a retreat from any U.S. diplomatic presence in Afghanistan — a stunning reversal of expectations.

  • It's looking increasingly likely to high-ranking aides to President Biden that the U.S. will have no enduring diplomatic presence in Afghanistan beyond Aug. 31 — the date Biden has promised the full troop withdrawal will be complete.

Why it matters: It's a major reversal from even a few weeks ago.


  • The working assumption in Biden’s inner circle had been that Kabul could hold for the short term, allowing the U.S. to stay diplomatically engaged and help Afghan women secure their rights beyond the U.S. withdrawal.
  • The 3,000 Marines and soldiers going in to help with the evacuation will also be gone by Aug. 31, we're told.

Between the lines: Biden is at Camp David this weekend, not at his Delaware beach house. He can relax there, but also has full comms.

  • People can come and go without detection, and he avoids the optics of a beach vacation amid a mass evacuation.

The big picture: The U.S. embassy in Kabul wasn’t just a diplomatic building. It also was a major intelligence center with paper records and equipment there that the U.S. will remove or destroy. Protocols are in place for just such an emergency.

  • Unlike Tehran in 1979, when the Iranian fundamentalists gained access to some sensitive material, the U.S. staff still in Kabul will ensure there’s nothing to gain.
  • American diplomats at the embassy have been instructed to destroy important papers and desktop computers before they leave, according to a memo obtained by NPR.

Despite the efforts to secure intelligence and safeguard U.S. personnel and their Afghan supporters, Biden must brace for the symbolic defeat of seeing the Taliban overrun the space that housed the embassy.

  • That includes the ambassador's residence — and the landmark "Duck and Cover" bar frequented by generations of troops, diplomats and journalists.

The major moment to come: Lowering the American flag that flies over what is essentially sovereign U.S. territory.

  • That's typically done by the Marine Security Guard detachment that's always on post. It's a point of honor for the ambassador or chargé d'affaires to take custody of the flag and bring it back to State or a safe haven.

A senior State Department official told Axios: "The Embassy remains open and we plan to continue our diplomatic work in Afghanistan."

  • "The United States will continue to support consular services, including emergency services for U.S. citizens and the processing and operations of the Special Immigrant Visa program, and will continue to engage in diplomacy with the Afghan government and people."
  • "Additionally, we will continue our focus on counterterrorism. We are evaluating the security situation every day to determine how best to keep those serving at our Embassy safe. This is what we do for every diplomatic post in a challenging security environment."

How it works: The core diplomatic team left in Kabul will be small enough to be quickly evacuated.

  • "Every day counts, and they’re using the time to process SIVs [Special Immigrant Visas] for Afghans and evacuate civilian personnel," an administration official told us.
  • "Aug. 31st is a long way from now," the official added. "We’re not going to be bullied out of there."
  • The administration official said the situation on the ground is changing so rapidly that senior officials are taking it day by day. But this reflected the thinking at the top levels of the Biden administration as of Friday night.

What's next: Diplomats are making contingency plans with other countries to see if they’d be willing to take in Afghans who helped with the U.S. war effort and need to be evacuated under fear of Taliban retribution.

  • Qatar is the big one. But conversations are happening with Kuwait and other countries, which are considering housing smaller numbers of Afghans for shorter periods.

One U.S. official in touch with a former contact in Kabul asked Friday morning how the locally employed staff — the Afghans working for the United States — is faring.

  • "LES are freaking out,” the contact replied. “Everyone wants to get out of this country.”
  • “I’m so worried about my family.”

Why the startup world needs to ditch "unicorns" for "dragons"

When Aileen Lee originally coined the term "unicorn" in late 2013, she was describing the 39 "U.S.-based software companies started since 2003 and valued at over $1 billion by public or private market investors."

Flashback: It got redefined in early 2015 by yours truly and Erin Griffith, in a cover story for Fortune, as any privately-held startup valued at $1 billion or more. At the time, we counted 80 of them.

Keep reading... Show less

Scoop: Facebook's new moves to lower News Feed's political volume

Facebook plans to announce that it will de-emphasize political posts and current events content in the News Feed based on negative user feedback, Axios has learned. It also plans to expand tests to limit the amount of political content that people see in their News Feeds to more countries outside of the U.S.

Why it matters: The changes could reduce traffic to some news publishers, particularly companies that post a lot of political content.

Keep reading... Show less

Scoop: Amazon quietly getting into live audio business

Amazon is investing heavily in a new live audio feature that's similar to other live audio offerings like Clubhouse, Twitter Spaces and Spotify's new live audio platform, sources tell Axios.

Why it matters: As with Amazon's efforts in podcasting and music subscriptions, the company sees live audio as a way to bolster the types of content it can offer through its voice assistant, Alexa, and its smart speaker products.

Keep reading... Show less

Hurricane Ida exposes America's precarious energy infrastructure

The powerful hurricane that plunged New Orleans into darkness for what could be weeks is the latest sign that U.S. power systems are not ready for a warmer, more volatile world.

The big picture: “Our current infrastructure is not adequate when it comes to these kinds of weather extremes,” Joshua Rhodes, a University of Texas energy expert, tells Axios.

Keep reading... Show less

"We must go further": 70% of adults in European Union are fully vaccinated

About 70% of adults in the European Union are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said Tuesday.

Why it matters: The milestone makes the E.U. one of the world's leaders in inoculations, after an initially lagging vaccine campaign, the New York Times notes.

Keep reading... Show less

What Elizabeth Holmes jurors will be asked ahead of fraud trial

Jury selection begins today in USA v. Elizabeth Holmes, with the actual jury trial to get underway on Sept. 8.

Why it matters: Theranos was the biggest fraud in Silicon Valley history, putting both hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of patients' health at risk.

Keep reading... Show less

Insights

mail-copy

Get Goodhumans in your inbox

Most Read

More Stories