Show an ad over header. AMP

I am the FIRST

Inside the Biden administration as Afghanistan collapses

The Taliban has stunned even some seasoned military and national security officials in the U.S. government with the speed of its conquests over the past week, sources with direct knowledge of the developments tell Axios.

Why it matters: President Biden isn't budging — resolved to get out by Aug. 31, no matter what — people briefed on his thinking say. He may not see much of a pause between his total withdrawal from Afghanistan and the country's total collapse into a bloody civil war.

Driving the news: "I do not regret my decision," Biden told reporters Tuesday. "We spent over a trillion dollars, over 20 years. We trained and equipped with modern equipment over 300,000 Afghan forces ... they've got to fight for themselves."

Behind the scenes: Senior U.S. officials privately express little confidence in the Afghan security forces, citing military incompetence, disorganization and poor communications skills rendering them unable to adequately coordinate U.S. air support to protect territory against the Taliban.

  • It's unclear what advice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley will give to President Biden on whether the U.S. should continue airstrikes against the Taliban after Aug. 31. The Pentagon declined to comment.

A former senior U.S. intelligence officer with extensive experience in the region said even if Biden were to later want to change course and authorize a significant post-withdrawal air campaign, doing so from outside Afghanistan's borders would be expensive and logistically difficult.

  • The source, who remains in touch with his former colleagues, said they were despondent and had accepted that Biden is "dug in" and that resistance is "futile."

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby, at a press conference on Monday, said of the Afghan security forces that "it's their country to defend now; this is their struggle."

What they're saying: Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Axios he discussed the situation in Afghanistan on Monday with Secretary of State Tony Blinken, and there's "no chance" Biden changes his troop withdrawal strategy.

  • The committee's chairman, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), told Axios he respects Biden but disagrees vehemently with the plan. "He doesn't want to have an endless war; I get that," Menendez said. "But I always thought that a contingency would have stemmed the tide... the president has to consider whether what's happening is what he envisioned."
  • Still, many Democrats support the withdrawal. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told Axios: "We need to be able as a nation to pivot to other contests that matter more than Afghanistan… this is proof positive that Afghanistan is beyond saving."

The intrigue: A Biden State Department spokesperson told Axios that Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. envoy, is in Doha, where the Taliban has its political office, to "press the Taliban to stop their military offensive and to negotiate a political settlement."

  • "If the Taliban continue down this path," the spokesperson added, "they will be an international pariah without support from the international community or even the people they say they want to govern."
  • Asked about that, the Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Axios: "We have never yielded to any foreign pressure tactics before and we do not plan to capitulate any time soon either."

Between the lines: People who've worked at the highest levels on this issue say it's long past time to admit the peace process has failed.

  • Lisa Curtis, a former senior NSC official who sat alongside Khalilzad during the Trump administration's negotiations with the Taliban, called on the Biden administration to "end its feckless calls for the Taliban to engage in peace talks when it's crystal clear they have no interest in a peaceful settlement."
  • "Instead, the administration should lead an effort at the UN to slap sanctions on key Taliban leaders for the atrocities they are committing against civilians, such as the assassination of the government media chief last Friday.
  • "While such sanctions may have little material impact, they would help deny the Taliban international legitimacy," she added. "On the other hand, standing by idly and doing nothing but pleading with the Taliban to enter negotiations only serves to legitimize them and their brutal behavior."

Alayna Treene and Margaret Talev contributed to this report.

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



Get Goodhumans in your inbox

Most Read

More Stories