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Afghanistan Evacuations Continue As Deadline Approaches

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>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Welcome to Noon Edition on WFIU. I'm your host, Bob Zaltsberg, hosting today with WFIU's news bureau chief Sara Wittmeyer. We're talking with our guests about the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Taliban's quick takeover. And we will be talking with them about those issues and also about the two suicide bombers that killed - I think the death toll has risen to over 170 people - yesterday outside of the airport gates. The two guests we're talking to today are Todd Burkhardt, who's a retired infantry lieutenant colonel in the United States Army. He worked with the Afghan National Army. And also Nazif Shahrani, an Afghan scholar and anthropology professor at IU. You can follow us on Twitter at @noonedition and send your questions there and you can also send us your questions to Well, thank you very much - both of you - for joining us. I mean, the news coming out of Afghanistan has been pretty grim for a while now, but certainly over the last couple of weeks. I wanted to start with lieutenant colonel Todd Burkhardt first. Thank you for joining us today. And I just wanted to get your - sort of your overall take on what's going on. I know you invested a lot of time and energy in Afghanistan, probably have some emotions roiling through your body and your brain right now. What's it been like watching what's going on? 

>>TODD BURKHARDT: Yeah. Hey, first, just want to say thank you for the opportunity, really appreciate it. I did spend some time in Afghanistan working with Afghan National Army Special Operations Command working with commandos and special forces all across Afghanistan. I think it's been a rollercoaster of emotions this last week, which really - after yesterday - became incredibly tragic. And I think the mood has significantly changed from I think the beginning - I think last Sunday. I do have friends in Afghanistan, both Afghan officers and interpreters - translators that I worked with that I've been desperately trying to get out of Afghanistan. And it's overwhelming because so many Afghans who worked with U.S. and coalition forces will not get out. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: I want to ask the same question to Professor Shahrani. As you watch this, what are your just - just your overall views? 

>>NAZIF SHAHRANI: Thank you very much, Mr. Zaltsberg, for inviting me to this forum. Obviously, tragedy is immense for the people of Afghanistan. I obviously feel for American citizens, particularly soldiers who lost their lives yesterday, and I understand there are some Hoosiers who are also serving at this time at the airport. And one thing that you have to remember - that the reports are only talking about the two bombs that happened at the airport. There were other bombs in western part of Kabul in an area named Koht-e Sangi where a magnetic bomb was apparently placed on Taliban pickup truck, which also exploded. And there have been other incidents as well. So what this is telling us - it's the beginning of, essentially, another phase of warfare in Afghanistan. The people of Afghanistan are on edge. They are suffering in ways that we cannot really imagine. The fear is pervasive in the entire country. We're talking only about the small segment who may be able to get out or are being helped by the United States and other countries get out, but we're going to be leaving, essentially, close to 35, 40 million people in the country in a perdition that has been created by Taliban and with our help. We started fighting them 20 years ago and then leaving the country to them 20 years later is nothing but a tragedy, if anybody wishes to imagine that. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right. Thank you both for those opening comments. Colonel Burkhardt, so, you know, with time that you spent there, how - is this surprising to you, I guess, would be my question? How did you think that this - did you think this could be a successful operation and are you surprised that it's ending in such a way? 

>>TODD BURKHARDT: Yeah. That - you know, that's a hard one. I mean, I was there when - I left in 2014. And so I think, in a lot of ways, we were incredibly optimistic. I worked with the elite of the elite of the Afghan forces, so the commandos and special forces who really did the lion's share of the fighting. And I think a lot of people don't realize there's tens of thousands of Afghan soldiers that have died over the last 20 years fighting for the legitimacy of their government and the rule of law and freedoms and security. And so had tremendous opportunity working with a group of soldiers that really cared, right? And cared about their family and their - and the future of their families. I think, on a large scale, a lot of big issues that really undermined the ability for the military to be really a stand-alone military - the supply and logistical systems are incredibly complex, especially for the United States, and to try to implement maybe the same type of system in Afghanistan where infrastructure is crude and rudimentary, there's hardly any rail, even highway systems are really inadequate for our country of that size. And so I think just a matter of just regular supplies of food, ammunition, clothing, uniforms, boots, pay even - some of these soldiers, you know, lived incredibly austere and spartan lives. So I think that undermined in the ability for an army to be effective, one. I also think that probably the Trump deal with the Taliban in I think it was February of 2020 helped really undermine the legitimacy of the government of Afghanistan as well where the Afghanistan government wasn't even invited to the table because the Taliban said no. And I think we all know, based on that - the talks in Doha, 5,000 then Taliban soldiers were - or Taliban fighters were released, and also one of the founding members of the Taliban himself, Baradar - I don't know if I'm pronouncing that right - was also released. It was a moral victory. I think it was a victory to the psyche of the - against the psyche of the Afghan people. And I - and also, you know, I have to say, there is definitely corruption and hoarding within the government itself. And I think you take all these pieces in addition to information operation campaign that I think the Taliban executed quite well of telling people and showing people that there is an occupying force, you shouldn't follow the United States, the government is not legitimate, it's just being propped up and that the Taliban is going to be there forever. And I think you take these series of things and it can wear down the people and it definitely helped wear down the army. And I think those are significant contributing factors to the army sort of disintegrating over the last couple of months. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: So, you know, now we're in this - we're entering a phase here - we're going to - we're not going to talk too much about politics today, but we're entering a phase now where there's a lot of finger pointing going on. You just mentioned President - former President Trump's deal with the Taliban and how that could've gone wrong. There a lot of Republicans today just pointing at President Biden and saying that he didn't do the right thing and how he oversaw, as commander of chief - in chief, this last phase. You know, when you hear a lot of discussion about politics and about, you know, which politicians did right and which politicians did wrong, what does that - you know, what does that do to you as a soldier who served in Afghanistan? 

>>TODD BURKHARDT: Yeah. Thanks. I appreciate that question. Yeah. I mean, absolutely. And it is not to put the blame on any one administration. I think - and, you know, the Biden administration I think clearly messed up the withdrawal plan. There's no doubt. I - not really understand why they would have the military leave and then still have ten - you know, nine to 10 thousand U.S. citizens still in Afghanistan and then have to redeploy the military back in. So there definitely - seems to be that the planning process for the evacuation or the noncombatant evacuation operation - the NEO was not really thought through and this administration is now being reactive versus being able to have the enemy being reactive. I - you know, it's interesting, over the last 20 years, with four different administrations from the Bush administration to the Obama to the Trump to the Biden administration, it seemed to me through the years that no administration really knew what to do with this. No empire has ever been successful in Afghanistan. I mean, the Greeks, the Brits, the Russians and the U.S. - you know, we've all failed. It's - and so incredibly hard place. And Nazif can talk much more about, you know, tribalism and just the way the country is comprised. But I think, in a lot of ways, there was never a multilateral political solution to the issues that were there and it sort of fell upon the military to kind of figure out what makes sense and how to make it work and what - and develop a course of action. And with each president it seemed, well, hopefully the next administration can figure out what to do with Afghanistan, and that was a shame. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Yeah. I wanted to follow up on that with Shahrani. You know, as a - just as a citizen and someone who's followed the news - you know, I followed - I'm old enough to have followed the news when the Soviets were in Afghanistan and were there for about nine years and nothing good came from that. And then, you know, the U.S. went in. We may have had good, legitimate reasons for going in, but now we've been there for 20 years. Why is it so difficult to to accomplish something militarily in the country of Afghanistan? 

>>NAZIF SHAHRANI: Because the problem in Afghanistan and terror's problem as a whole is not just a problem of security. It's fundamentally a political problem that the United States, from George W. on, essentially wished not to consider. Instead, they turned it into a security problem. And security problems here in the United States we're all familiar with is basically going to war - war on poverty, war on crime, and then war on terrorism. And we have fought and then it at the end our political leaders have told us, oh, there is no political solution - I mean military solution to this. It must be resolved politically. What would have happened 20 years ago if this criminal act that was committed by Al Qaeda in New York and Washington - seen as a criminal act and treated as one. And crime - a war on crime hasn't worked and it shouldn't have been attempted again. We should have let the courts do it. But that did not happen and we went to war. We have spent a couple of trillion dollars by some accounts and we have - we're counting our own debt, which are now coming to about 2,413 American soldiers or maybe a little more. But we're not - we're forgetting how many hundreds of thousands of Afghans have been killed and their country destroyed. And if we had, in fact, looked at it as a political problem, we would not have partnered with thieves and kleptocrats in Afghanistan, people who were already known to have shady characters and people who were also - that we empowered - representing the United States of Afghanistan - were, in fact, partners in crime with Taliban. They were already business partners. Zal Khalilzad, who was representing - sent as a special envoy of George W. had consulting relationship with Taliban in their first round of rule in the 1990s. But he was sent there to negotiate - to become special envoy of the president and then ambassador of the United States of America. He is a tribesman in Afghanistan, and colonel Burkhardt referred to that. Tribalism, particularly Pashtun tribalism in Afghanistan, is something that has been part of the problem in the country because members of this particular tribe who have been governing the elites of Afghanistan have essentially claimed special privileges to them and they have discriminated against other communities in Afghanistan who were non-Pashtun, whether they're Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and others - have suffered for the last 140 years because the - a bunch of tribal elites from the Pashtun community have been first supported by Britain, installed, in fact, as leader of that country with British weapons and British money, and then later on by the Soviets, after that with Pakistanis, in the last 20 years by us, the United States of America. We did not really wish to create a proper governance in Afghanistan. If we had, I assure you, the Taliban would be in power today. They did not, in fact, do much for the first four years of our intervention because they were destroyed very quickly with only about two, 300 American soldiers on the ground. The rest were done by the local population. And then what we did? We basically - instead of helping create a better government system, we kept sending troops, keep sending troops and then took the war to Iraq. So there is something seriously wrong with our foreign policy. And I should also mention, Washington Post published six-part series on how American government deceived the people of the United States in their war in the United States in 2019. Who took notice of that? No one. So our problem is really this was fundamentally a political problem, it needed a political solution. And there was a reasonable solution suggested repeatedly by me and many others. Nobody took it seriously. We went on a war and people made lots of money, particularly those who are a part of the military industrial complex, and the - especially the ones who were making weapons, selling weapons and serving the military. A lot of these $2 trillion was spent right here in the United States, not in Afghanistan. Some of that reached the kleptocrats there who filled their pockets and kept deceiving both their own people and the United States of America. So we're really talking about a phenomenal deception - political deception now that's gone on. You know, when soldiers are sent, they do their job. And indeed, as Colonel Burkhardt said, the special forces of Afghanistan were very well-trained, well-equipped and so forth. But why did they fail? Because of their political leadership didn't exist, people did not trust them, people are fed up with them and Taliban also took advantage of that saying, look what America has brought to us, a bunch of thieves running the country who are dishonest or stooges who are this, that, the other. And it's not difficult for people to understand that. But the problem is Taliban are also equally hated, so that there was - there was and there is a serious crisis of leadership - political leadership in Afghanistan. And unfortunately, we here in the United States have also suffered from the same problem crisis of leadership in the White House for the last 20 years, at least having to do with the war in Afghanistan and many other wars that they have indulged in. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: Yeah. President Biden, you know, did issue an apology yesterday for saying - no, he was following through on something that the two presidents prior to him had promised to do and hadn't done, but even he was surprised by how this has turned out. I'm curious, professor Shahrani, just - are you surprised with how quickly this really turned into chaos? Some of the cell phone footage and different things we're seeing is just - it's horrible. 

>>NAZIF SHAHRANI: Not really. If you look at the political mess that Afghanistan is, first of all, we had funded to the tune of nearly $4 million - billion dollars a year - now, apparently, around $3.3 million - creating this security force of 350,000. Most of them were ghost soldiers, apparently. They did not exist in reality, but they were on paper. And our taxpayer's money was taken by the officers who run this army in pockets. And as Colonel Burkhardt also suggested, in many cases soldiers who were on the ground were not properly fed, their salaries were not paid because their officers pocketed the money. And the political class were also in league with them. And what also happened in the last few weeks was there was a lot of pressure on Ashraf Ghani, the president who fled the country, to resign. He did not want to resign. So what he did - and his opponent, as it were, Zal Khalilzad who was in Doha negotiating with the Taliban - he apparently reportedly ordered some of the contingents - military contingents in the provinces not to fight, so - and let the ground to Taliban. So if Taliban takes more territory, maybe he will be able to force Ghani to resign, which may have in some ways happened. But by that time Ghani realized that he was not going to stay in power, he also encouraged immediately to really give a kick - a real kick in the tooth for - to Khalilzad as well as to U.S. and NATO forces. He also encouraged his military officers, particularly Pashtun military officers throughout the country and particularly in the north to not fight, leave their weapons and let the Taliban come and take over. And and the consequence of that was this utterly unexpected fall of Kabul and the entire country so rapidly that Taliban didn't know also - did not expect and did not know what to do. In 10, 12 days now they have not been able to form a government or do much of anything. And at the same time, it put the United States, NATO and everyone else in a position that they have to scramble and that they have also made more misjudgments in managing the crisis that was created essentially by Ghani. And Ghani is going to - has been - allegedly, come out of the country with $169 million. And this is a criminal act by any account. It would be good if somebody, in fact, asked them or returned them to some kind of international court or Afghan court to be tried for what he has done and what Khalilzad has also done in terms of foreign policy of this country. He has been responsible, for the last 20 years and earlier, for much of what this country has done. Has anybody asked them why this mess - and anyone who falls short in any job to the extent that this man has done, he should be called to account. Is the United States Senate ready and willing to ask him to account for why our policies have failed so badly. For one, we - he was responsible for legitimizing this very well - terrorist group. Hey - everybody knew that they were terrorists, but he legitimized them and brought them into an agreement with the United States - a peace agreement with the United States and legitimized them as a political force. And now they have been let loose once again on the people of Afghanistan. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: If you have a question or a comment for our guests today - and that one who was talking was IU professor Nazif Shahrani. He's an Afghan scholar and anthropology professor at IU. Our other guest is retired infantry lieutenant colonel Todd Burkhardt - Todd's with the U.S. Army. If you have questions for them, you can send them to us at and you can also follow us on Twitter and send us questions there at @noonedition. Sara? 

>>NAZIF SHAHRANI: (Speaking non-English language). 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: Todd - or colonel Burkhardt. 

>>TODD BURKHARDT: Yeah. Yeah, go ahead. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: I know at the beginning of the... 

>>TODD BURKHARDT: Please call me Todd. Yeah. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: ...Oh, OK. At the beginning of the program, you were talking about some of your friends and former colleagues who are still in Afghanistan and... 


>>SARA WITTMEYER: ...Won't be able to get out. I was wondering if you could... 


>>SARA WITTMEYER: ...Just talk a little bit about that and how - you know, obviously, it's a very dangerous situation there even though they have resumed these evacuations today. 

>>TODD BURKHARDT: Yeah. Yeah, it's absolutely heart-wrenching. Let me just say this because I didn't get a moment at the beginning just to say my heart and prayers goes out to the Marines and Navy corpsman that were killed yesterday along with the Afghan civilians. From my understanding, a lot of the casualties were actually children, and so my heart breaks for the Marines that we lost and also for the Afghan civilians that were murdered yesterday in the attacks by ISIS-K. But I have to say that our military is doing a phenomenal job over there of doing combat operations and humanitarian operations at the same time. The amount of tens of thousands of people that have been evacuated from Kabul or H Kaya Karzai International Airport is absolutely amazing. Speaking - so I am working with a few of my counterparts that I got to know incredibly well when I was in Afghanistan. As I mentioned, a couple of them are Afghan special operations officers and a couple of them are interpreters. And I - it's been hard and it's been difficult and, you know, WhatsApp is a great source in order to communicate and talk in real time with my counterparts over there. I have to say, there - there's a - I think what happened last Sunday when Kabul fell, veterans and contractors and former agency people who had worked in Afghanistan along with other great civilians who've worked with NGOs - non-governmental organizations over there all started trying to figure out what we can do to get people out because it didn't seem like the United States had a plan for people that we promised - I promised people, right? That, you know, they worked for us, they put their own lives and their families lives in jeopardy for years working with us. And so to make a promise to somebody and - that we have your back and then it seems like where we're leaving and it was - I mean, honestly, to be frank, it was like, deuces, we're out. And I - it's hard for me to reconcile something like that after, you know, being there and, you know, just being in some amazing harrowing times with Afghans and U.S. soldiers being killed. And so there's some amazing groups that had come together in the last week. And I just want to say to Team America, Digital Dunkirk, No One Left Behind, Ark Salus, Arklift - Airlift 21 - these are all groups that stood out there that are made - are comprised of veterans, civilians, former agency folks and contractors that are working together with people who are in Kabul, in Afghanistan to try to get people out - SIV applicants and others because it didn't seem like our government really had a solid plan to do that. And so I have been working with these - all these different organizations as a way to get some of the - my friends and contacts out. It's been incredibly difficult. And I think, with the attacks yesterday, I'm still in the process of trying to help people get out of Kabul and, from my understanding and contacts, a lot of things have shut down and significantly slowed down compared a way - compared to the way it was prior to the attacks. I know now that there is more of an emphasis on blue card - blue passport holders and green card holders and I don't really know regarding people who are S - have SIVs - if they're - we're going to make it by the deadline by the August 31, which is just - which is sad. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Could you explain what those three different things are? 

>>TODD BURKHARDT: Yeah, I'm sorry. So, of course, if there's U.S. citizens still in Kabul, of course, we have - our passports are blue, so we just call - you know, blue passports, right? And so if you're a blue passport holder, U.S. citizen, front of the line, you're - a way to get you to the airport, hopefully you're in communication, not supposed to a gate - go to a gate but - because it's - they can't protect your safety there. But there are operations going on now where special operators or others are trying to go into Kabul to locate some of those that have been in contact - right? - through U.S. embassy or other channels. A green card - right? - that you have - you are a resident of the United States legitimately, just you're not a citizen yet. And so my understanding, yeah, both of those are the - the only priority right now are both those holders. The SIV special immigrant visa holders - those are our Afghan counterparts that worked with us over the last 20 years - a lot of them have applied. It's a long, lengthy process that I think was incredibly slowed down through the Trump administration. And I can tell stories about that some other time, some of the issues I were - had personally as I tried to help my friends with their SIV applications. I think it's 14 steps and it's so bureaucratic and full red tape that me as somebody who speaks English and lived in this country my whole life I find the process incredibly overwhelming. And so anybody who an SIV, Special Immigrant Visa or has already applied for one, my understanding now is that that is not the priority for exfiltration or to get into the airport. My understanding is that it might be they'll continue to work the process but it might be after the August 31 and I don't know exactly what that what that means for those friends and their families. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Can you just explain what's at stake for these folks if they can't get out? 

>>TODD BURKHARDT: Yeah and Professor Shahrani can probably talk a lot more in-depth than me but I will just say I - so there is no - I mean people. Here's an interesting story right is when I served in Afghanistan after Afghan soldiers went through a lead training to become an Afghan commando or Afghan special forces upon graduation of these incredibly hard demanding courses. They were given a week or two of R and R, rest relaxation or leave. You know they go back home to their to their small village or town. They weren't allowed to leave the compound or the base with their uniform for fear of being murdered or reprisals against their families. And so I can't even imagine living in a country - I mean I'm incredibly proud of my three decades of service and as an active duty Army officer and I can't imagine living in a country that is so insecure that you can't - unsecure that you cannot wear a uniform back home. So it's heart wrenching where women right will not go and not have the opportunity for any type of education except probably the interpretation of what the Taliban says is the Koran. Same with girls and also just simple things of you have to return to Afghan national clothing dress. My interpreter friends were wearing more I guess contemporary clothing quick had a switch to blend in. And if you're not dressed appropriately or even if women are on the street people get whipped. You get beat. And so I think it's a regime full of brutality, Sharia law. And I - and you know, just last thing we're talking about friends that are in Kabul trying to get out. But what about the people who engage with their lives for years working with U.S. and coalition forces that are in Herat or in Helmand or in Kandahar or in Jalalabad or in Mazar e Sharif which are hundreds of miles away from Kabul. They ain't never getting out. And that's truly tragic, 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: I think Professor Shahani might want to weigh in on that as well that would be good to hear your thoughts on what is going to be like for the citizens who are left. 

>>NAZIF SHAHRANI: Let me say this. President Biden has given up on Afghanistan. That's what he decided to do. And he tested the security forces of Afghanistan and the government of Afghanistan and unfortunately both of them failed the test. But the people of Afghanistan have not given up. They're going to fight and they're going to fight Taliban for as long as it takes. And there is in fact a movement already underway in Pansheed by the son of the former hero of resistance against the Taliban, Ahmad Massod. His young son who is about 30 31 years old is named Atmar, also Atmar Masood. And a lot of former special forces soldiers in some of their weapons have made their way to find shade and a lot of other resistance fighters have also been shaved. And there are also attachments inside the country especially in the mountains in the north to organize resistance against the Taliban. So it's sort of on will not be left to terrorize the country although some of them are trying to come out is Colonel Burkhart as mentioned. And how many of them can we bring up really? I mean we have affected millions of people hundreds hundreds and hundreds of thousands of them directly working with us or indirectly being involved with what we did during the last 20 years. So to focus on bringing out people from Afghanistan and feel good that we have rescued some but leave the rest under Taliban control is really a moral challenge that we as citizens of this great country have to face. And our foreign policy makers also have to face. It's going to be disastrous for the people of - people who will be left behind under the control of Taliban. Taliban have said in the last few days that they are going to give amnesty to everybody. They are not going to take revenge. They are not going to restrict women and so forth. All of these have been false. All of them. They have in fact been killing. They have been taking revenge on people. And they have been searching people's homes and arresting them hanging them shooting them. And woman have not been allowed to go to their work. If they have appeared there, they have been essentially told to go home. We will pay your salary although that salary doesn't exist yet because there is no money for them to pay anybody. They cannot. And one of the other remarkable things that has happened in the last five years of Ashraf Lanny's reign in Afghanistan was to digitize the government files the bank funds everything. And apparently a lot of those people who knew how to operate with this new digital system are no longer in the work positions. So Taliban have not been able to open the banks. They have not been able to make ministries and government offices to work. And that's part of the challenge that that they are faced with. It's not Afghanistan of 20 years ago. Not only that. We have a bulging population of young people. 65 to 70 percent of today's population of somewhere estimate - again because there never has been census allowed to be taken in Afghanistan of 35 to 40 million or below the age of 25. And bulk of them are people who have been in fact benefiting from education in the last 20 years and other freedoms. 

>>: A lot of them have joined the NGOs. A lot of them I've worked for media. They're very media savvy and the social media of Afghanistan today is amazing and that they have been also demanding that they want a different kind of governance system not to the old centralized or extra centralized government where the president constitutionally had the right to appoint every governor, every commander, every civil servant essentially directly or indirectly and that people did not have the right to elect any of their political officers or even recruit their own civil servants. So this is the challenge of Afghanistan and people in Afghanistan are now demanding that not only inclusive government but also a government that is decentralized and it's based on the principles of community self governance. What we have been practicing right here in Bloomington in Indiana in the rest of the United States. Why are we making exceptions that people in the Middle East or Muslims are not like us who could not govern themselves? People in Afghanistan can, thank you very much, govern themselves if they are allowed. They have not been allowed because the governments that have been empowered have been given weapons and given money by outsiders and imposed on their own people who have not allowed them to govern themselves this is what they use and what Ahmad Masood and his group in Panjshir you know demanding right now and they are in negotiation with Taliban. Will Taliban except those demands? I doubt it. If they are not going to essentially concede the wish of the people of Afghanistan, I'm afraid we're into another decades of war maybe without the United States. But I doubt that it would be without the United States either because China and Russia are embracing Taliban. And they are in fact closing in to side with the Taliban in which case we may have to in the name of the interests of the United States in the region and so forth. I have to go back and support those who are going to be supporting the Taliban in their horrible criminal regime so that - we may have to in some ways be back in there. But it would have been much better if we had indeed approached this problem of terrorism not just in Afghanistan but globally. It's a political problem that needs to be addressed. And it cannot be addressed by war. And we have been proven that there is no military solution to these problems. So when are we going to come to senses and say it's a political problem and let's look for political solutions in that they can be found if we try? 

>>TODD BURKHARDT: Professors Shahrani I just want to add one more thing if I could Bob on that. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Absolutely. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: When Professor Shahrani was talking about the Taliban you know just getting WhatsApp texts and voice text from my friends over there you know the Taliban - you know of course you you'll see this on the media because the only place where the media is located is right around the airport of course but there are definitely cases of Taliban door to door and finding commandos who did the lion's share of the fighting against the Taliban and killing them, hanging them. And also a lot of Afghans trying to make their way to the gates. This is prior to the attack. This is last week I'm talking about - were afraid to go through Taliban checkpoints because any documents in English were confiscated and also their names were written down on some list. So I guess if you don't make it out of the country, the Taliban has a list of people who you know collaborate with the United States. So just the sheer fear of trying to make it through Taliban checkpoints for good reason were a lot of reasons were some of the Afghans who had SIV applicants never even made it to the gate. 

>>NAZIF SHAHRANI: It's important also to mention in what a Colonel Burkhardt has said that the Taliban have in fact now found all the files digitized files and they may not be able to open them immediately but they have asked for Pakistanis and Pakistanis are in to help them essentially open these files and those files have the information on all the people who have served in the Afghan army in the last 20 years, or at least the last 10 years of it. So that's special forces, non-special forces - everybody has biotech information on those files and that they are in danger. 


>>NAZIF SHAHRANI: And so are a lot of other people because we have documented them so well it's when Taliban to go after them. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: Can you explain the significance of this August 31 deadline? Now that things have gotten so out of control, why are we still married to this August 31? 

>>TODD BURKHARDT: Yeah. I wish I really knew. I mean, it's an  -it's a self-imposed deadline that the Biden administration, you know, put the mark on the wall. The Taliban seem to like it, and now that had become their red line even before the attack yesterday by ISIS Khorasan. Yeah, I'm not really sure and I think, if any - I think the Biden administration is going to stick to that. I think, of course, it's incredibly - the situation is fluid. It's hard - your operates - U.S. soldiers and Marines are operating feet, you know, or a few meters away from Taliban forces, let alone, you know, a potential either suicide bomber or whatever the case may be. And so there's very high possibility for more U.S. casualties, and so I do think that the Biden administration - we are going to retrograde out on the 31 of August. I don't know exactly what that will look like, but I think it could look somewhat to, you know, the last helicopters leaving Saigon in 1975 with people storming the airport. My understanding that the State Department has said that - and the Department of Defense - that they're going to continue to work to get Afghans out that have helped us after the August 31 deadline. But I don't really know what that's going to look like and to what extent, especially if we don't have a presence there. So just definitely not sure. But my understanding is that the priority - the sole priority right now is on, as I mentioned, blue passports and green cards. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Todd, could you address the issue of - and I've seen it, you know, several places - people saying that, you know, after the war - World War II, you know, we left a base in Germany, we've got troops that stayed in Cuba - we have a base in Cuba, we have bases in a lot of places. Why wouldn't we leave some sort of force in Afghanistan? 

>>TODD BURKHARDT: Yeah. I mean, I agree with you. I think we should have, my own personal opinion. It's my understanding that both secretary of defense Austin and joint chairman - or chairman of the Joint Chiefs Milley both recommended that we leave a small military force that has intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities as long as a small strike package that could help the Afghan government. However, secretary of state and national security adviser - or secretary of state Blinken and national security adviser Sullivan recommended that we do a full withdrawal and President Biden agreed to that. But you're absolutely right. I mean, we've had troops in Japan since the end of the war, we've had people in Germany since the end of the Second World War. And we have U.S. soldiers and marines and sailors and special operations forces in over 100 different countries currently. And so a small presence, I think, would have made a lot of sense. The Biden administration says, hey, it has over-the-horizon capability to strike, and we do, right? We have one of the greatest, if not the greatest militaries in the world. I think the problem is, without having a presence in Afghanistan, we lose significant human intelligence capability. And as professor Shahrani said, the Taliban don't really have any semblance of how to run a government and a country, and so - and/or have security across all of the - Afghanistan, which is about the size of Texas. So how can the Taliban prevent ISIS-K - right? - developing and gaining capacity. or other terrorist organizations? And it could potentially be a hotbed for other insurgent groups, other terrorist organizations, where we're not going to have the presence or platforms located right there to deal with those as they emerge or even really realize about it because we're going to - we don't have the human intelligence anymore. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Well, I guess I want to ask both of you about that because, you know, we saw President Biden yesterday saying, you know, we don't forgive and we don't forget. We will find you and we will - you know, we will punish you, basically - the people that were responsible for the terrorist bombings yesterday. How do we do that? 

>>NAZIF SHAHRANI: That's a big question. Our politicians always make these promises, but how many of them are kept? The issue of our present military presence is well-documented in a book by Robert Kaplan. It's called "The Imperial Grunts." And it would be advisable if the audience looked it up. He documents that we are present militarily in more than 125 countries around the world, so why we should not be present in small numbers in Kabul is probably something that Zal Khalilzad cooked up with the Taliban. And again, politicians staking particular dates to get out without really consulting the military. In Afghanistan, in my judgment, the military personnel particularly the officers were far better in law informed about what was going on in the country, especially outside of Kabul. The diplomats in the embassy, while we had the largest embassy, were essentially cooped up behind the walls and knew virtually nothing about the reality outside of the compounds. And that's why they have made some of the worst decisions during this war. And if it was left to the military, we probably could have had some success but that was not to be. Again, the question of what we can do is I think more important under these circumstances, that we must support the people of Afghanistan particularly the (unintelligible), particularly somebody like Ahmad Massoud and his followers who are ready to fight against the Taliban and who are willing to defend the country. But we have to also work towards the possibility if Taliban are going to be running the country, that they would have to concede to having an inclusive government as well as decentralized government in allowing a full measure of the rights of woman according to the Koran. It's very important to remember Taliban are not referring to the Koran. They are calling Sharia. Sharia is something that is made up by human beings politically for convenience and for control. And much of what they refer to as Shariah, which was taught and Pakistani mothers say that are in fact not in the Koran. There is no support for them from the Koran. So we have to insist that the rights of women in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Muslim world should be on the basis of Koran, not Sharia - these historically constructed rules and regulations for the convenience of those who use Islam as a means of oppression in their own countries. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Todd, we have about two more minutes so I want to get your thoughts on that, too. 

>>TODD BURKHARDT: Yeah. Thank you. The - I would say we're probably going to see some strikes from, you know, an MQ-9 Reaper, a drone at some ISIS-K targets. I would say it might be three to six months from now. I think gaining the intelligence is incredibly hard. As I mentioned, we don't really have people we don't have a system anymore on the ground. Some of that will probably come through signal intelligence, through chatter, through phone, through text, through WhatsApp, right? And then trying to track that down. It's also incredibly hard this type of enemy, right? It's not like fighting a state or a, you know, another political sovereignty where, you know, there's a geographical location where that country is. This is a group that, you know, blends in, blends out, looks just like a civilian and then, you know, pretends they are. And then they murder people. So it's incredibly hard exactly to know where they operate out of. But I would think that based on intelligence and some - it will take some time, but I believe, you know, the Biden administration wants retribution for what happened yesterday. So there will be some strikes and hopefully they hit their target. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: In the last minute, we have, Todd, could you also talk about the dangers that the troops are still there facing because they certainly don't want someone like a suicide bomber to get on one of those planes? 

>>TODD BURKHARDT: It has to be so stressful. And I have to say I don't know what that's like to do a combat operation but at the same time do a humanitarian operation. I've done one or the other but never both combined. And so you are right next to people that you can smell them and feel their breath on your face as you're trying to pull them to safety and to freedom. And I think it has to be incredibly hard for our young men and women who in some ways this is going to stay with them the rest of their lives because they are helping select who makes it to freedom and who in a sense they literally have to close the door on. That has to be incredibly hard. Not only that. But then you have to be incredibly situationally aware the whole time where potential enemy looks like any other civilian - right? - dressed in, you know, Afghan clothing and underneath that clothing could be a bomb. So incredibly stressful, incredibly hard times but our military has done a phenomenal job. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Thank you very much to Todd Burkhardt, retired infantry lieutenant colonel of the United States Army and also national Nazif Shahrani, sorry, Afghan scholar and anthropology professor at IU. I want to thank my co-host Sara Wittmeyer, producers Holden Abshier and Bente Bouthier and engineer John Bailey. I'm Bob Zaltsberg. Thanks for listening to Noon Edition. 


Noon Edition airs on Fridays at noon on WFIU. 

Taliban forces quickly took control of Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, on Aug. 15, just two weeks before the U.S. removed all military personnel from the country.  At the time, President Biden was criticized for removing the U.S. military before Afghan allies.  

In recent weeks, more than 95,000 people have been evacuated, including 4,500 U.S citizens. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said more than 1,500 U.S. citizens remain in the country. 

Additionally, an unknown number of U.S. allies live far from Kabul and are unable to reach the airport, where thousands still await evacuation flights.  

Two suicide-bomb explosions Thursday near the crowded airport gates killed dozens of Afghan citizens and 12 U.S. troops.  

Many are concerned about the airport’s safety as President Biden’s deadline looms.  

This week, we're talking with an Afghan scholar and U.S. Army veteran about the current situation, and what it means for the future of that country.  

You can follow us on Twitter@NoonEdition or join us on the air by calling in at 812-855-0811 or toll-free at 1-877-285-9348. You can also send us questions for the show at 

Note-This week, our guests and hosts will participate remotely to avoid risk of spreading infection.  


Todd Burkhardt, retired infantry Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army 

Nazif Shahrani, Afghan scholar and anthropology professor, IU  

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