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The West Prepares for the Fall of Kabul

The Taliban’s rapid advance leaves only Kabul left to take, and Western powers don’t want to be there when it happens.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
A man looks through an IDP fence in Kabul.
Charyar, 70, from the Balkh province looks through a fence at a makeshift internally displaced persons camp in Shahr-e Naw Park to various mosques and schools in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 12. Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

Leaving Afghanistan

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The U.S. Defense Department announces an Afghanistan troop deployment to speed Kabul exit, Venezuela’s government and opposition talk in Mexico, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau plans a snap election. 

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U.S., U.K., and Canada Deploy Troops to Speed Kabul Exit

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The U.S. Defense Department announces an Afghanistan troop deployment to speed Kabul exit, Venezuela’s government and opposition talk in Mexico, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau plans a snap election. 

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

U.S., U.K., and Canada Deploy Troops to Speed Kabul Exit

Western powers appear to be preparing for the fall of Kabul after the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada all announced fresh troop deployments to help evacuate citizens and other residents of the Afghan capital on Thursday.

The United States will send 3,000 troops to secure Kabul’s international airport and mount an evacuation effort for U.S. embassy staff alongside Afghans with special visa status, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said. Separately, the United Kingdom announced plans to send 600 troops to retrieve its personnel while Canada will send special forces to assist in closing its Kabul embassy.

When asked why so many troops were being sent, Kirby called the move prudent preparation, adding: “We want to make sure that weve got enough on hand to adapt to any contingencies.

The deployment announcement came the same day the Taliban captured the city of Ghazni, bringing the group within 100 miles of Kabul. Herat, Afghanistan’s third-largest city, also fell into Taliban hands on Thursday along with the second-largest city of Kandahar—the Talibans birthplace—by early Friday, according to CNN reports.

Embassy worries. Amid the withdrawals, Washington is seeking assurances from the Taliban. The New York Times reports Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. envoy to Afghan peace talks, has asked the Taliban to spare the U.S. Embassy in any assault or risk forfeiting international aid funding for any future Afghan government. With the Taliban making diplomatic inroads with both Russia and China, future U.S. support may be less of a concern for the group.

U.S. support. Publicly, U.S. officials still back the Afghan government to hold on. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin spoke with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, telling him the United States remains “committed to maintaining a strong diplomatic and security relationship” with Afghanistan’s government, according to a readout. The State Department denied speculation the two officials had in fact advised Ghani to step aside.

As Western powers line up to leave, it’s difficult to overstate the tragedy of a situation where thousands of people have been killed, millions of people have become refugees, and trillions of dollars in resources have been burned—only for Afghanistan to end up where it started 20 years ago.

What We’re Following Today

Canada’s snap election. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau plans to call a snap election for Sept. 20, Reuters reports, as he seeks a mandate to move forward with plans to spend $80 billion in economic stimulus over three years. Polls currently put Trudeau’s Liberal Party of Canada comfortably ahead of his main rival, the Conservative Party of Canada, putting him in a strong position to regain the majority he lost in the 2019 elections.

Speaking on Monday, Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole said any snap election would be reckless during the country’s COVID-19 surge and was only being considered for Trudeau’s “own self-interest.” New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh has called the move “selfish” and an attempt at a “power grab.” Trudeau is expected to make an official announcement on Sunday.

Venezuela talks. Representatives from the Venezuelan government and its opposition are expected to meet today in Mexico for face-to-face talks, the first since 2019. Although expectations are low, both sides have something to gain from fruitful discussions: Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s government can make a better argument for sanctions relief if it can show it is serious about engaging with its opposition while the opposition can push for the release of political prisoners and seek promises that its candidates can run in upcoming regional elections.

Algeria’s wildfires. Declaring “the majority of fires are of criminal origin,” Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune announced the arrest of 22 suspected arsonists in connection with fires that have swept the country on Thursday. At least 69 people have been killed in the blazes, including 28 members of Algeria’s armed forces. As the fires burn for a fifth day, international help is arriving. France has sent two firefighting planes while Spain and Switzerland have also promised aircraft.

The fires have been exacerbated by record heat across the region. On Wednesday, the Italian island of Sicily recorded a temperature of 119.8 degrees Fahrenheit (48.8 degrees Celsius), which, if verified, would be a new European record.

Keep an Eye On

Iran’s new cabinet. Iran’s parliament is expected on Saturday to vote on whether to approve or reject Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s cabinet nominations. His choices include Hossein Amirabdollahian, a conservative career diplomat, for foreign minister; Javad Owji, a former head of Iran’s state-run natural gas company, for oil minister; and Gen. Mohammad Reza Ashtiani, a former deputy chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces, as defense minister.

Haiti’s election. A presidential election to choose the successor to slain President Jovenel Moïse will now take place on Nov. 7, authorities said on Thursday, a six-week delay from previous plans to hold a vote on Sept. 26. No reason has been given for the postponement. Meanwhile, police are no closer to uncovering the mastermind behind Moïse’s assassination despite detaining more than 40 suspects, roughly half of whom are Colombian mercenaries. Christian Emmanuel Sanon, a Florida-based doctor whom Haitian authorities initially accused of organizing the plot, has maintained his innocence.

Odds and Ends

Olympic officials are to issue a fresh gold medal to Japanese softball player Miu Goto after an overenthusiastic mayor took a bite of it during a courtesy call. Takashi Kawamura, the mayor of Nagoya, has since apologized for his behavior and offered to pay for the replacement himself. “I’m really sorry that I hurt the treasure of the gold medalist,” Kawamura said on Thursday. Although the International Olympic Committee has offered to cover the cost of a new medal, the old one likely survived the bite undamaged since Tokyo 2020’s gold medals are in fact 99 percent silver.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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