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Who Gets to Leave Afghanistan?

Western powers are divided on how to deal with a possible refugee exodus as the Taliban regain control.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks about the Taliban’s takeover.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks about the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan from the East Room of the White House in Washington on Aug. 16. Brendan Smialowski/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Western powers debate offering refuge to Afghans following Taliban takeover, Malaysia’s prime minister resigns, and Lebanon might have a new government.

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Biden Defends Afghanistan Withdrawal

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Western powers debate offering refuge to Afghans following Taliban takeover, Malaysia’s prime minister resigns, and Lebanon might have a new government.

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


Biden Defends Afghanistan Withdrawal

U.S. President Joe Biden said he stands “squarely behind” his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan in remarks prompted by the rapid takeover of the country by Taliban forces in recent days.

Speaking to reporters assembled in the East Room at the White House, Biden set out the strategic case for U.S. withdrawal while laying the blame for the Taliban’s victory squarely with the Afghan National Security Forces. “We gave them every chance to determine their own future,” Biden said. “What we could not provide them was the will to fight for that future.”

As Foreign Policy’s Michael Hirsh writes in a critique of the conventional wisdom emerging from the Taliban turnaround, Biden’s attempt to head off domestic criticism may prove effective in part because the setback happened far enough in advance of U.S. midterm elections for it to fade from the minds of voters.

In Kabul, U.S. authorities in control of Hamid Karzai International Airport have resumed evacuation flights after a brief suspension caused by hundreds of Afghans storming the tarmac. At least seven people died in the ensuing chaos, including two people who were reportedly shot by U.S. forces after firing weapons, and others who fell from a departing plane after grabbing on as the plane took off.

Coming to America? As evacuations continue, the fate of thousands of Afghans who now find themselves at risk of Taliban retribution hangs in the balance. In his Monday speech, Biden said he would expand refugee access to include those Afghans who worked for U.S. nongovernmental organizations and U.S. news agencies. Biden did not say how many Afghans would be affected by the expansion.

They join as many as 50,000 Afghans eligible for special immigrant visas (SIV) who have yet to leave the country. On Monday, Defense Intelligence director Garry Reid, the official responsible for coordinating the U.S. Defense Department’s evacuation effort, said on Monday that plans are in place to fly as many as 22,000 SIV applicants to two military bases within the United States.

As thousands of people attempt to leave for the United States, other countries are offering to take in Afghan refugees. Canada has said it would resettle 20,000 Afghan citizens while the United Kingdom is to announce its plans to accept Afghan refugees in the coming days.

Europe’s divisions. France and Germany—where leaders face far-right challenges in upcoming elections—have taken different approaches, setting the tone for an emergency meeting of EU foreign ministers today. French President Emmanuel Macron said Europe “must anticipate and protect ourselves against major irregular migratory flows” in the wake of Afghanistan’s collapse, adding France was ready to “do its duty to protect those who are most at risk.”

Armin Laschet, who hopes to become Germany’s next chancellor, drew a distinction between his approach and his Christian Democratic Union party colleague Angela Merkel’s efforts to resettle 1 million Syrians in 2015. “We should not send the signal that Germany can take in everyone in need,” Laschet said on Sunday. “The focus must be on humanitarian aid on site, unlike in 2015.”

Good neighbors. If historical patterns are any indication, the bulk of any refugee exodus will fall on Afghanistan’s neighbors. Of the 2.6 million Afghan refugees registered by the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, 1.4 million refugees are in Pakistan while 780,000 refugees are in Iran.


What We’re Following Today

Haiti’s earthquake aftermath. Haitian authorities have warned of a rising death toll from Sunday’s 7.2 magnitude earthquake as rescue workers continue to search for survivors; 1,419 people have been confirmed dead in the disaster, which injured some 6,900 people and destroyed a further 37,312 houses, according to government figures. Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry has vowed to accelerate the provision of aid to the worst-hit areas, pledging to “multiply efforts tenfold” in the coming days. Henry also promised not to repeat the mistakes made by international relief agencies after Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, which critics say largely bypassed the needs of Haitians.

Muhyiddin resigns. Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin resigned on Monday after he lost his parliamentary majority, making his 17 months in office the shortest of any Malaysian premier. King Al-Sultan Abdullah will keep Muhyiddin in his post in a caretaker capacity until a new government can be formed but ruled out a new election as the country battles a wave of coronavirus infections. Muhyiddin blamed his loss of support on his refusal to drop corruption charges against members of the United Malays National Organisation, which includes former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.


Keep an Eye On

China’s black sites. A Chinese woman has alleged China is running a secret detention site in Dubai, according to the Associated Press—the first evidence of the country operating an overseas “black site.” The woman, Wu Huan, said she was detained for eight days in the Chinese-run detention site and heard voices of two Uyghur detainees while in the facility. Wu was released, she said, after being forced to sign legal documents that claimed her fiancé, a Chinese dissident, was harassing her. Both the Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry and Dubai police have denied Wu’s account.

Lebanon’s government. Lebanese President Michel Aoun hopes a new government will be formed within “a couple days” after he met with Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati over the makeup of his prospective cabinet.

On Sunday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah urged the formation of a new government within days to prevent a further slide into anarchy. Nasrallah’s worries were shared by U.S. ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea. “Every day that goes by without an empowered government committed to and able to implement urgently needed reforms is a day in which the already dire situation slides further into humanitarian catastrophe,” Shea said following a fuel tank explosion in northern Lebanon on Sunday that killed at least 28 people.


Odds and Ends

Geronimo, an 8-year-old alpaca—whose death sentence has galvanized tens of thousands of people in the United Kingdom and around the world in his defense—has been granted a stay of execution, the animal’s owner said on Monday, after a judge ruled more evidence could be presented in the alpaca’s case. The animal’s plight has been championed by Labour Party leader Keir Starmer as well as the father of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Geronimo had been slated for execution by the U.K. Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) due to an apparent bovine tuberculosis infection. His owner, Helen MacDonald, says the test that confirmed his disease is defective and throws up false positives. Bovine tuberculosis usually causes dramatic weight loss, whereas MacDonald maintains Geronimo is healthy and in fact “really quite fat.”

Supporters have formed a human chain around Geronimo’s pen to thwart authorities seeking to do Geronimo harm. Monday’s decision now means MacDonald will have another day in court, but the alpaca may still be killed in the interim as DEFRA only agreed to not enforce the culling order for one more day. “That seems both mean and petty to me as it means they could turn up tomorrow morning. We have asked the court to issue an injunction as a matter of urgency,” MacDonald said.

Correction, Aug. 17, 2021: The Chicago Council on Global Affairs conducted a recent poll on Afghanistan withdrawal; the Aug. 16 newsletter misstated the organization’s name.

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

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