” … how long can the U.S. Embassy in Kabul stand?”

Stroking the sheep before slaughter

“The situation in Afghanistan is grim. An occupying army is withdrawing its last troops, bombs are besieging Kabul and the country appears on the verge of a civil war. U.S. diplomats believe they can’t count on the shaky Afghan government to survive, much less protect them.

It’s Jan. 30, 1989, two weeks until the last Soviet forces leave,and U.S. officials have just closed the American Embassy in Kabul, while promising “the United States will return.” But they wouldn’t reopen the diplomatic mission until January 2002, after the U.S. came back to Afghanistan with its own troops to topple the Taliban regime.

Today, the future of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul is once again in doubt. The last U.S. troops have left Bagram air base, the sprawling compound that has been the epicenter of the U.S. military presence there for the last two decades. And by the standards of an embassy “Emergency Action Plan,” parts of which were seen by POLITICO, U.S. diplomats already face a dire situation likely to worsen as a resurgent Taliban takes on a weak Afghan government.

Some U.S. intelligence estimates reportedly project that the government in Kabul could fall in as little as six months after the U.S. withdrawal, which could be finished in days. On a visit to Washington last month, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said his country faces an “1861 moment,” a reference to the dawn of the U.S. Civil War.” NY Times

Comment: Yup. The situation in Afghanland will coast along for a bit (a few months) as confidence slips away bit by bit. This will be somewhat akin to a brick wall rotten at the foot that leans under pressure. It leans slowly at first and then as the center of gravity is overtopped it leans faster and faster until it collapses in a welter of old bricks.

The remaining 300 or so US at Bagram will probably get out safely. The proximity of runways is always a good thing, but the infantry battalion (650 men) left to protect the cookie pushers at the embassy are really like tethered goats. If they are lucky the dips will find some way to surrender to the mob. This will be in the tradition of the Foreign Service war cry “Don’t shoot. Don’t shoot! They’ll kill us all!” pl


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44 Responses to ” … how long can the U.S. Embassy in Kabul stand?”

  1. Sam says:

    It makes no sense. Why don’t they close the embassy and get everyone out as part of the military withdrawal? It is inevitable that the current government will fall and more likely much sooner than the US government’s “experts” believe. The Tajiks and Pashtuns will be at it again.

    • Barbara Ann says:

      “The Tajiks and Pashtuns will be at it again.”

      We will see. The Taliban seems to have morphed from its ethno-tribal roots into a more inclusive national resistance force. Recent Taliban gains in the north of the country are far from its traditional heartland and it has been actively recruiting Tajiks to its ranks. Ironically, the presence of foreign forces and the almost inevitable corruption of the US-backed Kabul government has probably helped in these efforts.

      “Minority groups still make up a minority of the Taliban rank and file. But the inclusion of minorities speaks volumes about the Taliban’s strategy to forge national control and cause Kabul’s military and political collapse.”


      Maybe we’ll see a return to civil war, but I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a Taliban 2.0 strong enough to rule (as far as that is possible in such a place) after the inevitable collapse of the current central ‘authority’.

  2. Barbara Ann says:

    “Should you decide, as I trust you will, to go with us, you have my assurance of continued assistance in the post-settlement period and that we will respond with full force should the settlement be violated by North Vietnam.” – President Nixon’s letter to President Nguyen Van Thieu, January 5, 1973

    Nixon hosted Thieu and his wife in the WH 3 months later and the photo of Ghani and Biden above reminded me of this show of solidarity. Show is all it was, as we now know.

    Colonel, you mentioned Cavagnari and the Guides in your previous post on this topic. 650 is more than Cavagnari had, but without support I imagine they’d eventually succumb to the same fate. Surely with the specter of Benghazi still haunting them, State is done with goat tethering. Why invite its own 1879 moment – or a 1979 one for that matter?

  3. Suresh Syed says:

    Is it a tripwire like the Berlin Brigade?

    • Bill Roche says:

      The entire V Corp and 7th Army was a trip wire, but it had a chance as it had to be reckoned with. Colonel Lang notes the distance from the embassy to the airport. A very fast 10 minute drive. The dips need not be reckoned with. Best they leave prior to the bitter end. There will be no possible American withdrawal/rescue thereafter. Hurry, all this was clear after November.

      • Pat Lang says:

        Bill Roche

        IMO the dips will hang around until a really bad situation emerges. That 4.2 km is a short drive unless the road is ambushed or blocked or the airport is closed to you by the Taliban.

  4. Keith Harbaugh says:

    Other possible precedents are Mogadishu 1993 and Benghazi 2012.
    Now Kabul 2021?

  5. Ghost_Ship says:

    Soviet Union withdrew on February 15, 1989.
    President Najibullah resigned as Afghan president on 16 April 1992.
    “U.S. diplomats believe they can’t count on the shaky Afghan government to survive, much less protect them.”
    Funny, the Afghan government survived for three years.

  6. Ken Roberts says:

    Look at the body language! Should become a classic illustration for pop-psych books.

    Well, I certainly hope that Canada does its part to resettle (to Canada) Afghani famillies who have helped us so much. It is a matter of honour as well as working together. And, to be blunt, these are good people, who will make a positive contribution to our country.

  7. Pat Lang says:


    It is 4.2 km. from the embassy to Karzai International Airport.

  8. Fred says:

    “Stroking the sheep before slaughter”
    Which sheep, the Afghan’s or our State Department’s?

  9. aleksandar says:

    Six months ?
    3 max,
    Afghan army units have already began to surrender to talibans, most of the time with all their US stuff, an entire brigade yesterday
    The first provincial capital will fall before the end of this week, tsunami is coming

    I disagree about risks for US in Kabul.
    1 – Talibans are not so stupids as to provoke USA, in fact they are probably in the same mood they were before 09/11………”please forget us”.
    Us people will have to leave for sure but Talibans will organize it so nothing bad will happens.
    They have reached their objective according to pashtounwalli :
    “No armed foreigners allowed”
    2 – They have yet some other military problems to solve, warlords like Dostum in exemple.
    USA is already ” history “

    • Pat Lang says:


      We must plan for the worst eventuality, not hope for the best eventuality.

    • Mark Logan says:

      I too think there is a strong possibility the Taliban leadership could be reasonable on this matter. They’ve been at war for a generation too. Likely they just want it over, and we can plausibly tell them we will leave in peace but take your revenge on those embassy people and the USAF will take ours. However such matters easily slip into the hands of a mob which listens to no one. We should anticipate that possibility.

    • Eliot says:


      “Talibans are not so stupids as to provoke USA, in fact they are probably in the same mood they were before 09/11………”please forget us”.”

      What could be more enjoyable than humiliating the US?

      Humans are emotional.

      – Eliot

      • Pat Lang says:


        Yes. Aleksandr is IMO a Taliban symp who would love to see us lose our a-s. I suppose there is a chance that the marines will get the s–t job defending the embassy.

  10. BillWade says:

    Good luck to the GIs leaving! Hopefully better days lie ahead for y’all.

  11. Jimmy_w says:

    That Bibi Mahru road next to the embassy looks pretty straight, almost a mile long. Probably don’t even need a Credible Sport 3 to fly them out.


    • Pat Lang says:

      Jimmy W

      How many sorties in what size airplane? How many lampposts etc., will have to be taken down? How much of the road will have to be occupied?

  12. BillWade says:

    This brings back memories for me. I left DaNang on Mar 29th, 1973, the last day for GI’s allowed to be in Vietnam per the Paris treaty. I had spent the previous two weeks shredding papers by hand, we didn’t get it all done. The night before I asked my 2LT if we might not take the jeep downtown and have a few. He said “no, someone might steal the jeep”. I said, “well, I hope you aren’t going to lock the steering wheel, why not make it easy for them in the morning”. There were about 250 of us left and most left on two “Freedom Birds”, commercial airliners taking most of the troops to the USA. The NVA had some top generals there counting us as we left, some VC were there too along with UN troops including Canadians, Pakistanis and if I recall correctly Indians and Romanians. One last jeep went into DaNang proper and using bull horns gave a last call out to stragglers to get out to the airfield. I heard 17 didn’t show up, all presumed to be severe heroin addicts. Those of us not going stateside boarded smaller aircraft and headed to Thailand. My last thoughts when leaving while looking at some ARVN soldiers was “I wonder what they are thinking, this must be totally surreal to them”.

  13. TV says:

    Saigon redux?

    • Pat Lang says:

      Yes, not the end of the US withdrawal, more like the debacle two years later. The population of Kabul would likely stand by and watch, but there would be enough volunteers swept up in the moment to shoot at vehicles along the airport road and reinforce the Taliban and Al-Qa’ida. We would have to capture the airport as the evacuation would require many sorties of large fixed wing aircraft. Whether or not the generals you are always pissing on are up to that is anyone’s guess. Well, they can always bring in the Jedi Knights from Leavenworth again.

  14. Deap says:

    Any chance the Russians want to take over this territory again?

    What was their strategic intent the first time – in the last century that is when this chunk of real estate was no longer part of their Great Game with the British Empire?

    But they still wanted it and paid dearly in their attempt, for reasons I never understood – pushing a path to the warn water Indian Ocean eventually?

  15. SNS says:

    I served as a Marine Security Guard (Embassy Duty) from 1988-91. I had the option to go to Kabul in ’88 but I passed since the wait for a visa was 6-8 months. I ended up in Moscow instead.

    What should happen is that the Embassy will start to send out non-essential staff and dependents. I would guess that they could get by with less than 100 DOS personnel. With that number a couple of C-130s could get everyone out. Whether or not that is what will happen is a different story….

    • Pat Lang says:


      You know, of course, that there will be a lot of strap-hangers.

    • BillWade says:

      Top range for a C130 is about 2300 miles, any guesses where they would want to go to?

      • Tom says:

        I’d imagine that Oman would be one of the first places considered. We have basing rights there for a whole host of airbases as I recall.

    • JohninMK says:

      The US seems to be subcontracting to Turkey the protection of Kabul airport who in turn are currently recruiting 2000 or so Syrian terrorists to do the job, said terrorist’s leaders demanding $3000 per month per man supplied. This operation’s cut to the Turks seems to be part of satisfying Turkey’s real need for $ and is likely to be funded by the US.

      This is the same supply pool that supplies Turkeys needs in Libya, Yemen etc. Their skills at defending an area like an airport are currently unknown but they are probably regarded as disposable. Also the Taliban will want them gone as they will regard them as NATO ‘associates’.

      The US does seem to be digging a hole for itself. For it now to reduce the planned deployment having just announced it would be bad but to then have a forced withdrawal, perhaps under fire, would be worse. Neither good for the reputation of the US military who couldn’t blame the decision on Biden as no-one would believe them.

  16. English Outsider says:

    Way back the Chinese were very exercised by the assist various countries gave to get Uighur fighters into Syria. I’d have thought that if Erdogan does indeed send some of his portable Jihadis over, the Chinese are going to get very exercised indeed if those Jihadis include Uighurs.

  17. Deap says:

    What were the other options?

    • Pat Lang says:


      For West? Considering the seriousness of what he had done, a General Court Martial was the only option other than what was done.

  18. Deap says:

    For those of us well outside the Beltway, how big a role in Beltway operations does the collective talent pool like WestExec play? Presented collection of “former” administration members and intelligence community operatives.

    Are they legitimate think tanks, or place-keeping way stations for partisan hacks waiting until a new administration lets them back in. Are they so 100% partisan that they should be registered as part of the DNC, under election disclosure laws?


    • Pat Lang says:


      It depends on how populated the firm is with friends of the people running the Administration of the moment. And in the background there is always the career civil service, the “Yes, minister” types.

  19. JohninMK says:

    Colonel, should the comments after myself and English Outsider have been in the newer West thread?

  20. Deap says:

    Churchill allegedly said if first about the Russians, but seems serviceable for many foreign engagements, as well as explaining the Trump phenomenon to those who still did not get it. The key was what Trump saw as our “national interest” and many agreed.

    “I cannot forecast to you the action of XXXXX. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is XXXX’s national interest.”

  21. Suresh Syed says:

    I wonder what Brigadier General Sir Harry Flashman would have said about this particular retreat from Kabul?

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