POLITICO Playbook PM: Kabul moves from crisis to catastrophe


The twin suicide bombings in Kabul today are shocking but not surprising. The attacks on civilians at Hamid Karzai International Airport and a nearby hotel came after days of increasingly dire warnings from the U.S. and its allies about the possibility of an imminent terrorist strike outside the airport’s main gates.

The BBC notes that crowds remained there despite the warnings: “People were in such a state of desperation that they’re not going to pay attention to this kind of information. They’re hearing all kinds of rumours and they’re just trying to focus on getting out of the country.”

U.S. OFFICIALS SAY ISIS IS RESPONSIBLE — “U.S. troops killed in ISIS attacks on Kabul airport,” by Lara Seligman, Alexander Ward, Daniel Lippman, Paul McLeary and Andrew Desiderio: “Multiple U.S. troops were killed and others wounded when two explosions shook the area outside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul in rapid succession this morning, where the United States and NATO allies had been evacuating thousands of people from the city, two U.S. officials told POLITICO. …

“An ISIS militant wearing a suicide vest was responsible for the first bombing, two U.S. officials and a person familiar with the situation told POLITICO, detonating around 5 p.m. local time just outside Abbey gate. Three sources said the U.S. troops returned fire soon after. NATO troops have been ordered to leave the airport gates immediately, two people said.”

— Pentagon press secretary JOHN KIRBY: “We can confirm that a number of U.S. service members were killed in today’s complex attack at Kabul airport. A number of others are being treated for wounds. We also know that a number of Afghans fell victim to this heinous attack. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the loved ones and teammates of all those killed and injured.”

— CNN’s @kaitlancollins: “President [JOE] BIDEN’s entire schedule has been disrupted as he monitors the latest from Kabul. Meeting with Israeli prime minister [NAFTALI BENNETT was] delayed and [the] virtual meeting with governors was just canceled. The press briefing has also been delayed as officials gather information on the attack.”

The WSJ says four U.S. Marines were killed in the attacks.

AFP’s report from eyewitnesses: “Bodies, flesh and people were thrown into a canal nearby,” Milad, who was at the scene of the first explosion, told the AFP news agency.

“When people heard the explosion there was total panic. The Taliban then started firing in the air to disperse the crowd at the gate,” a second witness said. “I saw a man rushing with an injured baby in his hands.”

In the confusion, the witness — who was not named — said he dropped the documents he hoped would help him board a flight with his wife and three children.

“I will never want to go (to the airport) again. Death to America, its evacuation and visas,” the witness told AFP.

THE REACTIONS …

— Taliban spokesman SUHAIL SHAHEEN condemned the attack, per PBS NewsHour: “Initial reports say, 13 persons have been killed and 52 wounded. We strongly condemn this gruesome incident and will take every step to bring the culprits to justice.” (via @yamiche)

NATO Secretary General JENS STOLTENBERG: “I strongly condemn the horrific terrorist attack outside #Kabul airport. My thoughts are with all those affected and their loved ones. Our priority remains to evacuate as many people to safety as quickly as possible.”

— Senate Foreign Relations Chair BOB MENENDEZ (D-N.J.), via @AndrewDesiderio: “As we wait for more details to come in, one thing is clear: We can’t trust the Taliban with Americans’ security.” Menendez also said the U.S. “must secure the airport and complete the massive evacuation.”

— Sen. @LindseyGrahamSC: “This despicable terrorist attack against innocent civilians at the Kabul airport, which injured American Marines, is a reminder of the depravity the world faces from Afghanistan. … I urge the Biden Administration to reestablish our presence in Bagram as an alternative to the Kabul airport so that we do not leave our fellow citizens and thousands of Afghan allies behind. It is not a capability problem, but a problem of will. The retaking of Bagram would put our military at risk, but I think those involved in the operation would gladly accept that risk because it would restore our honor as a nation and save lives.” The full thread

More: “House Republicans point fingers at Biden moments after Kabul blasts,” CNN

MEDIAWATCH

HOME NEWS Axel Springer to Acquire POLITICO: “The publishing group Axel Springer signed an agreement to acquire POLITICO, including the remaining 50 percent share of its current joint venture POLITICO Europe, as well as the tech news website Protocol from ROBERT ALLBRITTON.

“POLITICO will complement and strengthen Axel Springer’s portfolio with an authoritative voice offering inside perspective and analysis of politics and policy in Washington D.C., across the U.S., and around the globe. Together with INSIDER and Morning Brew, which are already part of the company’s portfolio, Axel Springer’s U.S.-headquartered news brands will have a significant reach.

“Over its 15-year history, POLITICO has emerged as one of the world’s most-influential news sources, and one of the preeminent models of successful media innovation in the 21st Century. Today, more than 500 journalists at POLITICO and its sibling publication Protocol, launched in 2020, help set the agenda on the most urgent issues dominating the global public policy landscape. With significant revenue derived from high-value business-to-business subscriptions and advertising, the publishing model has produced steady growth and healthy profits, and has a proven strategy for further robust expansion moving forward.”

— More from the WSJ: “The deal is valued at more than $1 billion, according to people familiar with the matter…

“In an interview, Axel Springer CEO MATHIAS DÖPFNER said that Politico and Axel Springer have been holding on-again, off-again deal talks for years. Talks picked up in recent months, Mr. Döpfner said, after Mr. Allbritton indicated to Axel Springer he was willing to sell, and the deal was hashed out quickly over videoconferences.

“Mr. Döpfner said that Axel Springer’s deals in the U.S. for Politico, Business Insider and Morning Brew point to broader designs for the Berlin-based publishing conglomerate. Politico was attractive, he said, because of its 30% profit margin and its reputation for high-quality journalism.

“‘Our ambition is to become the leading digital publisher in the democratic world,’ he said.”

TALIBAN TAKEOVER

FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — Reps. JOE NEGUSE (D-Colo.) and TOM MALINOWSKI (D-N.J.) are sending a letter to DHS Secretary ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS asking the department to extend temporary protected status to “Afghan parolees who will be paroled into the U.S. amidst the chaos of ongoing evacuations from Kabul, and Afghans in the US on student and visitor visas who face acute threats by the Taliban given their association with the U.S.” The letter

WHERE WE’RE AT — “Taliban say women will be allowed rights despite fears; no proof Bin Laden behind 9/11,” by NBC’s Alexander Smith

VEEP ABROAD — “Kamala Harris Pledges U.S. Help for Afghan Women and Children,” by NYT’s Zolan Kanno-Youngs in Hanoi: “Vice President KAMALA HARRIS said on Thursday that the United States would work with its allies to protect women and children in Afghanistan, as the Taliban takeover forced her to confront troubling historical parallels and diverted attention from her original mission on a five-day trip to Southeast Asia. ‘There’s no question that any of us who are paying attention are concerned about that issue in Afghanistan,’ said Ms. Harris, referring to the protection of women and children in that country.”

THE UNTOLD GRIEF — “‘Was it worth it?’ A fallen Marine and a war’s crushing end,” by AP’s Claire Galofaro and Russ Bynum in Springville, Tenn.: “She was folding a red sweater when she heard a car door slam, went to the window and realized that a moment she always imagined would kill her was about to be made real: three Marines and a Navy chaplain were walking toward her door, and that could only mean one thing. … Her 19-year-old son was dead, killed fighting the Taliban on Oct. 14, 2010.

“As she watched the news over the last two weeks, it felt like that day happened 10 minutes ago. The American military pulled out of Afghanistan, and all they had fought so hard to build seemed to collapse in an instant. … As thousands crushed into the Kabul airport desperate to escape, Gretchen Catherwood felt like she could feel in her hands the red sweater she’d been folding the moment she learned her son was dead.”

PANDEMIC

THE CURRENT CRISIS — “Hospitalizations hit 100,000 in United States for first time since January,” by WaPo’s Bryan Pietsch, Jacqueline Dupree and Adela Suliman: “Hospitalizations are highest across the South, where every state in the region has a higher portion of its population currently hospitalized with Covid-19 than the national level, according to a Washington Post database. More than 17,000 people are hospitalized with covid-19 in Florida, which has the most hospitalizations for covid-19 of any state in the country, followed by Texas, which has more than 14,000.”

IN THE COURTS — “GOP bans on school masks draw federal civil rights challenges,” by Michael Stratford: “Disability rights advocates are taking on Republican governors who block school mask requirements, launching a slew of federal civil rights lawsuits that could serve as a blueprint for the Biden administration as it weighs legal options to fight the policies.

“The legal challenges — filed separately in recent weeks against Texas, Florida and South Carolina — argue that those states‘ bans on universal masking in schools run afoul of federal anti-discrimination laws meant to protect children with disabilities. The GOP bans on school mask mandates were already facing a torrent of lawsuits in state courts. … [D]isability rights groups are now charting a separate legal path through the federal courts — which could have sweeping implications if the Biden administration embraces the arguments, as it has already hinted it is considering.”

SCHOOL SUPPLIES — “Pandemic windfall for U.S. schools has few strings attached,” by AP’s Collin Binkley, Geoff Mulvihill, Camille Fassett and Larry Fenn: “The administration has encouraged schools to take leaps, not steps, with the [pandemic] funding. Education Secretary MIGUEL CARDONA has called it a time for bold innovation that breaks down inequities and rethinks all aspects of schooling. … Despite those lofty aspirations, many large, urban districts are putting much of their pandemic relief toward practical needs, such as hiring nurses, restocking libraries, fixing playgrounds and bringing back art classes.”

THE ECONOMY

THE UNEMPLOYMENT PICTURE — “U.S. jobless claims rise by 4,000 to 353,000,” by AP’s Paul Wiseman: “Jobless claims edged up by 4,000 to 353,000 from a pandemic low 349,000 a week earlier, the Labor Department reported Thursday. The four-week average of claims, which smooths out week-to-week volatility, fell by 11,500 to 366,500 — lowest since mid-March 2020 when the coronavirus was beginning to slam the United States.”

POLICY CORNER

PUSHING BIDEN ON GUNS — “Activists urge Biden to bypass Congress and create office on gun violence,” by Anita Kumar: “With Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives lacking any viable path to confirmation, gun violence survivors and activists are pushing the president to create a White House office of gun violence headed by a Cabinet-level aide.

“In a letter sent to Biden Wednesday, four advocacy groups complained that his actions on guns ‘fall significantly short of the promises you yourself made while running for the presidency’ and have not been a priority as 28,000 Americans died from gun violence this year. ‘Your administration is hard at work pursuing important priorities from infrastructure reform to reducing the disastrous impacts of climate change,’ according to the letter obtained by POLITICO. ‘But with rising gun deaths and the heightened threat of armed political extremism, gun violence can no longer be seen as a back burner issue.’”

CLIMATE FILES — “How Should the Fed Deal With Climate Change?” by NYT’s Neil Irwin: “Climate activists and others on the left have argued that [Federal Reserve Chair JEROME] POWELL should be replaced by someone with stronger credentials as a climate hawk. … Among other things, they want the Fed to use its regulatory powers to throttle the flow of bank lending to carbon-producing industries.

“At the same time, some Republicans are assailing the Fed for mere research efforts involving climate. It is clear there would be a huge outcry on the right if a new Fed chair were to take an activist stance in trying to limit the availability of capital in energy-extraction businesses. So far, Mr. Powell and other leaders at the central bank have taken a middle ground.”

POLITICS ROUNDUP

2024 WATCH — “Mike Pompeo takes his own arrows over the Afghanistan collapse,” by Meridith McGraw: “Few GOP officials have been more intimately involved with U.S.-Afghan relations than MIKE POMPEO, who as Secretary of State helped lead negotiations with the Taliban to lead to an end of the 20-year-old war.

“With that ending now mired in chaos, Pompeo has rushed to the airwaves to defend his work and differentiate it from the job that the Biden team is doing. Republican strategists say it’s no coincidence. Pompeo, they posit, recognizes that his own electoral fate could be directly impacted by how the public perceives the current situation in Kabul.”

BEYOND THE BELTWAY

SPREADING LIKE, WELL, YOU KNOW — “California wildfire dangers may be spreading to the south,” by AP’s Christopher Weber and John Antczak in Los Angeles: “A wildfire that burned several homes near Los Angeles may signal that the region is facing the same dangers that have scorched Northern California this summer. The fire in San Bernardino County erupted Wednesday afternoon, quickly burned several hundred acres and damaged or destroyed at least a dozen homes and outbuildings in the foothills northeast of Los Angeles, fire officials said.”

JAN. 6 AND ITS AFTERMATH

FOR YOUR RADAR — “Capitol Police Officers Sue Trump and Allies Over Election Lies and Jan. 6,” by NYT’s Alan Feuer: “A group of seven Capitol Police officers filed a lawsuit on Thursday accusing former President DONALD J. TRUMP and nearly 20 members of far-right extremist groups and political organizations of a plot to disrupt the peaceful transition of power during the Capitol riot on Jan. 6.

“The suit, which implicated members of the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers militia and Trump associates like ROGER J. STONE JR., was arguably the most expansive civil effort to date seeking to hold Mr. Trump and his allies legally accountable for the storming of the Capitol. While three other similar lawsuits were filed in recent months, the suit on Thursday was the first to allege that Mr. Trump worked in concert with both far-right extremists and political organizers promoting his baseless lies that the presidential election was marred by fraud.”





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