Update August 31, 2021: One local family with three Children in the Cajon Valley district has been left behind after the U.S. troop withdrawal, 10 News supports. A district spokesperson said they are exploring ways to bring them home. The other Cajon Valley familes have been safely evacuated and some students are now back in school.
Over 104,000 civilians have been evacuated by U.S. in past 10 days; airlifts continue despite bombings as Biden vows retaliations against ISIS
By Miriam Raftery
Photo courtesy of the Pentagon: U.s. Air Force personnel help evacuate Afghan civilians at the Kabul airport on Aug. 24
August 26, 2021 (San Diego’s East County) – After today’s deadly terrorist attacks near the Kabul airport, concerns are heightened over the fate of some Cajon Valley Union School District students and their families. Around two dozen students and their families who traveled to visit relatives became trapped in Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover, the district announced earlier this week.
Today, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports that four of the local families have escaped and two have arrived safely in Southern California. But the whereabouts of five other local families, including 14 children, remains unknown.
“We are still working in coordination with Congressman (Darrell) Issa’s office for the safe return of the remaining families and students still stranded there,” district spokesperson Howard Shen told the newspaper, adding that counseling is available for students. Supervisor Joel Anderson also sent a letter to President Joe Biden urging intervention by the military to help students and their families scape.
Congresswoman Susan Davis and Congressman Darrell Issa have urged constituents in their districts (which include much of East County) to contact their offices if they know of anyone in Afghanistan in need of help to evacuate.
Suicide bombers at the Hamid Karzai International Airport’s main gate in Kabul and at a nearby hotel have killed 13 U.S. soldiers and wounded 15, the Pentagon confirmed in a press conference today. Reuters reports that at least 60 Afghans are also dead from the attacks, for which a terrorist splinter group known as ISIS-K has claimed credit.
The U.S. had warned people to stay away from the airport before the attacks, citing credible threats of ISIS attacks.
At the Pentagon briefing, Marine Corps General Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., commander of the U.S. Central Command, stated, “Let me be clear, while we’re saddened by the loss of life, both U.S. ad Afghan, we’re continuing to execute this mission,” he said of efforts to evacuate U.S. citizens, special immigrant visa (SIV) holders who helped U.S. forces, embassy staff, Afghans at risk from the Taliban, citizens of other countries, nonprofit workers and more.
In the past 10 days, since August 14, over 104,000 civilians have been evacuated, including 5,000 Americans. Over 7,000 were evacuated even after this morning’s attacks.
Despite today’s heavy casualties, the airlifts overall have succeeded in evacuating far more civilians than after the fall of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War, when only around 8,000 were evacuated. General McKenzie estimates slightly over 1,000 U.S. civilians remain to be evacuated.
But threats remain. General McKenzie warned of the potential for more suicide bombers or vehicle bombings as well as possible rocket attacks, though anti-rocket and mortar systems at the airport are in place to stop the latter, he added.
Biden vows retaliation against ISIS, orders flags flown at half mask to honor victims
President Joe Biden, in a White House press conference today, pledged to hold the terrorists responsible for today’s carnage and had this message for those who carried out the attacks or seek to harm America: “We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay. I will defend our interests and our people with every measure at my command…I’ve ordered my commanders to develop operational plans to strike ISIS-K assets, leadership, and facilities,” he said.
For those still trying to evacuate before the August 31 troop pullout deadline, Biden stated, “We will rescue the Americans who are there. We will get our Afghan allies out, and our mission will go on.” But he stopped short of clarifying how many Afghan allies remain or will be evacuated before the looming deadline.
Peppered by media questions, the President remained firm in his decision to pull troops out by August 31, an extension of the May deadline negotiated for U .S. pullout by former President Donald Trump, who freed 5,000 Taliban fighters including the current Taliban leader. Biden noted that America’s initial goal in the 20-year war was to kill bin Laden and halt al Qaeda, but that since then, despite four presidents’ keeping troops there, “Terrorism has metastasized around the world; we have greater threats coming out of other countries a heck of a lot closer to the United States.”
Biden, father of an Iraq War veteran, said he and First Lady Jill Bidens’ “hearts ache” for the families who lost loved ones. He ordered flags flown at half mast through August 30th at the White House, all public buildings in the U.S., at military bases, Naval ships, embassies and consulates worldwide.
Critics voice concerns
The President has drawn criticism from in Congress over the troop pullout and loss of lives in today’s attacks. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) issued a statement which claims, “Our enemies have taken advantage of the chaotic nature of the withdrawal.” He called on Speaker Nancy Pelosi to call the House back into session before August 31, which he called “arbitrary” though the Taliban has rejected U.S. efforts to extend the deadline, raising the prospect of Taliban retaliation if troops remain longer.
New York Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik went further. “Joe Biden has blood on his hands,” she tweeted, calling the President “unfit to be Comamnder-in-Chief,” according to CNN.
Photo, right: Afghan child sleeps beneath cover provided by uniform of loadmaster aboard C-17 evacuation flight on August 15.
U.S. companies pitch in to help evacuees
At Biden’s request, several commercial airline companies have pledge 18 jetliners to carry evacuees to safe havens, though they will not land in Afghanistan, but rather in nearby countries.
AirBnB’s CEO Brian Chesky today announced that the company will house 20,000 Afghan refugees at its properties around the world, with willing property owners. Chesky indicated he will pay for their lodging, stating, “The displacement and resettlement of Afghan refugees in the U.S. and elsewhere is one of the biggest humanitarian crises of our time. We feel a responsibility to step up. I hope this inspires other business leaders to do the same.”
Afghan refugees arrive in San Diego
Several local aid groups report that dozens of Afghan refugees with special immigrant visas (SIVs) have already begun arriving in San Diego, Times of San Diego reports, though many are only expected to stay here temporarily before moving on to destinations elsewhere in the U.S.