Aug 16, 2021 - Podcasts

The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan

The Taliban declared victory in Afghanistan this morning. The group took control of Kabul yesterday, 20 years after they had been run out of the capital city by U.S.-led forces. President Biden has authorized sending 5,000 troops to Afghanistan to help with evacuation.

  • Plus, the Haitian diaspora rushes to help after a deadly earthquake.
  • And, a repeat COVID milestone we didn’t want.

Guests: Axios' Mike Allen and Family Action Network Movement's Marleine Bastien.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Dan Bobkoff, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, and Michael Hanf. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today! It’s Monday, August 16th. I’m Niala Boodhoo. Here’s what we’re covering today: the Haitian diaspora rushes to help after a deadly earthquake. Plus, approaching another COVID milestone we didn’t want. But first, the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan is today’s One Big Thing.

The Taliban have declared victory in Afghanistan this morning. The group took control of Kabul yesterday, 20 years after they had been run out of the capital city by US-led forces. President Biden has authorized sending 5,000 troops to Afghanistan to help with evacuation.

And America is waking up to scenes of utter chaos at the airport in Kabul, where Reuters are reporting five people have been killed as thousands there try to flee the country - especially those who worked with American and other forces.

Axios co-founder Mike Allen joins us now with the latest — and the big picture. Hi Mike.

MIKE ALLEN: Good morning, Niala.

NIALA: Mike - what does this lightning advance by the Taliban say about America’s longest war in Afghanistan?

MIKE: Niala, this is a massive system failure. It's a failure of intelligence. Just days ago, the Biden administration was convinced that they had least till the end of the month to get people out, who'd helped America. Just days go Niala, we were reporting intelligence assessments that said 90 days till the Taliban might take Kabul. And that was like shocking and that was new at the time.

I had a friend who spent more than a decade as a US official in Afghanistan and Iraq and he texted me yesterday and he said, "This collapse shows that we missed something fundamental, something systemic in our intel military diplomatic service over the decades, deeper than a single horrible decision." So this is Washington not listening to the ground. This is the West Wing not listening to the Pentagon. This is lots of people not listening with the astonishing windshear in the security situation that we saw yesterday.

NIALA: The criticism from even our closest foreign allies has been harsh - What are the repercussions on a global scale for the U.S.?

MIKE: Well, do people trust us? And like a fascinating way that the Washington Post's Liz Sly put it - she spent a lot of time in the Middle East and she talked about global alarm, that questions about U.S. credibility and of course, a host of questions for the Biden administration. And Niala, here's something for our listeners to pay attention to - what the White House will try to do is reframe this as should we, or should we not have gotten out of Afghanistan?

But the real criticism that they're facing is not whether to do it, but how it was done and whether it was the last six or so months, it would have been possible to have made more arrangements for people who had great risk to themselves. And their family had helped America and its allies. Would there have been a way to make more preparations for American assets that were there?

The fact that we're out of the embassy, like now sheltering in place at the airport - the bottom line Niala, is that after 20 years, a trillion dollars spent and 2,500 service members lives lost, America literally was run out of town.

NIALA: Axios co-founder Mike Allen. Thanks, Mike.

MIKE: Thank you, Niala.

NIALA: We’ll be back in 15 seconds with what Haitian American activists are saying about this weekend’s devastating earthquake in Haiti.


NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I’m Niala Boodhoo.

A 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck Southwestern Haiti on Saturday, killing many hundreds and injuring thousands more. This came as Haiti is already struggling with an ongoing political crisis, gang violence, hunger, and the pandemic. It's been hard to get news from inside Haiti, but outside the country, the diaspora is reacting and rallying to help the island. Miami has the highest concentration of Haitians outside of Haiti, and Haitian-American Marleine Bastien is a long-time activist there. She's also the executive director of FANM, The Family Action Network Movement, a social service organization in South Florida. Marleine, thanks for being with us.

MARLEINE BASTIEN: Thank you for having me, and good seeing you again.

NIALA: I'm sorry it's under these circumstances. I wonder if you can tell us what you're hearing over the weekend as people are trying to rescue family members.

MARLEINE: So we woke up, with the sad news of yet another crisis in Haiti. [sigh] I couldn't believe that it was another earthquake. So what we're trying to do now is, to, rally, the-all stakeholders and the leaders in the diaspora, we having an emergency meeting to develop a strategy because we do not want what occurred in 2010 to happen again, where most of the resources did not reach those impacted, those on the ground.

NIALA: What have we learned from 2010? What do you want to see differently happen? First of all, from the U.S. government this time, when it comes to what the U.S. role should be right now?

MARLEINE: Whether it's U.S., France, or wherever, wants to help. It’s best to work with the institutions, especially grassroots organizations on the ground that are deeply rooted in their communities, that know their communities and know the people and what their needs are.

NIALA: What is your advice for individuals who are listening to this and want to help Haiti people across the U.S. or across the world?

MARLEINE: We have over 1000 people wounded. We need surgical gloves, regular gloves, alcohol. And of course money. But the money, they have to be careful about that. Consult with, with us, and then we will contact you, go to our website, w-w-w-dot-F-A-N-M-dot-O-R-G. We want to work with those on the ground, who know the souls of the people there, and who can assess.

NIALA: Marleine, after the 2010 earthquake, which was such a horrible thing, I mean, I covered that. I lived through part of that and it is traumatic to think about living through that...again. And my heart goes out to all the people who have experienced this now twice. But when you think about the current political situation, when you think about what may happen with the weather this week with the tropical storm that is coming, what is your biggest worry this week?

MARLEINE: My biggest concern is that the infrastructure will be further weakened, and that we will experience additional loss of lives. Second main concern is reportedly, ambulances are being hijacked by heavily armed gangsters asking for very high ransom. And then thirdly, women and girls, in the rape and the killing of women and girls, cause at times of higher level of instability, political and otherwise, women and girls fare worse. And women and girls have been going through hell in Haiti recently.

NIALA: Marleine Bastien is the executive director of FANM, the Family Action Network Movement. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us. Take care.

MARLEINE: And thank you for having me. Stay safe.

NIALA: The Delta variant is continuing to derail progress on the COVID pandemic, so let’s catch you up quick on some of those top stories right now.

FRANCIS COLLINS: So I will be surprised if we don't cross 200,000 cases a day in the next couple of weeks, and that's heartbreaking, considering we never thought we would be back in that space again, that was January, February. That shouldn't be August.

NIALA: That was Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, speaking on Fox News Sunday. Meanwhile, [[paris protest sounds come up]]... a Saturday protest in Paris was just the latest in a string of anti vaccine demonstrations we’ve seen overseas, especially in parts of Europe, where proof of vaccination has become a requirement for many daily activities. And this weekend here at home, we saw maybe one of our most violent anti-vaccine protests yet, in Los Angeles. One person was stabbed and a reporter was attacked, when protesters and counter protesters clashed outside L.A.. City Hall. Finally, in case you missed it: the FDA recently announced it’s provided emergency use authorization for a COVID booster shot for immunocompromised people. The CDC signed off on the authorization Friday, and boosters could be available as soon as this week.

Before we go today -- COVID is also complicating a lot of back-to-school experiences. And we would love it if you would share your experience so far: Are your kids required to wear masks as they head back? How is your school handling safety? What are your kids’ teachers saying? If you can record a brief voice memo on your phone -- and including your name and location -- you can text it to me at (202) 918-4893. I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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