Aug 27, 2021 - Podcasts

The latest from Kabul after deadly blast

An explosion at the Kabul airport Thursday left at least 100 people dead — including 13 U.S. service members — and 150 more wounded. The blast came from a suicide bomber, and The Islamic State has claimed responsibility.

  • Plus, the last marine to escape Saigon in 1975 on the evacuation crisis in Afghanistan.
  • And, the rising role of women in the gig economy.

Guests: Axios' Dave Lawler and Russell Contreras.

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 Ben O'Brien. 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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ERICA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today! It’s Friday, August 27th. I’m Axios business reporter Erica Pandey, filling in for Niala Boodhoo. Here’s what we’re watching today: the rising role of women in the gig economy. Plus, the last marine to escape Saigon in 1975 on the evacuation crisis in Afghanistan. But first, today’s One Big Thing: the latest from Kabul after a deadly blast.

Two explosions at the Kabul airport yesterday left at least 100 people dead, including 13 U.S. service members and 150 more wounded. The blast came from at least two suicide bombers. And the Islamic State has claimed responsibility. Most NATO troops have left the country and the gates to the airport are now closed. This is a developing story so we asked Axios’ world editor, Dave Lawler, to catch us up. Good morning, Dave.

DAVE LAWLER: Good morning, Erica.

ERICA: So this is a devastating story, Dave, what's the latest this morning?

DAVE: The latest is basically that there are still evacuations happening for people who are inside the airport right now. But the latest that we've seen is that we're no longer getting people processed through the gates at the airport, it's unclear whether that will resume. As you mentioned, most our allies have already ended their evacuation operations in the last couple, including the U.K. have said, they'll only take people who are already inside the airport. Uh, now President Biden has said. That the U.S. will continue. Its mission will continue to get Americans and the Afghan allies out. But it's unclear if that's going to happen in this sort of numbers we had been seeing in the previous days. So it really seems like we're in the end game here of the airlift, uh, in Kabul. And obviously the military is preparing for potential, further attacks. And so that's a high priority as well.

ERICA: I haven't heard about the Islamic State taking an American life in a long time. Dave, what's going on here?

DAVE: Right, so this is ISIS-K it's the affiliate in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They basically are even more extreme than the Taliban in terms of their rhetoric towards the United States. They said that they were targeting Americans and people who had collaborated with the Americans in this attack. We hadn't seen any battlefield casualties of American troops in Afghanistan for over a year now. And so this is the most deadly attack in some time. Uh, this was, you know, something that the U.S. was anticipating. Jake Sullivan, the national security advisor had said repeatedly when he was briefing the press that they were watching for a potential attack by ISIS-K. And so they had intelligence that this was potentially coming. But they don't have security control beyond the actual perimeter of the airport. So they have a very difficult time trying to control who can get near to the airport. So this was always a real threat, and continues to be one, unfortunately. The commander of CENTCOM said yesterday that they believe ISIS-K will attempt further attacks. And of course they're doing everything they can to thwart that in the last couple of days of the evacuation.

ERICA: President Biden said this yesterday about the attacks.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay.

ERICA: Dave, what do we know about the U.S. response at this point?

DAVE: So we know according to Biden and to White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki that there will be a response. Biden had said ahead of time, he had basically threatened that if anybody targeted U.S. troops during this mission, there would be a swift and forceful U.S. response. But obviously the troops are getting out. The question is, is this part of the over the horizon antiterrorism capacity that Biden has been talking about? Uh, he said they will target the leadership, the capabilities, of this group. We can perhaps anticipate some sort of strikes against ISIS-K in the future, but obviously The White House is not going to go into details of what they're planning, if there are such plans, until that actually happens.

ERICA: Dave Lawler is Axios’ world editor. Thanks for being here, Dave.

DAVE: Thanks, Erica.

ERICA: We’ll be back in 15 seconds with the last marine to escape Saigon reflecting on what he sees happening in Afghanistan.


ERICA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I am Erica Pandey in for Niala Boodhoo. Juan José Valdez was the last Marine to leave the U.S. embassy in Saigon in 1975 during the Vietnam War. He says the images he's seeing of Afghanistan trigger his own memories of leaving Saigon. Valdez spoke with Telemundo Noticias for Axios Latino. And I'm here with Axios’ Russell Contreras now to chat about this interview. Hey Russ.

RUSSELL CONTRERAS: Great to be with you.

ERICA: So Russ, what did Valdez say about his final moments in Saigon, as Vietnamese forces were taking the city?

RUSS: Well, Juan describes a chaotic scene where people were trying to get into the embassy to leave with U.S. forces. At the time, the North Vietnamese were coming into Saigon, the country was falling apart after years of war and the U.S. forces, like they are in Afghanistan, were racing to get out. He was part of the last crew of Marines to escape the embassy. And he describes this chaotic scene where people were trying to pass their children to him.

JUAN JOSÉ VALDEZ: Nos daban los niños y decían, por favor saquen a mi niño si quiera. Me quedo yo pero llevenme a mi niño.

RUSS: What he's saying here is: they would give us the children saying, please at least take my children out. I'll stay if I have to. But take my daughter away.

ERICA: Now, what is he saying about this withdrawal from Afghanistan?

RUSS: Well he's seen images on television, like the rest of us he's seen them online. And these are triggering nightmares for him because these are things that stayed with him. He was largely forgotten until a few years ago, when people were discovering his story. So he questions, not only the-the mission of Vietnam, but also Afghanistan. And here's what he said to Telemundo Noticias in Spanish.

JUAN JOSÉ VALDEZ: Gastamos tanto dinero, tantas armas y tantos muertos de los infantería, army.

RUSS: What he's saying here is: we spend so much money, so many weapons and so many infantry and army deaths and for what?

He's right there, reliving the fall of Saigon through the eyes of Afghanistan. And I've got to tell you, we forgot him and what he did at the end of Vietnam War. There is another Juan Valdez there in Afghanistan. The question we have to ask ourselves, will we forget him like we forgot Juan?

ERICA: Valdez is also just one of many Latinos in the military. Can you tell us about the role of Latinos in the war in Afghanistan?

RUSS: By estimates, about 8.5% of those service men and women who died in Afghanistan were Latino. And we're just now learning about those sacrifices. There's one case of a army nurse, Jenny Moreno. This bomb dead detonated and a fellow serviceman was injured. She was ordered not to move because maybe there were uh possible other explosives around her, but she saw this injured serviceman and ran toward him. Unfortunately, a bomb went off. And killed her. There are a lot of Jennifer Morenos. We just don't know their stories yet.

ERICA: Russell Contreras is Axios’ race and justice reporter and he co-writes the Axios Latino newsletter. Thanks Russ.

RUSS: Thanks for having me.

ERICA: We've taken you through some heavy political stories on today's show, but here's a different sort of trend that I'm watching. Women are joining the U.S. gig economy at a rapid clip. They used to make up around 33% of the gig workforce in May of 2017. And that's since come up to around 46%. A lot of that growth has been driven by the rise of women in food delivery app jobs like DoorDash or UberEats.

This actually shows a pretty interesting and telling trend in the labor market, which is that a lot of women have no other option right now. Many of them have lost their jobs because they were overrepresented in hospitality or food service, or they've left their jobs at a much higher rate than men for reasons like childcare. And gig work is really the only way to keep some of that flexibility to juggle responsibilities at home, as well as make an income on the side.

One mom in Chicago, Danielle Hayden, told me she even takes her kids along her DoorDash routes sometimes so she can care for her children and work at the same time. And one reason food delivery app jobs are so popular among women rather than rideshare for say Uber or Lyft is because a lot of women say they feel more comfortable delivering someone's food than having strangers in their car. So as the food delivery economy keeps growing with the pandemic forming habits and having everyone increasingly likely to order at home and stay home, expect the rise of women in the gig economy to keep growing as well.

That’s all for this week. Axios Today is brought to you by Axios and Pushkin Industries. We’re produced by Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, and Lydia McMullen-Laird. Our sound engineers are Alex Sugiura, Michael Hanf and Ben O’Brien. Dan Bobkoff is our Executive Producer. Sara Kehaulani Goo is our Executive Editor. And special thanks to Axios co-founder Mike Allen.

I’m Erica Pandey. Thanks for listening — stay safe — and have the best weekend.

Editor's note: The headline and introduction to this story have been updated and corrected to note that there was only one explosion, not a second one near the Baron Hotel as the Defense Department incorrectly announced Thursday. The transcript of the episode has not been altered, but a correction will be included in Monday's episode.

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