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The war is 'not over for them:' Reporters, activists urge press to stay focused on Afghan civilians

30August 2021

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On this day of history, with America’s war in Afghanistan officially over, I asked a cross-section of journalists and activists to weigh in on what’s next. Pretend to be an assignment editor, I said, and answer this question: “With the US officially leaving Afghanistan, what’s the No. 1 angle that needs to be covered now?”

>> CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr: “Humanitarian relief. I think it’s central to everything. We know the Taliban need it to come into the country and it’s a potential lever for the new ‘diplomatic’ agenda for President Biden. And it may be the only way the people survive.”

>> Paul Rieckhoff, founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America: “The plight of the Afghan people. And especially our Afghan allies who are in particular grave danger under the Taliban. They are terrified about being left behind. They are more terrified about being forgotten. Biden may say the war is over. It’s not over for them.”

>> PBS “NewsHour” special correspondent Jane Ferguson, who flew out of Kabul just a few days ago: “Can the Taliban hold onto control over Afghanistan, or will everything descend into chaotic civil war and failed state? Because if it is the latter — similar to Somalia in early 90s — US troops will be back in some capacity, and a major migrant crisis and humanitarian catastrophe will be the result. What happens with Taliban rule/strength will determine the global implications of the fallout of this drawdown over everything else.”

>> Philadelphia Inquirer national columnist Will Bunch, an outspoken critic of America’s involvement in “forever wars:” “Whether America can complete a shift away from more than 20 years of failed militarism and reap a peace dividend by curbing Pentagon spending.”

>> Commentary associate editor Noah Rothman, an equally outspoken critic of Biden’s withdrawal decisions: “I would definitely be focused like a laser on US passport holders trying to get out. But also the Pentagon’s effort to gloss over legal permanent residents — people with jobs, families, homes, and bank accounts here. To say nothing of visa holders and visa eligibles. It all adds up to a number the administration hoped to elide, but my suspicion it is in the thousands. And I don’t suspect the press will need prodding to cover their stories. My strong suspicion is that they will be too horrible to ignore.”

>> The Nation publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel, a longtime opponent of the US war effort: “Will media look at next wars, endless, in the world — from Syria to Iraq to Africa? Will there be a new cohort of media-savvy analysts to speak to rethinking of a new security/foreign policy agenda? Also, who is the new Barbara Lee? Where is the new generation of diplomats, especially those with a knowledge of the Middle East? And how will the Biden team challenge The Blob?”

>> Joseph Azam, a lawyer and Afghan-American immigrant who serves on the board of the Afghan-American Foundation: “What happens to the people left behind? Depending on how you cut the data, there may be upwards of 1 million of them. American and coalition allies; at risk individuals and their families; Americans, Afghans, other nationalities. The withdrawal has a large wake, we can’t even begin to see what’s caught in it, but someone needs to be in the water to tell those stories.”

>> Committee to Protect Journalists board chair Kathleen Carroll, former exec editor of The AP: “What will history tell us about the end of this 20-year war and can we see that now? Can we pull back the stick from the chaos and heartache and betrayal on the ground and look for what there is to be learned for us as a society, a nation, a people? Can we only see the important moments long after the fact? Or is there a way to see them when they are happening and explore their meaning in our coverage?”

Tuesday’s front pages

Sky News has the FT and other papers here. The NYT’s banner headline says “U.S. FORCES LEAVE KABUL; EVACUATION ENDS.” WaPo’s is three big words: “America exits Afghanistan.”

What reporters in Kabul are saying

— NYT Mag contributing writer Matthieu Aikins: “Good morning, Kabul. The last US troops have left Afghanistan, and the Taliban control the airport. Today is the first day of a new and uncertain era.”
— Al Jazeera’s Charlotte Bellis: “Famous Taliban saying changes tense. You had the watches, we had the time.”
— LA Times photog Marcus Yam: Taliban fighters stormed the Kabul airport “wielding American supplied weapons, equipment & uniforms — after the U.S. Military have completed their withdrawal. Fighters celebrated with gunfire & chants through the night.”
— Yam’s colleague Nabih Bulos posted video of fighters entering a hangar and examining US helicopters.

— BBC’s Lyse Doucet: “The last American soldier leaves but the last battles aren’t over…”

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