Welcome back to episode three of The Battle Lab Podcast. This is Shawn Swanson, your host. I’m glad to have you here again into Asia. We’re going to continue our discussion of the topic of Afghanistan, but take another another route in another course forwards.

We’re going to look at the notions of self rescue and what it might mean for those left behind in Afghanistan, given the present administration’s policies and what’s unfolding. So let’s begin by framing the situation properly and take a look back and recap for the last two episodes, what’s been going on in Afghanistan, and kind of do a Cliff Notes version of what’s happening that’s going to set the foundation to understanding what may happen with moving forwards, with still having Americans left behind lines, the Taliban redline in particular on the 31st of August 2021, and how they may or may not be able to deal well with that situation.

It should be no surprise to recognize that we have been in Afghanistan for the past 20 years, America, and our NATO allies, as well as our local national allies, prosecuting a mission that has changed over time, one that is floundered when we come to kind of defining what our mission was or wasn’t. We began over there by going after Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, those who helped give sanctuary to the Al-qaida who attacked us on 9/11, 2001. And that was the big push. Get Osama bin Laden, disrupt terror operations from being able to be prosecuted from Afghanistan and move the ball forwards for America. We’ve successfully done that. We have not seen a terror attack come out of that region in be in America being the focus of that. So there is is a remarkable note to the success of having been there for the last 20 years.

However, what we have going on now is President Biden and the Biden Administration has sought to remove the last 2500 U.S. troops that were stabilizing Afghanistan and preventing further terrorism from moving along. That stabilizing force was to support Afghan operations in the field with top cover and intelligence. We have not seen combat troops really do anything on the ground in Afghanistan. Some special operations troops, of course, are involved there doing things. But no, no formal combat actions. And we haven’t seen casualties in the last 18 months. So to set the stage for what’s happened over the last week to 10 days is that the Biden administration and President Biden has removed the 2500 troops that we have had in country and in their vacancy we’ve seen in short order the collapse of the Afghan government and our partner forces. So in the absence of a formal government in fighting force, the Taliban have resurged in Afghanistan in rapid advance, taking the country over.

All of these factors, both policy in the ground level effects have created the circumstance that we’re experiencing today. We have a tremendous amount of trouble with getting out our allies, as well as thousands of Americans that are still in Afghanistan. Given the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul and the Biden administration’s plan of pushing out all of all of the evacuation through the Hamid Karzai International Airport. This has become a major debacle, foreign policy wise and Militarily. And we’re experiencing that now. And the folks on the ground that are still there, Americans, tens of thousands we don’t have a actual number, are still there.

The Biden administration today, August 24th, 2021, has come out and said that they still plan on pulling out on the 31st of August, 2021, and that we’ll have wrapped up our operations there. However, the ground game in Afghanistan is saying something other than what the administration is insisting on. The ground game in Afghanistan, quite frankly, is this the Taliban hold Kabul. They’ve surrounded the airport and they’re not letting folks through. And not only are they not letting folks, through the chaos and catastrophe that is now the rush to the airport is creating its own problems. Even if Americans could attempt to get to the airport, they can’t get through the crowds in what’s going on there, let alone the exposure that that gives Americans to the Taliban forces that have ringed the airport.

So in hindsight already, this begs the question. We had 2500 troops there is a footprint that stabilized Afghanistan and prevented further terrorism and allowed our partner forces to operate and do their job with efficiency, combating the Taliban and terror elements that were in their country. However, now we’ve pulled out there to, you know, their their their support and in, you know, short order, they have collapsed because of that. We really need to look at what really was the cost of staying. It was minimal. What was the cost of leaving? Well, we’re experiencing that. And I hate to say it, I feel that it’s incalculable at this point. This is not the desired end state. I don’t believe that the Biden administration or Americans we’re looking for. Yes. Many of us wanted to be out of Afghanistan after 20 years of war, but we have to understand, we’re caught in a constant conflict that’s known as total war. And total war isn’t just prosecuted on a battlefield with conventional forces. It’s major push and thrust is low intensity conflict and low intensity conflict exists above normal routine competition and below what we would call nation state warfare or conventional warfare. This area, this gray zone where limited, and low intensity conflict occurs is what we were trying to affect, change and deal with in Afghanistan. There was a low intensity conflict going on there with all those Taliban forces, al-Qaeda, what was left of them, elements of al-Qaeda and ISIS-K.

There are a number of other groups that will burgen out of our absence there, and that’s important to note. We’re losing ground that may now become a fertile training in operations bed for terror forces that will attack the West again. I know it’s not popular to consider staying in Afghanistan or having stayed in Afghanistan. However, we need to look and say, why are we still in Korea? Why are we in Italy? Why are we in Germany? Why are we in Japan? As a matter of fact. We have special forces elements in, I believe, approximately 104 nations across the world today. This is something that we need to keep in mind. This is a long war. This isn’t some short conflict where we can push people in and out and walk away from. It may have been to our benefit to take on the cost of staying in Afghanistan, which was minimal at this point: 2500 troops that were not frontline troops that were supporting the Afghan government and partner forces, and we should have maybe stayed there and allowed them to develop their own expertise, their own infrastructure and support networks and help them as partners move along to a place where they had a capable force that could sustain themselves without us. And we did not do that.

Instead, we’ve inherited the situation as we know it today. And it’s an unfolding one, nowhere near found in conclusion. But we have continued evacuation operations out of the Hamid Karzai International Airport. If people can get in there for departure and we have the Taliban calling the shots, they’ve set up a red line, which is the 31st of August. And it appears that the President Biden is capitulating and going along with their requests to actually have U.S. forces out of Afghanistan in total by the 31st.

It’s mind boggling to me because there’s no way that we can move tens of thousands of Americans that are their citizens, private military contractors, humanitarian aid specialists out of that region and afford their protection in that time. So here is where we stand, the 24th of August 2021. Things are still unfolding. And it just looks like we’re continuing in a horrible track record, and a lack of follow through on a natural. On a level with our policies in protecting our own citizens, and NATO force members, as well as our partner forces, local nationals on the ground in Afghanistan. This is a tremendous debacle. So given this recap, let’s move the conversation on to those that are left behind in what they may face. It’s a unique opportunity to look inside of what self rescue might mean. Let’s game their possible options.

Contractors and American citizens right now have in my mind’s eye, three options. Get to the Hamid Karzai International Airport, in effect, escape. They can hard point and hope for rescue in different hardened locations. Or they can go mobile, join the fight and try to get to the Northern Alliance, which is trying to mount resistance to the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

So the first option getting to the Hamid Karzai International Airport. Imagine being a private military contractor or American citizen in an outlying province of Afghanistan, making the trek from that province to Kabul that is controlled by the Taliban. Now, in getting close enough to the airport to affect your escape. That’s the first option. This is the option that the Biden Administration is imploring everyone take in the next five to six days before the 31st of August 2021. Imagine being told that that’s your option. It’s my estimate that getting to that Hamid Karzai International Airport being unmolested or caught in a moment of combat is probably slim to none. And it’s really what Americans are facing if they make that trip to the Hamid Karzai International Airport. They will be confronted by the Taliban and possibly other elements or splinter elements of the Taliban that won’t allow them passage in may, want to ransom them, beat them, or, you know, unfortunately, kill them. And this is this is the facts. These are these are this is the cold reality private military contractors and Americans are facing at the moment. It’s not great odds that you will safely make that trip from your present location in any of the provinces of Afghanistan and make it to the airport unmolested.

So, look, let’s look at that second option that I’ve outlined. Hard point and hope for rescue. If you’re in a province that has a decent facility and it’s hardened, it may look like the option for you is to remain in place and hope for rescue. Now, understand that no one knows at this point if the Biden administration is planning for rescue operations across Afghanistan or not. All we know is that the Biden administration and Biden himself have agreed to have forces out by the Taliban, demanded red line of the 31st of August. This has now become a questionable option. Will there be rescues mounted? Will those rescues be mounted in in short order if planning hasn’t occurred? It’s doubtful and it’s troubling. I don’t see this as a great option either.

So the third option to consider that I mentioned was join the fight, get mobile and get to the Northern Alliance. Well, as of today, it’s been reported that the Northern Alliance is caught in heavy fighting with the Taliban in the provinces that they do control. So it’s become a question if the Northern Alliance will even exist in a week. And this is this is some cold, hard facts again. And that really presents little option for American citizens in private military contractors to even consider getting to locals that are looking to support an alternative to Taliban rule and possible sanctuary for those trying to escape the long arms of the Taliban.

All of these options and the fact that none of them show a clear path forward, thats safe or would give sanctuary should take everyone for a ride down a different path. Adversity. You need to know how to embrace it. Pain, misfortune, death, suffering, struggle and loss are all fixtures in the human experience and unavoidable. Life is hard and we have to make foundational choices. And that’s exactly the kind of thing that is confronting those cop behind the Taliban lines and not able to get to the Hamid Karzai International Airport As I speak here on this podcast. This is not an envious position, and it is going to truly be a defining chapter in American history.

So it’s important to take this moment and take a look at self rescue in the face of adversity and the demands that you are going to face, the challenges that you’re going to confront, and the inner resources and that you’re going to have to draw upon to make it through this kind of personal experience. This is cold, hard survival, and it’s got to be approached that way. This isn’t some survival evasion, resistance escape course that you did over the weekend and paid 400 bucks for and had an enjoyable time and develop some memories. These are hard choices. And what those folks are doing on the ground, the choices they’re making, the decision processes that are going to be involved in knowing that making the wrong move is going to put them in direct line in combat and friction with an enemy that we’ve been at war with for the last 20 years on their own turf is is a sobering moment.

So let’s dig into the notion of self rescue and recognize the self rescued demands you activate every reserve you have to accomplish your aims and objectives. Self rescue demands the responses to legitimate obstacles must be to go through, go over, go around, go under. Do whatever it takes. Be steadfast. Know that you’ve got to cope. Do the work. You’ve got to perform and prevail. Conquer the challenge, that’s what self rescue is about. Anyone caught in this self rescue situation has to incorporate what’s useful. Structure their thinking positively and be ready to wrestle with difficult situations. There’s no other choice. Anyone caught in a self rescue scenario has to be expeditionary. They have to have grit. They have to observe their environment, identify threats and risks, evaluate targets and set realistic goals. We have to perform influence and act in any of those kinds of situations and scenarios. This is what it means to self rescue. You have to do the work. You have to save what’s needed, make, do, do without. Use up what you have and find alternatives. The goal is survival. Self rescue in many cases means being a leader. Knowing that you’ve got to do the work. You have to rescue others. You have to save what needs to be saved. Kill what needs to be killed. Do more work and keep moving forwards towards your objectives and goals. That’s a crucial point, is to never lose sight in always keep your own compass course north and trust it.

And this is an important point as well. Self rescue doesn’t mean that you’re going to be alone. You’re going to be around other people that are going to be in desperate need as well. It’s important to understand that you don’t only have to provide for yourself in these kinds of situations, but you’ve got to provide noble purpose for others as well. You’ve got to move past any doubts that you might have, supply action where it’s needed, where people fall short and get results. You’ve got to be moving forwards. So if you have folks that you’re with and it’s a self rescue situation, you’ve got to provide that leadership. You’ve got to be out there meeting the challenges in understanding that there’s costs, in making sure that there’s an expectation of loss that’s realistic, that everybody understands doing something costs, doing nothing costs. And we have to understand that every move you make takes energy and expands it. You’ve got to be doing the right things at the right time and understand that perfect is the enemy of good enough.

Slow things down. Look at your environment. See, perceive. Assess. Observe. Seek the information that’s going to support your mission and moves and know that time works against you in a self rescue situation. You have to make every action, every action you take deliberate. There’s no room in a self rescue situation where you can say, I’m too tired, it’s too hard, I’m too busy, I’m too stressed. Too bad. Get it done. Understand that there’s sacrifices that are involved that you’re going to confront risks, have to overcome obstacles and get it done.

Curate, the meaning of your situation, create value in what you’re doing and always make sure you have a very, very defined aim. The self rescue at its heart means that you’ve got to protect, provide and sustain to achieve. And that’s really where you’re at. If you find yourself in a non permissive environment, like many of these men and women will, are now in Afghanistan, you’ve got to be able to make moves and understand that there’s no clear outcome sometimes, that you’ve got to deal with the fog and the friction of the unknown and confront it. You’ve got to act deliberately. You’ve got to identify those risks that you may encounter and supply effort and action and solutions.

Know, without a doubt, the behavior assembles your success, and that is the key to self rescue. Thanks again for joining me for episode three of the Battle, that podcast. This is Sean Swanson, your host. I look forward to seeing you on the next show.

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