The dangerous confusion over Mazar-i-Sharif | #emailsecurity | #phishing | #ransomware | #cybersecurity | #infosecurity | #hacker

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There’s a blame game over the six flights preparing to take vulnerable Afghans and Americans away from Mazar-i-Sharif International Airport, with lawmakers, the State Department, activists and the Taliban pointing fingers at one another.

Two issues need unraveling: Are the Taliban holding roughly 1,000 people hostage? And does State know who exactly are on the grounded planes?

The “hostage” narrative began after Rep. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R-Texas), the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, claimed on “Fox News Sunday” that the Taliban were grounding flights set to take off for America’s al-Udeid base in Qatar. “This is really … turning into a hostage situation where they’re not going to allow American citizens to leave until they get full recognition from the United States of America,” McCaul said.

But Secretary of State ANTONY BLINKEN offered a different take for the Taliban’s behavior during a news conference in Doha, Qatar on Tuesday. “It’s my understanding that the Taliban has not denied exit to anyone holding a valid document. But they have said those without valid documents, at this point, can’t leave. But because all of these people are grouped together, that’s meant that flights have not been allowed to go,” Blinken told reporters.

A person familiar with the evacuation operation told NatSec Daily the truth is somewhere in between. The Taliban are stopping flights from taking off because they want to see paperwork and manifests for all the passengers, but the reason the militants are demanding such things is because State keeps signaling they also don’t know who’s on the planes.

“State created this problem, so State needs to solve this problem,” said the person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive negotiations. The person said State should talk to the Taliban and provide visas to the passengers so they can leave.

A senior State Department official disputes that argument. “We have not stood in the way of a single charter. And in fact, we have gone to extraordinary lengths” to work with lawmakers, the Taliban, and others “to do all we can to facilitate the departure of these charters.”

That’s issue one. As for the second part, Blinken’s comments require a bit more parsing.

Blinken said the State Department had no means of verifying the manifests or documentation of passengers because there aren’t U.S. staffers on the ground in Afghanistan anymore. As a result, there are “real concerns” his agency has.

“We are working through each and every one in close coordination with the various initiatives and charter flights that are seeking to evacuate people,” Blinken said. “But I just want to emphasize that there are a lot of issues to work through.”

Those remarks shocked humanitarians and congressional staff. A group of activists and the office of Sen. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-Conn.) are working to get two flights carrying about 700 people out of Mazar-i-Sharif and into the air. One of the leaders of the effort to evacuate the passengers, HAZAMI BARMADA, told NatSec Daily: “We actually have proof that State has seen these manifests and DoD approved them.”

Barmada shared those documents with NatSec Daily, allowing us to verify her statement, but we’re not quoting from the correspondence because of confidentiality concerns.

MARIA MCELWAIN, Blumenthal’s communications director, also released a lengthy statement pushing back against Blinken.

The most important part: “I can only speak for our two planes, but we provided the State Department with the manifest for our flights as early as August 30 and as late as yesterday. … Although some of our passengers are small children who, admittedly, do not yet have a full suite of documentation that an adult might have, in those cases we provide shot records and offered to help verify their identity any other way that we could. The State Department has had this information for eight days.”

“On Friday, Sept. 3, the State Department formally stated that they had no objection to our planes landing in Doha, which is what third-party governments require to allow aircraft to land,” McElwain added.

The senior State Department official confirmed to NatSec Daily that the agency’s staff had seen the manifests sent by Blumenthal’s office and others. The problem, though, is the Taliban keep insisting that everyone on the planes has requisite paperwork before taking off.

As for the other four planes — which have received significant press partly because a GLENN BECK-funded charity paid for one — multiple people said they don’t yet have their manifests approved for departure.

In the meantime, Kosovo will take in Afghans who don’t pass initial security screenings and host them for up to a year.

FIRST IN NATSEC DAILY — RISKS TO BIDEN’S MIDEAST APPROACH: A new report by the left-leaning Center for American Progress outlines the inherent challenges stemming from President JOE BIDEN’s Middle East policy.

“[I]t risks putting the United States in a reactive strategic position, beholden to events instead of seeking to proactively shape trends through diplomacy and other forms of engagement,” authors BRIAN KATULIS and PETER JUUL wrote. “The Biden administration’s inclination toward a hands-off approach may end up placing the United States in a crisis management mode similar to the one that overtook the Obama administration from 2014 to 2016 in reaction to the rise of the Islamic State group.”

“On a more fundamental level, though, the region’s basic human security problems will not go away, particularly those likely resulting from climate change. As a result, even the more modest and pragmatic goals the Biden team has set out for itself in the Middle East will require strategic reengagement in a region that’s been largely on the back burner during the administration’s first six months in office,” they concluded.

No strategy or policy for any region (or even country) is foolproof, and the full report is mostly complimentary toward the administration’s handling of the Middle East. But the authors do worry a less-engaged America will struggle to secure its interests if it deemphasizes regional human security.

“After the withdrawal from Afghanistan, America’s relationships in the Middle East will become even more important. The Biden administration will need to engage more, not less, with these partners to protect American interests at that same time it pushes them to show greater respect for the basic rights and freedoms of their people,” Juul told NatSec Daily.

POTUS SAYS HE’LL PROBABLY MEET AFGHAN REFUGEES: Departing the White House en route to Joint Base Andrews, where he embarked on a daylong trip to storm-ravaged New York and New Jersey, Biden was asked Tuesday whether he planned to sit down with Afghans who aided the two-decade American war effort and have been evacuated in recent weeks to the United States. He told reporters: “Well, they’re all over the country. I’m sure I’ll be seeing some of them.”

White House press secretary JEN PSAKI also indicated such a visit would take place but said it likely would not come any time soon. “Yes, he certainly looks forward to [meeting them] at some point, but that is not planned in this particular moment. They’re all coming to the United States … some of them for the first time, and we’re going to let them adjust with their families,” she said during a gaggle aboard Air Force One.

FINAL AFGHAN PROVINCE FALLS TO TALIBAN: The Taliban announced Monday it had “completely conquered” the mountainous Panjshir Province in the northeastern part of Afghanistan — assuming full control of the country a week after the U.S. military’s exit and crushing the final remnant of resistance to the militant group’s rule, per BILL ROGGIO and ANDREW TOBIN of The Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Long War Journal.

“[Panjshiri warlord] Ahmad Massoud, whose father led the Northern Alliance against the Taliban in the 1990s and was assassinated by Al Qaeda just two days prior to 9/11, vowed to continue the fight against the Taliban and called on all Afghans to continue its resistance,” Roggio and Tobin wrote. “Without his base in Panjshir, Massoud’s promise to effectively continue the fight against the Taliban is a difficult proposition. Massoud’s forces may be able to launch guerrilla attacks from the mountains, but its ability to challenge Taliban rule will be limited.”

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