I understand that the commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division has told the commander of the British special forces at the Kabul airport to cease operations beyond the airport perimeter.
Maj. Gen. Christopher Donahue has told his British Army counterpart, a high-ranking field-grade officer of the British army’s 22nd Special Air Service Regiment, that British operations were embarrassing the United States military in the absence of similar U.S. military operations, according to multiple military sources. I understand that the British officer firmly rejected the request.
Col. Joe Buccino, a spokesman for the XVIII Airborne Corps, denied that Donahue made such a request.
“The XVIII Airborne Corps denies the central thrust of this story,” the spokesman said. “Specifically, Gen. Chris Donahue, whose sole focus is security at HKIA, never made such a request to any British Army officials and would have no motive for doing so.”
This show of rare tension between the U.S. and British command groups in Kabul reflects three factors.
First, it shows the obvious stress of attempting to extricate thousands of personnel under a situation of increasing terrorist threat. Elements of the Haqqani network, the Islamic State in Afghanistan, and possibly al Qaeda are now operating in proximity to Kabul airport with some degree of command separation from the Taliban.
In addition, the British military has more operational latitude in Kabul than the U.S. military, including the Navy SEAL elements present at the airport. I understand that the SAS has conducted operations to bring American citizens, as well as British citizens and at-risk personnel, through checkpoints and to the airport. This is not an indictment on U.S. capabilities or special operations intent, but rather, it’s a reflection of political-military authorities. In part, this difference is understandable. Large-scale U.S. military operations beyond the Kabul airport perimeter would entail significant risk absent prior Taliban approval. But there is a sense, at least by allies, that the U.S. military could be doing more to leverage the Taliban into providing greater ease of access to the airport for those most at risk.
A bureaucratic tug of war between the State Department, Pentagon, and White House is also disrupting evacuation operations out of Kabul. This is aggravating British, French, and other Kabul-present military authorities. I understand that these governments have been further aggravated by the failure of the White House and Pentagon to communicate adequately, or in some cases, to communicate at all, on their intentions and actions. All these allies admit, however, that only the U.S. military could provide the airfield defense and air traffic control capabilities now on display.