Morning Wire: Americans Stranded In Afghanistan, The State Of Al Qaeda, NYC Businesses Sue Over Vaccine Mandate

1) Americans Stranded In Afghanistan

The Topline: As the American withdrawal from Afghanistan continues, the Biden administration is facing heavy pressure for what many are saying was a failed military strategy.

Quote Of The Day: 

“I have seen no question of our credibility from our allies around the world.” President Joe Biden 

Americans In Afghanistan

During a Pentagon press conference on Saturday, Major General Hank Taylor said that only 2,500 Americans had been evacuated from Afghanistan so far, which reportedly means at least 7,500 are still in the country.

Americans who are stuck outside the Kabul airport perimeter are being warned by U.S. officials not to travel there because of potential security threats outside the gates.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby refused to confirm or deny whether groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda were operating outside the airport.

AREF KARIMI/AFP/Contributor via Getty Images

Kabul Airport

The situation outside the airport is becoming more precarious by the day. According to some reports, the Taliban are threatening to shoot evacuees while stealing their passports. Over the weekend, the Pentagon contradicted President Biden when they confirmed that the Taliban are harassing and beating American citizens who are trying to reach the airport. 

According to an internal email, the Defense Contract Management Agency is telling its personnel to refrain from trying to help friends and former colleagues still in the country. Instead, according to the email, Americans in Afghanistan should be told that the State Department is the “appropriate organization to contact.”

U.S. Airlines Called Into Service

On Sunday, the Pentagon activated what is known as the Civil Reserve Air Fleet for the third time in the history of the U.S., allowing the military to use commercial airlines to assist with the evacuation efforts. 

The twenty airlines affected by this order won’t fly to or from Afghanistan, but will instead ferry evacuees from bases in Germany, Qatar, and Bahrain.

American Allies Respond

The Vice President of the European Commission described the U.S. withdrawal as a “catastrophe,” while Armin Laschet, Angela Merkel’s likely successor in Germany said it was “the greatest debacle that NATO has seen since its foundation.”

Tony Blair, the former U.K. Prime Minister, who sent troops into Afghanistan twenty years ago, said the withdrawal was based on an “imbecilic” slogan about ending “forever wars.”

When Fox News’ Chris Wallace asked Secretary of State Anthony Blinken about the concern of many that President Biden doesn’t have a full understanding of what’s unfolding in Afghanistan, he said that it is an “emotional time.”

Military Equipment

According to reports, the Biden administration is now considering launching airstrikes against American military equipment that was left behind, but they also fear that these strikes could “provoke” the Taliban.

MARCUS YAM / LOS ANGELES TIMES

2) The State Of Al Qaeda

The Topline: One of the many concerning factors about the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan is the safe haven the group may provide for other terror groups. According to President Biden’s Defense Department Press Secretary, Al Qaeda is still present in the country. 

Al Qaeda Activity 

Al Qaeda — the same terrorist group responsible for the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. still has a presence in Afghanistan, although their presence has been significantly diminished. In June, the United Nations Security Council released a report that estimated Al Qaeda is still operating in at least 15 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. 

On Wednesday, the Defense Department’s inspector general said in a report “the Taliban continued to maintain its relationship with al-Qaeda, providing safe haven for the terrorist group in Afghanistan.” 

On Friday, Defense Department Press Secretary John Kirby was asked how many Al Qaeda operatives are still in Afghanistan. Kirby wasn’t able to give an exact number, but he said, “we know that Al Qaeda is a presence as well as ISIS in Afghanistan.” Kirby added that while Al Qaeda still operates there, the terrorist group’s presence is not significant enough to be a “threat to our homeland.”

How Large Is Al Qaeda?

The exact number of Al Qaeda operatives is unknown at this point, but a United Nations report from last year estimated that there are “between 400 and 600 armed operatives” in Afghanistan alone.The group also has a presence outside of Afghanistan. 

One of its direct affiliates, called Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, operates primarily in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. In Iraq, Al Qaeda’s affiliates eventually became ISIS. The group is also known to operate in other countries as well, such as Russia, Pakistan, and India. Some affiliates have specifically said they intend to attack American targets in their regions. 

The Bottom Line: Al Qaeda is the reason the U.S. went to Afghanistan to begin with, so the idea that they will be empowered by the Taliban takeover is of deep concern for American security.

Michael M. Santiago/Staff/Getty Images

3) NYC Businesses Sue Over Vaccine Mandate 

The Topline: Businesses in New York City are suing the mayor over the city’s new vaccine mandate, which bars the unvaccinated from certain indoor activities. 

The Lawsuit  

A group of small businesses in New York City filed a lawsuit last week claiming the new vaccine mandate is “arbitrary and capricious” because it targets certain establishments but not others. The businesses said there should be religious and medical exemptions to the mandate, which it doesn’t currently include. 

They also said the mandate prevents people who don’t want to get a COVID-19 vaccine from earning a living, since it applies to employees as well as customers at many businesses. The lawsuit is seeking a permanent injunction against the mandate.

The NYC Vaccine Mandate

New Yorkers currently have to show proof of vaccination to dine indoors at restaurants and bars, go to the gym, or attend indoor events like concerts and plays. The mandate went into effect last Tuesday, but it won’t be enforced until September 13th. 

Businesses that fail to comply face a $1,000 dollar fine for a first violation, a $2,000 fine for a second, and $5,000 fines for each further violation. 

Vaccinations In NYC

Five percent of New York City adults are unvaccinated, with minorities being most likely to have not received the shot. Only a third of black New Yorkers and 44% of Hispanic New Yorkers are fully vaccinated. 

Brooklyn and the Bronx have a much higher minority population and a much lower vaccination rate than Manhattan, so according to experts, the mandate effectively punishes minorities, since nearly 50% of whites in the city are fully vaccinated.

DAVID GRAY/AFP via Getty Images

Other Stories We’re Tracking

Biden’s Approval Rating Plummets

President Biden’s approval rating has dropped below 50%, reaching the lowest point of his presidency so far. According to a new NBC poll, only 25% of Americans approve of the president’s handling of Afghanistan.

Australia Lockdowns 

Police in Australia arrested more than 250 people on Saturday as protests swept across the country following renewed lockdown orders. Police used pepper spray in Melbourne, where a crowd of 4,000 gathered, and riot police cracked down on a smaller group in Sydney. Residents of Sydney and its state, New South Wales, face a fine of up to $5,000 for violating stay-at-home orders. 

Glenn Beck Fundraiser

A charitable fund started by radio host Glenn Beck raised more than $20 million in less than three days to help evacuate Christians from Afghanistan. The Nazarene Fund is hoping to extract around 5,000 people mostly women and children.

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