Who are the Afghans evacuated ?

The Biden evacuation was botched. We all agree on that but what happened and why ? The Afghans who were interpreters and who worked with the US military were given, or were supposed to be given, special visas. These were called “Special Immigrant Visas” and were for Afghans who worked with the US. We are now reading that The majority of these people were not evacuated.

WASHINGTON—The U.S. estimates it left behind the majority of Afghan interpreters and others who applied for visas to flee Afghanistan, a senior State Department official said on Wednesday, despite frantic efforts to evacuate those at risk of Taliban retribution.

In the early days of the evacuation effort, thousands of Afghans crowded Kabul’s airport seeking a way to flee the country. Some made it through without paperwork, while American citizens and visa applicants were unable to enter and board flights out.

The U.S. still doesn’t have reliable data on who was evacuated, nor for what type of visas they may qualify, the official said, but initial assessments suggested most visa applicants didn’t make it through the crush at the airport.

The Biden administration now boasts that 120,000 Afghans were evacuated. Who are they?

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Following Orders

The career field in which I served for twenty years was a small one, and one with some inherent peculiarities, one of which was possession at radio detachments of a library of pop music intended for broadcast on AFRTS channels. One of those things which was instilled in broadcast field recruits early on in our training was that no one of any higher rank (or degree of inebriation, often the case) was permitted to remove recordings from our library for personal amusement. Many were the tales of duty E-2s or E-3s refusing such orders from senior officers, who were operating under the (often alcohol-inspired) delusion that the AFRS library operated on the same basis as the local base library. This often happened late at night when the most junior staffers were on duty. That was an order that we had to and would refuse, no matter the rank, and degree of inebriation of the commander demanding it. In that, we could count on the complete backing of our broadcast command, especially when they were informed of it, sometime the following morning. No one, not even (according to some legends, the base or wing commander) was allowed access to the AFRTS library, much less to remove elements of it from the custody of the AFRTS outlet, even if that only custodian was a lowly first-hitch enlisted.

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When the Knowledge Walks Out the Door

Financial Times notes that when cyberattacks occur, it is useful to have some employees around who know how to operate the system…whatever that system might be…without the automation.  And the workers with this knowledge are often those who have been around for quite a while.

The value of older workers with deep operational knowledge was demonstrated two years ago at the Norwegian metals and electricity company Norsk Hydro. Like Colonial Pipeline, Norsk Hydro received a ransom demand but, instead of a shut down, a group of veteran workers switched to manual operations, removing the company from the attackers’ claws. “Without them, our production would have plummeted,” says Halvor Molland, Norsk Hydro’s spokesperson. “They had knowledge that existed 20 years ago but not today, and fortunately some are still employed by us while others returned from retirement to help.”

The CEO of Colonial Pipeline they had “muddled through” in the wake of the ransomware attack.  But a lot of the people who operated the pipeline manually “are retiring or they’re gone.  Fortunately, we still have that last bit of that generation.”

This is like something in a science fiction story: robots running things, humans nominally supervising the robots but not really understanding what they’re doing or why.

It’s been noted for some time that a lot of computer code was written in obsolescent or now-unpopular languages (especially COBOL), with support and modification becoming difficult since most of the people with the skills aren’t there anymore.  But this is different–it’s not about loss of understanding of a linguistic formulation for representing a process, but a loss of understanding of the process itself.

Dilèm Aksyon Kolektif nan Matisan

Generatim discite cultus

(Learn the culture proper to each after its kind)

— Virgil, Georgics II

Stephen Biddle, Nonstate Warfare: the Military Methods of Guerrillas, Warlords, and Militias (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2021)

one-to-many entity-relationship symbol superposed over map of Martissant, Haiti

By way of making this more than a merely armchair review, I will be discussing the developing situation of state failure in Haiti, which is providing a personally harrowing example of the phenomena theorized and studied in this book. NB: additional situation reports like the one I quote from below will appear at this OCHA webpage.

I. Increasingly Scale-Free Military Activity in the 21st Century

In this follow-up to 2004’s Military Power: Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle (also from Princeton), Stephen Biddle continues to elucidate the many ramifications of the one-to-many relationship which came to dominate the battlefield between the Napoleonic Wars and World War I. Over that century and in the decades that followed, individual-service weapons increased in rate of fire from a (very) few rounds per minute to ~10 rounds per second, in effective range from ~100 to >300 meters, and in accuracy from (optimistically) 10 to 1.5 milliradians. Say 2½ orders of magnitude improvement in RoF, half an order of magnitude in range, and one order of magnitude in accuracy; multiplying these together to create a sort of index of effectiveness, I get an overall change of 4 orders of magnitude, with stark implications for battlefield environments.

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Tiananmen OSINT

“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” — Benjamin Franklin

[Readers are directed to the end of this post for an explanation of my timing and motivation.

UPDATE 6/5, 11 AM CDT: videos embedded!]

I. Anniversary Reconnoiter

At around nine in the morning local time on the thirtieth anniversary of the “June Fourth Incident,” I began a reconnoiter of Tiananmen Square in central Beijing to observe security measures and, if possible, witness any attempt at commemorating the massacre. I accompanied Dr. Andrew R. Cline, professor of media, journalism, and film at Missouri State University in Springfield. We were part of group of eleven people—four students, two faculty, and five others including me—comprising a “Study Away” program from MSU which had spent the previous twelve days in China, flying into Beijing and taking high-speed trains to Xi’an and Xining, then on via the Qinghai–Tibet railway to Lhasa before flying back to Beijing. Of all days, Tuesday 4 June 2019 was designated a free day for the group: no itinerary—and no guide. The remaining nine group members, as it turned out, had other ideas about what to do that day.

Andy’s motivation was broadly journalistic, garnished with a specific interest in whether any actual Marxists would show up. I went along out of a feeling that I had something of a reputation to uphold, and quickly decided during our approach that I would evaluate the security measures and write up a more quantitative report, although I will also pass along some thoughts about the organizational behaviors involved.

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