with Mariana Alfaro

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President Biden has something of a Goldilocks problem when it comes to the politics of Afghan refugees, the first thousands of whom have arrived on U.S. soil this week thanks to an unprecedented U.S. operation from the Kabul airport.

Some Republicans say he’s doing too much. A bipartisan chorus of domestic critics sayhe’s doing too little. And scenes of desperate Afghans risking Taliban violence to pass small children to strangers in U.S. military uniforms make it harder to say he’s doing just right, even if polls suggest many Americans think so. 

Still, the official numbers the administration released yesterday show an overwhelming proportion of the 82,300 people who have flown out of Kabul were AfghansAmericans accounted for just 4,500 of that total, which also included an undisclosed number of third-country citizens. 

It’s enough to wonder whether the realization they were losing large numbers of educated Afghans drove the Taliban to declare on Tuesday that doctors and academics “should not go to other countries, to those Western countries."

The latest figures provided by the White House on Thursday showed another 13,400 people got out between Wednesday and Thursday, meaning the operation looks on track to pass 100,000 days before it is due to end on Aug. 31

For perspective, the Pentagon predicted Aug. 17 its “best effort” would get 5,000-9,000 out per day. And Biden forecast in an ABC News interview Aug. 19 the total number of Afghans eligible to be evacuated would total 50,000-65,000

The refugees’ first stops are military bases. Fort McCoy in Wisconsin, Fort Lee in Virginia, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey, and Fort Bliss inTexas were the first announced. Marine Corps Base Quantico has been added. 

Biden and top aides have insisted all of the arrivals undergo rigorous vetting before arriving on U.S. soil a concern, since France took in five Afghans with suspected Taliban ties, while Britain flagged six as posing a “direct threat,” according to British media.  

As for the politics, polls show an overwhelming number of Americans support taking in Afghans who helped the 20-year war effort, many as interpreters. But former president Donald Trump has accused Biden, without evidence, of taking in countless terrorists. And right-wing media have fanned racist fears of unchecked immigration, which helped propel the entrepreneur to the White House in 2016. 

My colleagues Matt Viser and Paul Kane reported yesterday: 

White House officials and Biden’s political advisers have been closely tracking some of the rhetoric of Republican lawmakers, including some who voted just weeks ago against allocating $1.5 billion to help the resettlement of Afghans but are now criticizing Biden for not doing more. 

Democrats remain hopeful that the issue will be different from the divisive border politics of the last decade, particularly because of the different nature of the two groups." 

"‘I don’t think we’re going to see the electoral backlash,’ said Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), who served in combat with a Marine Corps infantry unit in Iraq and has been deeply involved in the debate over immigration at the Southern border.” 

Indeed, the political problem may be greater for Republicans, who seem sharply divided, the New York Times’s Annie Karni reported yesterday, noting some have accused Biden of not doing enough to save Afghan partners. 

But others — including former President Donald J. Trump and Representative Kevin McCarthy, the minority leader — have sought to fold the issue of Afghan refugees into the anti-immigrant stance of the party’s far right. They are criticizing Mr. Biden not simply for leaving the Afghans behind, but for opening the United States up to what they characterized as dangerous foreigners.” 

‘We’ll have terrorists coming across the border,’ Mr. McCarthy said last week on a call with a group of bipartisan House members, according to two people who were on the call, where he railed against the Biden administration’s handling of the withdrawal. He also brought up the issue of migrants entering the country along the U.S.-Mexico border in his discussion of Afghans being evacuated.” 

On the issue of Afghan refugees, Mr. McCarthy has walked the same tightrope that he has on other issues, trying to appease the two sides of the party. He has stated publicly that ‘we owe it to these people, who are our friends and who worked with us, to get them out safely if we can.’ But he has also leaned into the nativist, Trumpian side, giving voice to the generalized, inchoate fears about foreigners entering the country.” 

Republicans who toured Fort McCoy this week raised supposed security concerns while saying most of the refugees simply seek a better life. 

"The vast majority of them are here for the right reason, but all it takes is one and we've got to make sure we do our due diligence," said Republican state Rep. Tony Kurtz of Wisconsin. "We need to take time, one they get out of harm's way to make sure we're getting the right people and doing the proper vetting."  

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) also raised vetting concerns but said "It sounds like the first group of people that arrived are just relieved to have been able to escape Afghanistan. They won the lottery, they're here in America." 

"The vast majority are here wanting what we want, the opportunity to raise their families in safety and security, with opportunity," Johnson said, according to Laura Schulte of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. 

The military bases are only a way-point on the road to final resettlement. It’s not clear where the Afghans coming to America will end up. California, Virginia, and New York have the largest extant Afghan populations in the United States. 

At the Associated Press, Sarah Rankin had a nice, detailed piece yesterday on what happens after the Afghans arrive at military bases in Virginia, citing Grant Neely, a communications adviser to Gov. Ralph Northam (D). 

Neely wrote in an email that military flights and buses were providing transportation to take evacuees who are not U.S. citizens or green card holders to military installations for further processing toward their final destination. ….” 

Virginia agencies and local governments were helping with the logistical efforts.” 

The Virginia Department of Health was testing everyone arriving without documentation of a negative COVID test in the last 72 hours, Neely said.” 

Of the more than 900 tests done Tuesday, 11 people tested positive, he said. Fairfax and Loudoun counties were providing isolation and quarantine space for U.S. citizens who test positive as needed, according to Neely. The state and defense departments were handling those accommodations for noncitizens.” 

They [the Northams] said the refugees were being provided adequate, culturally sensitive accommodations with access to medical care and space for recreation and worship.”

What’s happening now

A pair of bombings at one of the entrances to Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA) in Kabul and a nearby hotel have left “an unknown number of casualties,” the Pentagon confirmed. Some news outlets reported that two or three Americans were wounded in the blasts at the Abbey Gate, where crowds have massed for days in hopes of boarding evacuation flights.

“We can confirm that the explosion at the Abbey Gate was the result of a complex attack that resulted in a number of US and civilian casualties. We can also confirm at least one other explosion at or near the Baron Hotel, a short distance from Abbey Gate,” Defense Department spokesman John Kirby said on Twitter.

The U.S. embassy in Afghanistan advised of “a large explosion” and cited “reports of gunfire.” Reuters, citing a Taliban official, reported at least 13 people killed, including children, and many Taliban guards wounded.

The attack came after escalating U.S. warnings the security situation was deteriorating daily, with high risks ISIS-K, an Islamic State affiliate that has been fighting the Taliban, would target the airport. Overnight Thursday, the U.S. Embassy had warned Americans at the gates of HKIA to “leave immediately” and U.S. citizens planning to go to the airport to stay away.

Biden, reportedly briefed on the attack, held a previously scheduled meeting with his national security team at the White House to discuss the situation in Afghanistan.

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Lunchtime reads from The Post

  • “Hospitalizations hit 100,000 in United States for first time since January,” by Bryan Pietsch, Jacqueline Dupree and Adela Suliman: “More than 100,000 people are hospitalized with covid-19 in the United States, a level not seen since Jan. 30 — when coronavirus vaccines were not widely available — as the country grapples with the delta variant’s spread. Hospitalizations are highest across the South, where every state in the region has a higher portion of its population currently hospitalized with covid-19 than the national level, according to a Washington Post database. More than 17,000 people are hospitalized with covid-19 in Florida, which has the most hospitalizations for covid-19 of any state in the country, followed by Texas, which has more than 14,000. Amid a raging debate over mask requirements in schools, current pediatric hospitalizations for covid-19 have reached 2,100 nationally, topping 2,000 for the first time since August 2020.”
  • “Taliban spokesman says ‘no proof’ bin Laden was responsible for 9/11 attacks,” by Rachel Pannett: “A Taliban spokesman said there was “no proof” that Osama bin Laden was involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Bin Laden’s well documented role as the plotter of the attacks made him the most wanted fugitive in the world until he was killed by U.S. Navy Seals in 2011. Zabihullah Mujahid made the remark after the Islamist militant group pledged not to allow Afghanistan to be used once again as a base for al-Qaeda.”
  • “How congressional redistricting works in your state” by The Washington Post staff. This is our interactive, state-by-state look at the process of redistricting in the wake of the census.

… and beyond

  • “As Atlanta’s population changes, so does the race for mayor,” by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s J.D. Capelouto, Emily Merwin DiRico and John Perry:Black residents, the data showed, are no longer the majority in Atlanta, though they are still the largest racial group, making up 47% of the population. And with more than 100,000 Atlantans added to the voter rolls since the last mayoral election, campaigns are facing a different landscape than they did in 2017 as they ramp up crucial ground-game campaigns and get-out-the-vote efforts.
  • “Rent-a-robot: Silicon Valley’s new answer to the labor shortage in smaller U.S. factories,” by Reuters’s Jane Lee: "Silicon Valley has a new pitch to persuade small companies to automate: rent-a-robot. Better technology and the need to pay higher wages to humans have produced a surge in sales of robots to big companies all across America. But few of these automations are making it into smaller factories, which are wary of big upfront costs and lacking robot engineering talent. So venture capitalists are backing a new financial model: lease robots, install and maintain them, charge factories by the hour or month, cut the risk and initial costs.”


Today in Washington

Biden will meet at midday with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. At 3 p.m., he will meet virtually with a bipartisan group of governors who have offered to welcome Afghan refugees. Vice President Harris will wrap up her visit to Vietnam before heading home.

In closing