Afghan carnage

Crowds of people show their documents to U.S. troops outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan August 26, 2021.

Thursday marked the deadliest day for US troops in Afghanistan in a decade. Twin explosions were reported outside Kabul's airport, killing dozens of people, including at least 90 Afghans and 13 US service members — the first US military deaths in the country since February 2020. Details are still coming to light, but harrowing images have been circulating online, showing pools of blood on the outskirts of the airport and desperate Afghans scurrying to get medical care.

Who's responsible? The explosions, which included at least one suicide bombing, were not carried out by the Taliban, who took control of the country two weeks ago and are closely coordinating with the US military to wrap up the evacuation effort so they can get back to the business of governing by fear. Rather, the blasts were the work of ISIS-K (K stands for Khorasan, a region that includes northeastern Iran, southern Turkmenistan and northern Afghanistan), an offshoot of the broader Islamic State movement that expanded to Central Asia in 2015.

Although ISIS-K and the Taliban are both hardline Sunni Islamist groups (Sunnis often unite against common Shia foes) they are sworn enemies: the former includes a ragtag group of fighters including some Taliban defectors, and is thought to be even more draconian than the Taliban, rejecting all political proposals and believing only in the extreme enforcement of sharia law. While ISIS-K wants to form a caliphate, it has never captured swathes of land in Afghanistan, so it has sought to project strength by waging terror on the Afghan people (it was responsible for a particularly gruesome attack in May on an all-girls school in Kabul).

What does this mean for the withdrawal? Well, it's certainly not good. Already in the lead-up to the attack, foreign governments began suspending evacuation flights, some indefinitely. Germany and France, for instance, announced that they were wrapping up their rescue missions for good.

For the US, meanwhile, which is responsible for security at the interior of Kabul's airport, Thursday's attacks significantly obscured the withdrawal mission, which President Biden still says should be completed by August 31 and won't leave any US nationals behind who want to leave. But as the security situation deteriorates at the airport, and in Kabul more broadly, it's becoming less likely that the US will be able to airlift around 1,500 US nationals who remain in Afghanistan by next Tuesday, or the hundreds of thousands of Afghans who helped the US mission over the past two decades. And there's no indication that the US will extend its mission beyond that date. One former official told the Washington Post that "while it is likely to be denied publicly, the terrorist attack is also likely to mark the de facto end of the formal US-led noncombatant evacuation operation."

How might the US respond? Given that the whole point of the hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan was for Biden to honor his campaign pledge of ending "forever wars," it has seemed extremely unlikely that the US would take any actions that further entrench its troops in Afghanistan or jeopardize the evacuation effort — until now.

A deadly attack on US troops is not something that the Biden administration can let slide. If — as US intelligence warns — more attacks are imminent, Biden might be forced to hit terrorist targets in Afghanistan, precisely the sort of military escalation that he has desperately tried to avoid.

What does this mean for the Taliban? While the Taliban are surely not mourning the loss of American or Afghan lives, they are likely furious that ISIS-K is undermining their authority just days into the group's new gig. ISIS-K boasts just 1,500-2,200 fighters, not enough to pose a serious threat to the Taliban's rule, but this week's events show that it could certainly be a massive thorn in the Taliban's side as they try to get to the business of actually governing. Indeed, this could also have the effect of further radicalizing the Taliban as they try to contain their dogged rivals and prevent defections.

It also massively complicates already-precarious US-Taliban relations. The Pentagon is intent on getting to the bottom of how ISIS fighters managed to get through checkpoints controlled by the Taliban, who man the airport's exterior. "We share a common purpose," a Pentagon spokesperson said after the attacks Thursday, warning that cooperation with the Taliban would last so long as they continue to share a core mutual interest: getting the US out of Afghanistan.

In a new episode of That Made All the Difference, Savita Subramanian, head of ESG Research, BofA Global Research, explains why ESG factors are critical to why some companies succeed and some fail.

"I think 10 years from now, we won't even call it 'environmental, social and governance,' or ESG investing. We won't call it sustainable. It'll just be part of investing," she says.

Link to the episode here.

Less than a year after the world started putting COVID vaccines into people's arms, most regions have immunized at least half their populations, but Africa still lags behind. With industrialized nations hoarding jabs and the COVAX facility faltering, barely five percent of the African population is fully vaccinated.

Some enterprising South African scientists are now making a bold bid to change that, with an experiment that could benefit not only Africa's 54 nations and billion people, but the entire world: Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines, a Cape Town-based startup, has developed a plan to reverse-engineer Moderna's mRNA shot and manufacture it for priority distribution on the continent.

More Show less

Right now, only one region of the world is reporting an increase in new daily COVID cases. Here's a hint: it's one of the places where vaccines are, for the most part, easiest to get.

It's Europe. According to the World Health Organization, the region last week notched a 7 percent uptick in new daily infections, the third week in a row that infections rose there.

More Show less

Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

How are Democrats going to finance their $2 trillion spending bill?

Well, I don't know. And the Democrats don't know either. The original idea was to undo a lot of the Trump tax cuts from 2017. This is a very unpopular tax bill that every Democrat voted against, but moderate Senator Kyrsten Sinema told the White House earlier this month that she's against any and all tax rate increases. This takes the top individual income tax rate going up off the table. And it takes the top corporate rate going up off the table. And it probably takes capital gains rates going up off the table. So, now the Democrats are scrambling to backfill that revenue that they can no longer raise through rate increases with other ideas. One of those ideas is a tax on the unrealized gains of billionaires.

More Show less

The US is the world's largest economy. It's also the only one among the top 10 that has no national paid parental leave scheme. If you or your partner have a baby in the US the message is clear: you're on your own. Compare that to many European countries, which offer cushy paid leave schemes for new parents – more generously for women. Even countries that don't have a robust social safety net offer paid parental leave in some form. We take a look at how the US stacks up on paid parental leave (or lack thereof) compared to the world's largest economies.

From overall health and wellness to representation in the global workforce, women and girls have faced serious setbacks over the past 18+ months. They also hold the key to more robust and inclusive growth in the months and years ahead: McKinsey & Company estimates that centering recovery efforts on women could contribute $13 trillion to global GDP by 2030.

On October 28th at 12pm ET, as part of our "Measuring What Matters" series, GZERO Media and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will look beyond traditional indicators of economic recovery to examine COVID-19's impact on girls and women, specifically in the areas of health and employment.

More Show less

How can we go from "fine words" to "fine deeds" at the upcoming COP26 climate summit in Glasgow? For Inger Andersen, head of the UN Environment Program, it's actually quite simple. The world's top 20 economies, she says, are responsible for over three-quarters of global carbon emissions, so if they "make the requisite shifts, frankly we are out of the climate crisis." Watch her interview with Ian Bremmer on the upcoming episode of GZERO World.

On 30-31 October, the world's top leaders will gather in Rome for this year's G-20 Summit. After the pandemic forced them to meet last year by videoconference, the heads of state will once again be attending in person, allowing for the type of parallel, one-on-one meetings that have proven more productive in the past. Still, many critics of the G-20 have come to see the forum as a talk shop, a place where a lot is said but nothing really happens. Will this year be any different, given the long list of challenges the world faces, from COVID to climate change? We talked with Eurasia Group expert Charles Dunst to set the stage and find out where things are going.

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal


Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal


Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal