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US withdrawal leaves Afghan allies in fear, anger and panic


When the last American plane left Afghanistan on Monday, the hopes of thousands of Afghans who believed the United States would save them from the Taliban vanished with them in the clouds above Kabul.

Afghan allies said their emotions ranged from fear and anger to outright sadness and panic that the government they had spent two decades supporting had left many in the clutches of the Taliban, a group known for his violent and vengeful tendencies against those who worked with coalition forces. .

Taliban fighters patrol the civilian terminal at Hamid Karzai International Airport, following the full military withdrawal of the United States from the country, in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 31, 2021.Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

“We thought America was going to save our country,” said Shakila, an Afghan living in Washington, DC, whose family had to stay in Afghanistan when she received a visa in 2019. “We thought America was going to make our country safe, but they ignore us.They ignore the Afghans who worked for them and they will leave them behind.

Shakila, whose last name is not used to protect her family, said she spent weeks with little sleep thinking about her siblings and the elderly mother she left behind. Since the Taliban began to take control of the country, she has spent every night after leaving work talking to other Afghan immigrants and trying to find ways to get her family out of Afghanistan.

The hours spent in the effort are long, but they have turned out to be fruitless for many.

A painting Shakila completed shortly after the Taliban took control of Kabul. “It is the feeling of an Afghan woman who does not want a burqa. I want peace and freedom,” she said.Shakila / via NBC News

“We know it won’t happen, but we have to try,” she said. “If there’s a 1% chance that filling out a form or making another phone call will help my family get out, I have to do it. I don’t want to lose them. I cannot lose my belief that I can save them.

This sentiment is shared by Americans and others who still work on behalf of their Afghan allies who were unable to escape until the last American plane left, marking the end of the two-decade war in Afghanistan.

The fact that the State Department claims to have successfully evacuated more than 123,000 people, including 6,000 Americans, is of little relief to those working to help the thousands who remain.

“A lot of us don’t think about the numbers we came out with,” said Adam DeMarco, a military veteran who works alongside other veterans through Allied Airlift 21, a nonprofit group they created there. two weeks ago to help with evacuations and who keeps a register of Afghans who have been left behind. “We think of those people we knew we couldn’t do anything about. It’s the numbers and it’s the faces and it’s the names that mark us all. “

The evacuation effort continues among groups like Allied Airlift 21 and even some individuals, although hopes are dwindling and advice to Afghans still hoping to flee is slim.

Scott King, a former US Navy, and Stephen Hull, a former member of the Australian military, both worked for military contractor Global Strategies Group – a now defunct organization that has won millions of security contracts and helped secure Afghan elections, run anti-narcotics programs, train police, and secure airports in Kabul and Kandahar.

Although neither have worked for Global Strategies Group for years, they have responded to hundreds of requests from former Afghan colleagues in the hope that they can help them flee Afghanistan. In the absence of the organization’s human resources and employment records department, King and Hull continue to write letters of support for their former allies and help them organize visa applications and travel documents.

The work is overwhelming. Every day they receive a flood of messages from frightened Afghans sending them pleas for help and even photos of their children.

“I’ve been a hell of a mess,” Hull said, noting that he had been receiving and responding to messages for the past eight weeks. “I went to weddings with these people. They had me at home. It is impossible to follow the volume. It’s crazy.”

However, it is not known whether their work will lead to the flight of Afghans. King said successes were rare.

“I’m going to keep running them as long as I get requests because I think it’s important, at the very least, to keep a record that there was a demand in the pipeline,” he said. . “As everything has deteriorated, maybe it’s just for my own good: I need to know that I have done all I can. I didn’t stop when the last plane took off. So I have to continue with this – we have to continue with this. “

Abdul, an Afghan who spoke on condition of anonymity and who worked in security for Global Strategies Group, received a letter of support from King.

In recent weeks, Abdul – a false name used to protect his identity – has said he has been frantically looking for a way to escape Afghanistan with his family. Although he submitted a special US immigrant visa application with King’s help, he had no other recourse to find a way out of the country.

The overland routes to Tajikistan and Pakistan are dangerous, and he didn’t have a lot of money, and he begged former employers, colleagues, and any Americans he can contact to contact the U.S. Embassy. and to save him, his wife and their children.

Abdul said he received several messages from members of the Taliban, most recently on Sunday, telling him they knew he and his family were in hiding in Kabul and threatened to harm them. Sunday’s appeal had left his family in tears, he said, but he continued to pray for an appeal from the United States that his visa application had been accepted.

“They are checking homes very quickly,” he said via a WhatsApp message after receiving the call from the Taliban on Sunday. “I don’t want them to find me with my family. We don’t want to die.

The only hope he and his family have is to get help from the United States, Abdul said.

While he received multiple death threats from the Taliban, he said, no Americans contacted him about his evacuation. On Monday, his children told him that the US military had left. They told their father that they were sure they would be captured and killed by the Taliban.

“The reward of working with the US military, right? ” He asked. “Death at the hands of the Taliban?” “

Afghan refugees evacuated from Kabul arrive at Washington Dulles International Airport on August 27, 2021.Yasin Ozturk / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Hope for a subsequent rescue via US diplomacy or military efforts also seemed limited. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday that the United States would suspend its diplomatic presence in Kabul and open a new office in Doha, Qatar, more than 1,200 miles away. Other countries have said they have moved their diplomatic offices to Doha.

Yet it remains a concern among invested Americans and Afghans: How will the Taliban act in Kabul and the rest of Afghanistan when the international community is no longer watching?

“I don’t see a lot of journalists or international surveillance being able to stay in Afghanistan without any sort of security structure in place other than the Taliban,” King said. “So when the punishment begins, how will the world know?” Are people just going to disappear? Will emails stop? Are the messages just going to dry up? We’ll never know.

Shakila said there was a lot of anger and fear among Afghans working for the United States, and many still cannot believe that the American mission in their country ended without a sense of direction and with the Taliban under control again.

While they knew they were taking a risk working with the Americans, none of them expected the United States to suddenly leave and rob them of the hope they had for the future of their country and potentially put their lives in danger.

“I still don’t know how I’m supposed to react to this situation, like my country, my people, will suddenly come back 20 years so quickly?” Shakila said, adding that her family had had to burn all their photos and employee IDs from the past two decades to protect themselves from the Taliban. ” I am traumatised. I just hope for a miracle that can save my country, just a simple miracle that can change everything.