The United States ended the “Forever War” last month, but war existed in Afghanistan long before U.S. involvement and will continue. In fact, “Forever War” seems to be Afghanistan’s de facto state of being. Through the years of U.S. occupation and after, there have been shining examples of heroism and bravery — and people who desperately need help to escape. We cannot forget them.
I was contacted by a friend who needed help getting an Afghan colleague and his family out of Afghanistan. We managed to get them out before U.S. military forces evacuated the Hamid Karzai International Airport on August 30 . However, during the effort to get this first family out, I tapped into a vast network of individuals and groups trying to liberate people trapped in Afghanistan.
Now, as my commitment has grown and the situation has evolved, I keep in contact with multiple families, trying to keep their spirits up and let them know someone out there is still trying to help. The level of coordination required between multiple groups and individuals tests my years of experience as a military intelligence officer.
One of my main points of contact in this effort is Habibullah (not his real name), an Afghan who served as a U.S. interpreter, emigrated to the U.S. in 2016, and now lives in Maryland. He’s working on getting IT certifications and drives for Uber to support his wife and children.
Prior to the U.S. withdrawal, Habibullah and his uncle Mohammed (not his real name) actively aided U.S. forces over several years. Mohammed was a pillar in his community, and his protection allowed his fellow Afghans to resist Taliban efforts to drive out Americans. Tragically, Mohammed was beheaded by the Taliban at his home northeast of Kabul. Habibullah said last week the Taliban gathered up and beheaded about 60 of Mohammed’s family members.
Mohammed had survived multiple assassination attempts. Once, his ankle bone was shot through, his foot only connected by flesh and tissue. During that same attempt, Habibullah was shot in his hand and both he and Mohammed were airlifted to an Egyptian hospital near Bagram Airfield. Habibullah said the culprits had been trained and sent from Pakistan.
Many Afghans tried to flee across the Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan borders but were either turned away by the Taliban, imprisoned, or, if they tried to cross the border, shot and killed by Pakistani, Uzbek, or Tajik soldiers. Russia has troops in both Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and it started a three-day military exercise in response to Afghanistan’s deterioration. China is deciding whether it wants to occupy the former U.S. air base in Bagram , just north of Kabul.
One border crossing to Pakistan is still wide open on both sides. The catch? Taliban fighters live on the Pakistan side. They raise their families, enjoy their freedom, and travel back and forth to Afghanistan.
Border crossings are not the only dangerous path to escape the Taliban. Afghanistan’s roads are rife with checkpoints and opportunistic criminals. Habibullah reported that if you’re in public and don’t seem like you belong (e.g., speaking Farsi instead of Pashto, or having an American-style haircut, etc.), the Taliban will arrest you. They will search a phone to find “illicit” saved numbers, e.g., U.S. numbers starting with “+1,” and arrest its owner.
Habibullah also said many of the families he has helped consist of a woman and her children — their father killed by the Taliban during the U.S. occupation. These husbands either worked on U.S. bases or provided direct information and were killed because of it. Many Afghan citizens, especially women, have already been assaulted, raped, imprisoned, or killed.
There are reports from last month of young men press-ganged into fighting and young women becoming Taliban brides. Habibullah stated, “They come and say, ‘Your father killed my father, so now you are my child.’” These children of heroic fallen U.S. allies must not become fodder for indoctrination.
“Can you get them out?” is a question that four different U.S. presidents asked themselves about U.S. military forces in Afghanistan. There were many hardworking, intelligent, faithful, and honest Afghan people who risked their lives to assist U.S. forces in their fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban. Such people who have been left behind include 250,000 eligible Afghans and an estimated 2,000 U.S. Embassy contractors and their families .
These people put their lives on the line prior to the U.S. agreeing to leave the country. They risked their lives believing they could make their country better. They trusted the U.S.’s belief in the unalienable rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
These words may have just been lip service while our allies, and even many U.S. citizens still within Taliban-controlled Afghanistan , endure subjugation under an oppressive regime.
Samuel Sheffield is a military intelligence and signal captain in the U.S. Army Reserve. He works full-time as a cybersecurity professional in the Dallas, Texas, area. His opinions do not reflect those of his employers.
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