The disastrous Afghanistan withdrawal, one year later
Biden left behind American citizens and Afghan allies; Taliban empowers al Qaeda and ISIS
One year ago on Aug. 30, Pres. Biden ordered the U.S. military to completely withdraw from Afghanistan. Biden knowingly left behind American citizens and Afghans who worked for our military, CIA and State Department to fend for themselves against the Taliban, which swept in and took power. Then the terrorists came out of hiding.
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This war is not over just because Pres. Biden pulled the troops today.
Unfortunately, I was right.
The war did not end just because Biden picked this arbitrary political deadline and ignored advice from the military leaders. In fact, things have gotten worse for America’s interests.
The commander in charge of the withdrawal, Retired General Frank McKenzie — who advised against leaving completely — said on "Fox News Sunday" this past weekend that “the threat is growing in Afghanistan.” He said:
al Qaeda is still present in Afghanistan and also ISIS is still present in Afghanistan, and both of those entities have a long-term aspirational goal to attack us in our homeland. And given the breathing room to reestablish themselves and reassert their strength, we believe they will
McKenzie recommended keeping 2,500 troops with a large NATO presence to stop the Taliban from taking over. We may have to do that now.
Still left behind
On Aug. 30 last year, I reported this from a source:
“Tell people DO NOT go to the airport now. Last US wheels leave in 15 minutes. After that, it will be overrun by TB.”
TB = Taliban.
From the personal stories I’ve written here over the past year, we know more about the people who were at the airport, desperate to escape because they were Americans or worked for the U.S. They all went into hiding.
This is what I wrote last year on Aug. 31 from a source:
The abandoned group includes [American citizens], green card holders, legal permanent residents, embassy workers, US contractors and their families. Many are SIVs & the vast majority were registered with the US State Department last week or earlier.
Biden said that for those left behind, there is no deadline” to get them out. He said the State Department would use “diplomatic efforts to ensure a safe passage for any American, Afghan partner, or foreign national who wants to leave Afghanistan.”
Well, a year later, there are still thousands and thousands who don’t believe that they are going to be saved and are living in terror from the Taliban. You’ve read here many of their stories here in my newsletter, so I wanted to share an update on two of them.
Asas, the loyal ally
I first talked on the phone and wrote about Asas (not his real name) on Aug. 31, 2021. Read that story here. For 17 years, he lived and worked as the procurement officer on the Forward Operating Base Fenty, which was a U.S. military base around Jalalabad Airport.
Asas applied for a SIV in July 2021, submitted all documentation, got a case number, but has not heard anything more from the State Department.
“I’ve lost my hope. I can’t imagine what is happening to me,” he texted recently.
The State Department did not respond to repeated questions about Asas’s case.
In May, he told me in about life in hiding:
Since August, we have been displaced and separated from all our relatives and friends. We live worse than prisoners who can’t work and no food or clothes or education for our children – all because we worked for your government.
If working for the U.S. was our sin or mistake, what is the sin of our children and families?
Asas is a leader and speaks perfect English. So by Nov. 2021, he had taken the initiative to put together a detailed spreadsheet of 150 of the other colleagues from the base who qualify for Special Immigration Visas (SIV) to come to America. Read my story on “Asas’s List: The Afghan Protecting 150 U.S. Air Base SIV from Taliban.”
He texted me recently this:
We used to be employees of the U.S. government. We felt fortunate.
But we didn’t know they would deceive us and fail after they lost the war. They don’t even think about their friends or employees who were standing with them for the past 20 years.
At the end, they handed over everything to the Taliban and sacrificed those who stood with them.
The lucky few
Asas told me recently that the U.S. has only taken four of his men out of Afghanistan this past year. They were flown to Qatar, where they can do the required interviews and medical tests for SIVs. He told me the exact route out of the country but asked me not to share for their safety.
A State spokesman told me this about the current process:
Eligible Afghan travelers (AmCits, LPRs, SIV holders, COM-approved applicants, their immediate families, or reunification cases) are contacted by the State Dept call center and if their travel documentation is in order and they are ready to fly, offered a plane ticket, as seats are available, for travel to Qatar for security and medical screening procedures.
A gift from Asas’s list
I was deeply honored and touched when Asas told me that he and his men had an award for me.
“You deserve more than this, but we are poor,” he wrote. “It is not just from – it is from the 150 guys left behind.”
He sent me this photo — at the top of this story — of his gift. It says, “Emily Miller, August 2021, You are the voice of innocent. Thank you for being voice of those left behind in Afghanistan.”
He said it’s made of “expensive stone” and wants to send it to me but can’t afford the shipping. I offended him when I said not to try to send it. So, I told him that I will treasure the gift for the rest of my life.
U.S. Embassy employee in refugee camp
I wrote recently about Arash (not his real name), who worked for the U.S. Embassy in USAID and was badly beaten by the Taliban. He is still stuck in a terrible refugee camp in Pakistan.
“You can’t imagine how life is hard here,” he emailed me this week. “In Kabul, we were hidden from Taliban. Here we are hiding from a Dengue virus that is making people sick all around us.”
You’ll remember his wife had a baby while they were hiding in a basement. He emails me almost every day for help getting his young family out of the squalor and to process his pending visa application as a P-1 refugee. I asked him what he wants people to know about his life now.
He said the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has not helped him for asylum certification or basic needs like food and health care for his wife and children. He said he hasn’t heard anything from the United States Refugee Admissions Program nor State’s Resettlement Support Center about his case.
One year later
I try to encourage Arash by making sure to include him in all my stories about those left behind so he knows he’s not forgotten. He replied to the last story:
“Love your pen and hand, be strong and shine around the world. I hope one day you write again about my US story's success.”
I pray Arash and his young family get help to come to America before they get too sick in this terrible refugee camp. I hope all those left behind know we – the American public – have not forgotten them and we are grateful for their service to our nation.