While the Right squares off against the Left, with each assigning the other blame for what is ironically a rare sense of agreement – the mismanaged chaos that typified America’s exit after two decades in Afghanistan, stories of great heroism are being told about former US servicemen guaranteeing the safety of Afghans who would otherwise face brutality and death by the Taliban.
It’s not the story of critics trashing the administration. Rather, it’s the story of former service members coming together to complete the job the government could not or would not finish. Not to create a partisan political bludgeon, but because their training, experience and courage create a path to fulfilling the pledges made on behalf of the nation. To these extraordinary veterans, leaving allies on the field of battle is simply not an option.
As many as 630 Afghans who provided support to US forces or fought alongside American troops, and their families, were smuggled, one or two at a time in the darkness of night, past the “Wire” surrounding Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport and Taliban brutalizing the throngs, into the waiting areas for flights to safety. Modeled after the famed pre-Civil War Underground Railroad, through Operation Pineapple Express former Special Ops forces carved out a new niche in American military history that some see as an indictment of the government and military hierarchy but others see as simply “what Americans do.”
Writing in The Atlantic, George Packer turns up the heat, refusing to dance around the matter of the abandonment of allies. Chronicling the escape of an Afghan interpreter, his wife and young son, he inveighs that: “Our abandonment of the Afghans who helped us, counted on us, and staked their lives on us is a final, gratuitous shame that we could have avoided.”
Other stories in a similar vein are now coming to light as the rescue effort comes to a close.
Disclosure: This article was originally intended to ask how the US government could understand so little about the Middle East – those with whom it shared a battlefield for so long and those who are deemed to be key allies. But, following the Kabul debacle, it seems appropriate to ask why our government fails to understand our own troops and the code our military lives under when it is clearly so much more than slogans: It’s life-and-death heroism.
The uproar over former President Donald Trump’s decision to leave Kurdish allies in harm’s way produced a date change, but not greater understanding. The disconnect apparently comes over method. While exiting the Middle East is arguably a popular policy goal across the political divide, accomplishing that goal without sacrificing those to whom we have promised “we have your back” is not acceptable. In this case, so much so that American veterans are willing to return to harm’s way if that is what it takes to save a colleague.
Not understanding the enemy is always fraught with danger. Trusting the Taliban despite warnings from those who know them best is a pathway to tragedy.
Almost two years ago, Zarifa Ghafari stood in Washington flanked by then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and first lady Melania Trump, proudly displaying her honor at the International Women of Courage Award. The youngest mayor of Afghanistan’s Maidan Shahr province, she fought to change the country she loves and take it back from the Taliban who had mercilessly killed her father, a colonel in the Afghan army, by raising women and men to live free.
Speaking to the negotiations going on at the time with the Trump administration, she told me that the US should not engage with the Taliban. Ghafari pleaded, “Please, please: Taliban will never change, so please don’t do this to my land, to my people, or at least to me and my family.” Today, thankfully, she sits safely in Germany as she once again bravely escaped her home country in the footwell of a car, leaving her dreams, family and friends, and the grave of her father behind.
As we go to press, polling shows remarkable and rare uniformity among all population segments calling for troops to remain until all Americans and Afghan allies are evacuated from Afghanistan. It’s time policymakers understand the mentality of Mideast actors and the nuance of the street. ISIS-K has shaken Kabul. America’s leaders should accept that ISIS has not been obliterated and the Taliban lie – all before it explodes on American soil.