I have no interest in wallowing in the weeds of politics over what happened in Afghanistan this week, the hypocrisy and cynical opportunism of the blaming game.
But this should matter to us, here in our relatively safe and secure place, in our neighborhoods and schools and places of business, because ripples from this human tragedy may soon reach us.
I hope so.
Indulge me, please, as I repeat what I wrote here three months ago: “We are leaving, declaring an end to America’s longest war, and in addition to all the uncertainty and wounds we leave behind are thousands of Afghan people who trusted and helped us and who now will face reprisals by a resurgent Taliban.”
As noted then, interpreters and other civilians who worked for the U.S. government or NATO may apply for a special immigrant visa. But the numbers are limited, and the application process can take years.
They don’t have years.
Back in May, back further to when intelligence told us what was likely to happen, we had time to come up with a plan. But we apparently squandered that, and now it’s a frantic, hour-by-hour effort to make good our promises to Afghans who put their lives on the line as they worked with U.S. forces, or those who seized the opportunities we tried to provide to start building a freer, more open and democratic country, to elevate the status of women, to educate girls.
Charlie Sykes, writing in Bulwark Monday, quoted an Afghan pilot who is desperate to get to this country: “There are a lot of Afghans who trusted the United States. Not just translators. Not just civil society activists, but also Afghan soldiers. We loved fighting alongside Americans. Please don’t leave us behind. Please. We will be great Americans.”
If you have followed news coverage of the collapse in Afghanistan this week, you have heard countless U.S. war veterans speak to the honor and sacrifice of their Afghan helpers and allies. Many have said they would not be alive today without them.
We promised to take care of them. We owe them.
Yet, we hear cautionary warnings from some of the usual suspects on the fringes. Conservative radio host Charlie Kirk says President Biden allowed Afghanistan to fall because he “wants a couple hundred thousand more Ilhan Omars to come into America to change the body politic permanently.” Rep. Omar, D-Minn., a leader of the left in Congress, is from Somalia, not Afghanistan, but she serves as a handy lightning rod.
On Fox News, Tucker Carlson warned of Afghan hordes resettled here, “probably in your neighborhood.” The numbers may reach the millions, he said.
Probably in your neighborhood. If anyone asks you to define xenophobia or fear-mongering, quote Tucker.
I recognize the gratitude, respect and commitment our veterans express toward their Afghan allies because I saw it years ago in the bond shared by members of the North Dakota National Guard with the family of an Iraqi man, Magid Al-Abase.
I have told his story several times, including in May. In reports and radio traffic, the North Dakota soldiers called him M, hoping to protect him against Iraqi insurgents. He had invited the soldiers into their home, gave them food and warned them about IEDs, improvised explosive devices, that insurgents had planted on nearby roads.
Majid was killed in January 2005, pulled from his truck not far from his home and shot 30 times in front of a son, to whom the insurgents said: “This is what happens when you help the Americans.”
In response, members of the 141st Engineer Combat Battalion resolved to protect his widow and their six, soon to be seven, children. It was fulfillment of a pledge that had been made by one of the battalion’s officers to Majid, sealed with a handshake.
A few months later, thanks to efforts by the soldiers, then-U.S. Rep. Earl Pomeroy and others, Mrs. M and her children arrived in Fargo. They were welcomed at the airport by many of those same soldiers.
As I said in May, the human bond was undeniable. A boy emerged from the plane and ran to familiar faces. “Hi guys!” he shouted. Specialist April Rohr, a medic who had bandaged the children’s cuts when the unit stopped at their home, cried as she embraced Mrs. M, whom she had cared for when Mrs. M was pregnant with her seventh child. Mrs. M handed that baby girl to Rohr and told her, through an interpreter, that she had named her April.
Pomeroy was there, too. "Welcome to North Dakota," he told Mrs. M. "We will never forget what your husband did for us."
We took care of Mrs. M and her family, as we were bound to do, and they have thrived here, learning and working and becoming citizens. Becoming good Americans.
Surely, as I wrote in May, we have room here in our safe, secure neighborhoods for a few more families yearning to breathe free, refugees whose friendship, courage and assistance saved American lives.
Chuck Haga had a long career at the Grand Forks Herald and the Minneapolis Star Tribune before retiring in 2013. He can be contacted at email@example.com.