Veterans of the war in Afghanistan have told of their guilt and anger that their local allies may have been left to die amid the Taliban onslaught as the US withdraws its troops.
As of Sunday, only about 2,000 Afghan allies, who served as interpreters, fixers and translators among other roles in the war, had been evacuated from the country since evacuations began in July, according to the NY Times.
The US has desperately been trying to evacuate Embassy staff and civilians since the capital of Kabul fell to the Taliban on Sunday.
The Biden Administration has said it expects to evacuate 20,000 Afghan civilians who are eligible for ‘special immigrant visas’ in the coming weeks – but aid groups have said the number needing to be evacuated could be 80,000.
And as the Taliban tightens its grip on Kabul – with reports of the group setting up checkpoints in the city and barricading the entrances to its airport – US veteran say they are increasingly worried for their Afghan friends who helped during the war.
‘I want to suit and go back,’ said Matthew Zeller, an Afghan war veteran and co-founder of No One Left Behind, a non-profit dedicated to helping process the relocation applications of US allies from Afghanistan.
‘It’s not just the soldiers we’re talking about it’s the diplomats, the aid workers the people who believed in the future of this country that we were all trying to build together,’ He told The Today Show Wednesday.
‘They don’t have a future now.’
For U.S. service members who served in Afghanistan, the situation there is deeply personal. @HallieJackson spoke to four veterans who had a lot to say about how things are playing out and the Afghan people who helped them and are now left behind. pic.twitter.com/T6gdwCpyDX
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) August 18, 2021
Matthew Zeller, an Afghan war veteran and co-founder of No One Left Behind, a non-profit dedicated to helping process the relocation applications of US allies from Afghanistan said he would suit up and return amid fears of reprisals against the friends he worked alongside
Zeller (pictured on deployment) said he feared the people he and others in the US government worked alongside in Afghanistan might no longer have a future under Taliban rule
Overnight into Tuesday, the US only put 2,000 people on planes and only 325 of them were Americans.
There are at least 11,000 US citizens still stuck in Afghanistan and tens of thousands of Afghans who helped the US in the war and are trying to get Special Immigrant Visas to be removed before the Taliban ditches its goodwill and kills them.
Veteran Kristen Rouse, a board member for the Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America, said the interpreter she worked with while on deployment in the country is trapped there, with no way out.
‘He’s hiding out in an area where he says that nobody knows who he is,’ she said. ‘He’s very afraid for his safety, and the safety of his family.’
‘He sent me a picture of two of his boys, and it’s just devastating,’ Rouse said emotionally.
She said she had heard from other US veterans who had been contacted by their Afghan allies that say they’ve been getting good bye notes.
‘Afghans believe that they are about to die,’ she told CNN on Monday.
This is the scene at the city entrance to the airport in Kabul. It is being controlled by the Taliban and there are reports that Afghans trying to flee the country are being stopped
Veteran Kristen Rouse said she had received frantic messages from an interpreter she worked with in the country
Rouse said she had heard from other veterans who had received goodbye notes from Afghans, who believed they would soon be killed
She said she had been working with other veterans to do whatever they can to try and get their friends out of the country.
‘This is a deployment from my living room,’ she said. ‘There’s so many of us who are trying to do everything that we can.’
There are now thought to be around 50,000 people – mostly Afghans – gathered outside two entrances to Hamid Karzai airport – the civilian south side and military north side, both of which are under Taliban control.
‘I would do anything to go back,’ said Kyoshi Mino, who served two deployments in Afghanistan.
‘I feel this really strong sense of guilt,’ he told the Today Show.
‘It was my job to go around to these different villages to help them build their country and make it a better place and this just completely makes me a liar.’
Mino said he has focused all of his efforts on trying help his friends get out of the country.
‘I’ve just had to put aside everything else because I feel responsible,’ he said.
‘My two friends who are still stuck in Kabul. I am their only hope they have to survive right now. I’m literally their last hope.’
Veteran Phil Nannery said he had created a Twitter account for the sole purpose of lobbying officials to help process his interpreter’s visa application.
‘I’ve been an emotional wreck this past week,’ he tweeted.
‘I actually hate Twitter and things like this so if I’ve set up an account on here with only one purpose you know s**t has hit the fan. I’m trying to just make some noise like someone’s life depends on it b/c it does.’
Kyoshi Mino said he felt like he had been made to look like a liar to his Afghan friends after the country fell to the Taliban Sunday
Mino said he’s put aside his all other endeavors to help his Afghan friends, believing he may be their last chance for survival
David Rohde, a former war correspondent for the New York Times said only 700 of the Afghan translators who had worked with the US military in the country had actually made it to the United States in an op-ed for the New Yorker.
Priority was being given to processing their visa applications, he said, over the family of his friend, who worked alongside him as a journalist, and whom he spent seven month in Taliban captivity alongside.
Even for them, he said, military officials who had worked alongside the Afghan allies, assailed the pace of the evacuation.
Overall, about 300,000 Afghan civilians have worked with the US government during its 20-year mission in the country, the New York Times reported.
The most recent arrivals, landed on US soil ion Sunday, and were processed at a military base in Virginia, according to the outlet.
Afghans eligible for resettlement visas must show they’ve worked for the US governement for two years and have experienced a serious threat associated with their affiliation.
Already 15,000 Afghans have been resettled in the US out of 34,500 visas that have already been authorized.
At least 18,000 still have applications pending, with more expected as the situation deteriorates in the country, the Times reported.