Veteran’s story highlights perilous Afghanistan evacuation effort

Hampden County

BOSTON (SHNS) – For 17 years, Jan fought alongside U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan as a member of the Afghan National Army. Today he is in hiding with his family, including two daughters, at a relative’s house in Kabul, hoping to find a way to safely get himself and his family out of the country.

“I’m just buying some little food to stay alive with my family at one of our relative’s houses. We are hopeless right now. We don’t have any clear future right now,” the Afghan veteran said Tuesday.

With the Taliban now firmly in control of Afghanistan and the United States scrambling to evacuate diplomatic, civilian and military personnel, as well as Afghan allies ahead of an Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline, Jan’s story is one shared by thousands of Afghans who have worked alongside U.S. forces for 20 years.

Jan, who asked that his full name be kept confidential for security reasons, said he reached out to his former United States military supervisors about obtaining a special immigrant visa to escape Afghanistan, but was told he couldn’t be helped because he was military, and not a civilian interpreter.

The next time he asked for help, he said, his email wasn’t returned.

President Joe Biden said Tuesday he would stick with an Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw from Afghanistan as the Taliban said they would not honor an extension and would no longer allow Afghans to travel to the Kabul airport to flee the country.

Biden recently said there were about 10,000 to 15,000 American citizens who needed to be evacuated, and between 50,000 and 65,000 Afghans and their families the U.S. wanted to get out.

Jake Sullivan, White House national security advisor, said Monday more than 37,000 people had been evacuated from the country since Aug. 14, including 28 U.S. military flights that removed approximately 10,400 people from Kabul over the previous 24 hours.

“We believe that we have time between now and the 31st to get out any American who wants to get out,” Sullivan said. He also said the government is “in touch with the Afghans at risk, eligible for Special Immigrant Visas and other categories of support from the U.S. Government,” and would work to get them out of the country even after U.S. Military forces have left.

“We are trying to get as many of them to the airport as quickly as possible to get them on flights home,” Sullivan said.

Jan shared his story on Tuesday morning with a group of local Massachusetts reporters on a secure conference call over the application WhatsApp. The call was organized by the Congressional campaign of Republican Jesse Brown, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who was connected with Jan through military friends.

Brown, who served in the Middle East, but not Afghanistan, said he wanted to help spread Jan’s story so that people understand what is happening in Afghanistan.

“His life in grave danger because of his loyalty to the US,” Brown said, describing Jan as “someone who deserves far better than the treatment he is receiving right now” and blaming the Biden administration for “mismanagement” of the United State’s exit from the country.

Brown also faulted incumbent Democrat Rep. William Keating, a member of the Foreign Affairs and Armed Services committees, for his response to the crisis, describing it as “weak, lacking in leadership, and too little, too late.”

Keating last week joined more than 40 House Democrats in sending a letter to the White House looking for more details on the U.S. effort to assist Afghans seeking to escape the country, including activists who fought for the rights of women and girls in the country.

Brown called the effort “timid,” suggesting Keating should instead “call for immediate hearings to hold the administration accountable for this unmitigated disaster.”

A spokeswoman for Keating said Brown’s criticism was misplaced, describing Keating as someone deeply involved in the human rights issues of Afghanistan long before the evacuation crisis. Shortly after Brown’s campaign event, aide Lauren McDermott said Keating had a meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, and Gen. Mark Millie, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, among others, to discuss the situation in Afghanistan.

His office has also been working directly to help evacuate more than 1,000 people, she said, and the Bourne Democrat filed legislation in June condemning the Taliban and calling on the federal governemnt to support Afghans who served alongside U.S. forces through the special visa program.

“I don’t think the Brown campaign could have chosen an issue that Bill has worked more robustly and holistically on than this one,” McDermott said, later adding, “The reason you don’t see Congressman Keating holding press conferences to discuss what he’s doing is because he recognizes you don’t exploit people in the middle of a humanitarian crisis.”

Jan, who assisted U.S. Special forces as a member of the elite ANA Special Operations Command, said he was living in a northern province with his family when the Taliban took control in July in the span of a day. He and his family hid in local homes, changing locations every 24 to 48 hours as the Taliban went house to house looking for people like Jan who had helped the United States during the war.

Three weeks ago, Jan and his family escaped to Kabul, but he remains in hiding there.

Four days ago he ventured out to the Kabul airport, but after showing his documentation to American soldiers he was unable to breach the crowds and gain access to the airport through one the gates. He said he and his two daughters witnessed people getting shot in their attempt to access the airport, and retreated after 24 hours to a relative’s home.

Jan said he was “surprised” by how quickly the Taliban seized control of the country, blaming corruption in the Afghan government for the quick collapse. He described his own base being overrun by the Taliban while he and his fellow soldiers were under orders not to fight back.

“We tried to do our best,” he said.

Jan said he still hopes to be able to leave the country, but doesn’t want to “escape” to the United States or Canada “illegally.”

“I want to be there legally by U.S. government permission,” he said.

Since the crisis developed in Afghanistan, state Rep. John Velis has gathered signatures of more than 70 state lawmakers urging the federal delegation to do all it can to protect Afghan allies, and Gov. Charlie Baker has said Massachusetts stand “ready to assist” Afghan refugees who may relocate here.

U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch, the chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security, and U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, wrote a letter to the Biden administration last week urging them to expedite evacuations and “make clear to the Taliban — in no uncertain terms — that they will face severe repercussions if they take any action that jeopardizes the security of U.S. military and civilian personnel at Hamid Karzai International Airport, limits or restricts safe passage to the airfield, or otherwise interferes with the evacuation of U.S. citizens and Afghan nationals.”

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