It has been one year since the U.S. withdrew from Afghanistan. But the passage of time has not softened the chaos and horror that surrounded the withdrawal and left Afghanistan crumbling.
Veterans and refugees who lived through the withdrawal and collapse can attest to the wretched state of things last year.
Ashquillah Pardisi was born and raised in Afghanistan, and upon graduating high school he became a linguist for the U.S. military. Three of his brothers followed in his footsteps, also becoming translators for the military.
After working for a few years, Pardisi came to the U.S. through the special immigrant visa program that applied to Afghan linguists. He then did several years of work as a contractor with the Marines back in the Helmand province of Afghanistan.
But after seeing so many of his comrades killed, he resigned and came back to the States.
“While I worked as a linguist, the sad part is I lost a lot of friends. They got killed. Some of them were linguists, some of them were Marines and some of them were Army soldiers. And some of them were Afghan forces who we trained and then they got killed. So that was the sad part of this job that kind of made me … resign at the end. I said, ‘That’s it. I can’t take this anymore,'” Pardisi said.
He has been working in the U.S. as a language instructor since 2012.
But some of his family was still in Afghanistan in August 2021, when the U.S. withdrew and the Taliban took over.
The Taliban takeover of Kabul happened so fast that his family did not know what to do. With his mother in poor health, they had a difficult time waiting at the airport among the thousands of others trying to flee.
Then the Taliban began asking around the neighborhood about Pardisi himself. Though he had not been in Afghanistan for years, they were asking for the whereabouts of him and his family.
This put pressure on his family to leave as quickly as they could. They had to leave their home and move around Kabul, never staying in one place for too long.
But finally, with the help of Pardisi’s connections, his family was able to leave the country.
For Pardisi, those days waiting for them to get out were miserable. He hardly slept as he tried to stay in contact with his family and kept working.
“I went to the bathroom, I saw the mirror and my eyes were red and swollen,” he said. “I was working during the day here and at nighttime I had to be constantly in contact with my family. So that’s why I couldn’t sleep. I was like, if something happened to them, I’m going to blame myself for my whole life.”
When his family arrived, they all moved in with Pardisi, his wife and his three children in their three-bedroom house. “Everybody’s living and sleeping everywhere,” Pardisi said.
He tried to rent a house for his family but ran into difficulties since they needed jobs and driver’s licenses.
But at least his family had people already in the U.S. to help them. Many refugees don’t know anyone and don’t know what they need to do or how to do it.
“The problem is most of them, they don’t have a point of contact here in the States like how I help my family. Some of these families, they don’t have anybody here in the States. … They are culturally shocked. They don’t know about the system here, how things work,” he said.
“Some of these people, they are like, ‘We have no idea. We were brought here and we get food and we sleep, we wake up. Then nights [go] by, but we have no idea what is the next step we need to take.'”
The problems that Pardisi saw with refugees were noted by many others across the U.S. as Afghan refugees faced a long road with many challenges.
Hundreds of refugees remained stuck at military bases for months, waiting on the long process of resettling throughout the U.S.
“After spending about four months on military bases, Afghans have landed in every state but Wyoming, with the largest numbers in Texas, California and Virginia. But arrivals have slowed to a trickle since late February, when focus shifted to the war in Ukraine, and the overall resettlement process has been challenging,” The New York Times reported.
As far as the process for helping refugees fully settle and start on the trajectory toward permanent residency, some officials say it is slow going.
“Things are just limping along, and that is as far away as we can think of from meeting our moral obligation,” said Ryan Crocker, a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, according to the Times.
“You have one crisis after another, after another,” Crocker added. “No one is thinking much about Afghanistan anymore. This administration would rather never hear the word Afghanistan again.”
As Pardisi faced these problems firsthand, he began volunteering to help refugees settle into American culture.
“They should know about the basic things about the system, how the system works. Their kids are going to school here, but they don’t know the language,” he said. “They have no idea what their kid’s doing. All they know is in the morning they leave, they go to school and they come back. … These refugees need some cultural and language training.”
Along with the challenges that refugees face, Pardisi is also concerned about the state of Afghanistan after the Taliban took over and thousands fled.
“I don’t trust [the] Taliban at all because what they do and what they say [are] two different things, and that makes me … not be optimistic about the future of Afghanistan,” he said.
But although Afghanistan practically collapsed by the end of the withdrawal one year ago, Pardisi did note that the people of Afghanistan are not the same as they were when the Taliban was last in power.
“One thing that makes me hopeful is the people there, the people in [the] last 20 years, they got education and they got freedom of speech and they got familiar with democracy,” Pardisi said. “So I think if the Taliban think that these people are the same as they were 20 years ago, they are mistaken.”
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