Images from Afghanistan over the past few weeks have been jarring for any American to see. The scenes of men, women and children desperately attempting to escape as a radical extremist group takes over the country are inescapable.
For one particular group, though, these images have been even more difficult to digest. That group is the U.S. service members who served in Afghanistan over the past 20 years.
Tim Kennedy, a U.S. Army special forces master sergeant and former UFC fighter, falls into that category. On Aug. 27, The Western Journal conducted a telephone interview with Kennedy while he was on the ground in Afghanistan, taking direct action to help those who needed it the most.
At the beginning of the current crisis in Afghanistan, he said, the hardest part for him was a feeling of helplessness.
“You know, I’m sitting stateside, and seeing the Taliban take Bagram, where I worked, Kandahar, where I worked, Uruzgan … going through all the different provinces that I fought,” he said.
“And that not only hurt, but the feeling of helplessness is something I’m unfamiliar with. It was pretty acutely painful.”
From that moment, Kennedy said, he knew he wanted to take action. But the question of what action to take was one that he was not immediately able to answer.
“I kept asking the same question: ‘What is our mission, what are we doing, and how can I actually contribute?’” he said.
He eventually found an answer in the form of a nongovernmental organization called Save Our Allies.
According to its website, the organization is dedicated to both helping U.S. veterans and Afghan allies who remain in Afghanistan. Kennedy said Save Our Allies, in partnership with Mighty Oaks Foundation and The Independence Fund, put together a team designed to help evacuate these individuals.
A portion of the team was based in Washington, D.C. The other portion, which Kennedy himself was a part of, traveled to the Middle East to carry out the mission.
Due to the sensitive nature of the operation, Kennedy was intentionally vague about certain details in his conversation with The Western Journal. However, he was able to provide descriptions of the atrocities he personally witnessed in Kabul.
“It’s more dangerous than anyone could imagine, and it’s more horrific,” he said.
“War is hell, and you know, we’ve been at war for 20 years. And I’m happy that these wars are winding down, but this was something else entirely. This was something totally different, this was something I had never seen.”
As the Taliban fighters tightened their grip on the capital city of Kabul, he said, he saw innocent citizens take drastic steps in the hopes of saving their loved ones. While some adults resigned themselves to Taliban control, many were unwilling to submit their children to the same fate.
“You know, babies being floated like an inflatable ball at a football game to the front of the crowd because the parents hoped that a soldier would reach down and pick up that baby,” Kennedy said. “Sometimes, the children could make it. Sometimes, the baby would end up in the concertina wire.”
Sights like these have become all too common over the past two weeks. One photo from Aug. 19 showed a father passing his infant over a wall to a group of U.S. Marines amid the evacuation of Kabul.
A baby is handed to U.S. Marines over the perimeter wall of the airport for evacuation in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 19, 2021. The father and child were later reunited, according to Pentagon spokesman John Kirby. More photos of the week: https://t.co/DM6LK1p4PI ? Omar Haidari pic.twitter.com/mJN3z5csfZ
— Reuters Pictures (@reuterspictures) August 28, 2021
While such desperate actions involve a certain level of risk, Kennedy said he understood Afghans’ feeling that the risk was preferable to the alternative, which is to live under Taliban rule.
“Watching the Taliban do the horrific acts that they do, and that they will continue to do, especially when there’s less cameras there and there’s less eyes of the world on the violent actions that they take against people, especially women and marginalized groups … It was the stuff of nightmares.”
He went on to say the Taliban committed such atrocities as burning people alive, hanging them from trees, throwing acid on young girls, and pushing homosexuals off of rooftops.
The Biden administration has repeatedly suggested that working with the Taliban is a possibility. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Aug. 26 that coordination with the Taliban was “necessary” during the withdrawal.
Peter Doocy to Jen Psaki: “How is the United States still going to work with the Taliban the way that the President is describing or just did his remarks to get American citizens and Afghan allies out if that is what we’re working with?” pic.twitter.com/ojCGEJlmQV
— Curtis Houck (@CurtisHouck) August 26, 2021
For his part, Kennedy — a Green Beret and Bronze Star recipient who made it clear in a Twitter thread that he was operating with the Army’s permission — feels coordination with the Taliban in any capacity should have been out of the question.
“There’s no rational, logical person that has ever worked in any capacity in Afghanistan that is going to have an iota of rational thought that negotiating or working with the Taliban is possible,” he said.
On Aug. 20, President Joe Biden promised to bring home any American from Afghanistan who wanted to come home. Yet on Monday, Gen. Kenneth Franklin McKenzie Jr. admitted the U.S. “did not get everybody out that we wanted to get out.”
General McKenzie today: “We did not get everybody out that we wanted to get out.”
President Biden on August 20: “But let me be clear, any American who wants to come home, we will get you home.”pic.twitter.com/6uAAZVCKw6
— Stephen Sanchez (@SSanchezTV) August 30, 2021
Even after working with the Taliban, the United States was unable to evacuate every American citizen. In the eyes of many Americans, this represents a failure.
“The Pentagon just admitted the Biden administration left (at least) hundreds of Americans in Afghanistan—not to mention allies,” former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wrote in a Twitter post Monday.
“We still have people there. This is not a victory. It’s a national disgrace and failure of leadership.”
The Pentagon just admitted the Biden administration left (at least) hundreds of Americans in Afghanistan—not to mention allies. We still have people there.
This is not a victory. It’s a national disgrace and failure of leadership.
— Mark Meadows (@MarkMeadows) August 30, 2021
Texas Republicans Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Dan Crenshaw expressed similar sentiments.
Horrific and unacceptable. https://t.co/zSX7At8DQe
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) August 30, 2021
In 24 hours Biden committed to having every American out of Afghanistan. Unfortunately, that is not the reality.
We set our own deadlines – we do NOT take orders from the Taliban. Biden should have extended the deadline until every last American made it HOME.
— Rep. Dan Crenshaw (@RepDanCrenshaw) August 30, 2021
For those Americans and innocent Afghans who remain stranded, the atrocities Kennedy spoke of could very well become a reality.
Even for many people who have successfully escaped Afghanistan, the journey is far from over. In particular, Kennedy stressed the importance of caring for Afghan refugees who may find themselves in an unfamiliar country.
“They just went through something that I hope my worst enemy will never have to experience,” he said. “And they’re going to come to a country that they’ve never been to before.
“They just were on a plane – they’ve never been on a plane before. They just were starved for a week and a half as they were trying to get out of Afghanistan. It was horrific, but now they’re in your community. What are you going to do?”
He added that helping these families doesn’t require a massive undertaking. Small gestures such as cooking a meal for a refugee family or playing a game with them a local community center can have a significant effect.
“There are so many things you can do that could have such an impact,” he said. “But, you know, it takes a little time and selflessness to go and do it.”
While the images from Afghanistan are fresh in the minds of many Americans today, it is a natural tendency for people to forget about tragedies like this one as time goes on and as new events transpire. Kennedy’s final request is that Americans fight back against that tendency.
“If people forget about this and we forget about talking about this, 1. We’re not going to learn our lesson and 2. These families, they still need a place to go,” he said.
“If people stop talking about this, they’ll be forgotten. They’ll be left and will be abandoned. And what we just learned is we don’t want to leave in the wrong way or abandon people, and let’s not do it a second time.”
UPDATE, Sept. 1, 2021: This article’s headlines have been updated to note that Tim Kennedy is a former UFC fighter.
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