One Year Later – Part One

My time since the fall of Kabul. August-October 2021.

I have decided to write about some of the experiences that I had over the last year, particularly with regard to Afghanistan. It will be a five-part series, with Part One about the months of August to October 2021. Part Two will cover November 2021, Part Three December and January, Part Four will cover January through May 2022 with Part Five covering June 2022 to the present day. This will not be a comprehensive retrospective, but rather a look back at some of the highlights from this period.

For many people August 15th is the anniversary of the “Black Day” in Afghanistan, the day the Taliban entered Kabul. For me, the “Black Day” wouldn’t come for another 11 days, which is how long it took the Taliban to take Hamid Karzai International Airport, and with it complete control over Afghanistan.

One year on from these events, I am sharing with you for the first time some of what went on during this time.

August 25-26, 2021

After entering Kabul, It had taken the Taliban another eleven days to finally take the airport and claim ultimate victory, so why they chose the 15th to celebrate doesn’t make much sense. It would be like celebrating VE Day on April 23rd, the day the Red Army had completely surrounded Berlin.

The days that marked the end as far as I am concerned were August 25th and 26th, culminating with the fall of Hamid Karzai International Airport and the final flight out of Kabul on Thursday, August 26th, 2021. I remember it all too well because that was when I received the first of many more messages to come from a number of people in Kabul.

Hello sir

8/26/21, 3:31 AM Mountain Daylight Time

I was awake when the message came in, keeping an eye on developments in Kabul as they were happening. The sender was from Kabul, and I had a dreadful feeling about what this could possibly be about. They were likely desperate and in a panic, trying to get the hell out of Kabul and hoping that I would be able to help.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-62544867

Having allegedly packed the contents of the Afghan treasury into a set of matching luggage, in cold hard US Dollars, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had only hours before fled the country for the UAE.

The media was reporting that the last flight out of Hamid Karzai International Airport had left about three hours before I got the message from Kabul. Whoever it was that was sending me the message was now stuck, and there would be nothing that I or anyone else could do about it anymore.

Answering a plea for help.

I replied to the message and was soon engaged in a conversation that was going pretty much the way I had anticipated. I decided that I would call him Al since it was considerably shorter and easier to pronounce than his real name. He told me his story, that he had once worked as an interpreter for Canadian Forces personnel but he hadn’t received a letter of recommendation which would have verified his employment. This was necessary if he was to be approved for a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) to come to Canada.

I wasn’t sure exactly how I was going to be able to help this poor guy out, beyond offering him a few suggestions.

By this point in the conversation, I was starting to get more incoming message traffic from Kabul so I left the conversation for about ten minutes or so in order to check the other messages.

Immediately upon seeing this message from him, I burst into tears. I still have trouble looking at it to this day without wanting to cry. He had already been abandoned by Canada, just as thousands of others had been left behind by us and practically every other country to send troops to Afghanistan. He had been betrayed once by Canada, I couldn’t let that happen to him again, it just wasn’t right. I promised him that I would do whatever I could to help him and that I wouldn’t abandon him. I also decided to call him Al because it was way easier than his given name, which he was quite okay with.

From journalist to advocate.

I knew that I would have to make a choice at that moment, to be a journalist or to be an advocate because it wouldn’t be possible for me to be both at once. It was a pretty easy choice to make, considering the fact that there were a number of lives on the line. I had to act as an advocate for the people who had reached out to me looking for help because there was probably nobody else that they could turn to.

I had no idea what to do or who to turn to with this. This was something that the government would normally be taking care of, only the government was the root cause of this problem in the first place. All I knew was that this was DEFINITELY way above my pay grade, and I was going to have to be very careful from this point forward. People’s lives were suddenly in my hands, and I had to think very carefully about whatever moves that I would be making in the future.

August 29th, 2021

It had been several days since I had heard from Dave Lavery, the man who had been my contact in Kabul for several months, but on the 29th I finally received a message from him. I was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief, hearing that he had managed to get out of Kabul with the Germans on the very last flight out. He had ordered the rest of his team out of the country beforehand, so it was only him left, with his brave wife Junping by his side.

Photo: David Lavery
Photo: David Lavery
Photo: David Lavery

He told me that he hadn’t slept in days, but they had been successful in helping a number of people escape.

Photo: David Lavery

He would be spending a little bit of time in Germany to rest and recuperate.

Photo: David Lavery

After spending days walking untold miles back and forth without rest, Dave’s feet were simply thrashed and in need of medical attention.

Photo: David Lavery

September/October 2021.

“Canadian Dave”

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/canadian-dave-rescue-afghanistan-1.6168082

On the 9th of September, I would find out exactly what Dave had been through during those final days in Kabul. “Canadian Dave” as he had come to be known was instrumental in saving over 100 lives, along with many more saved lives credited to the members of his team.

Vetting an interpreter.

Anyone hoping to come to Canada on a Special Immigrant Visa would need to be thoroughly vetted as part of the process, so it only stood to reason that I should be performing my due diligence. I would of course want to know myself that anyone I was proposing to come to my country wouldn’t want to start blowing things up as soon as they got here.

I asked Al a number of questions about the time he had worked for Canadian troops, and, despite a little bit of a language barrier, I was able to put some things together. I then had to attempt to find someone who was there at the same time that Al was, in the hopes that I would be able to find someone who might be able to identify him as being there. After a few days, I was able to find someone who, despite not recognizing Al himself, was able to confirm as genuine the information that Al had given me.

Not only interpreters.

By the middle of September, the messages that were coming in were from more than interpreters and the other former Locally Employed Civilians (LECs). Now there were human rights activists, journalists, artists, academics, and even a former member of Ashraf Ghani’s staff contacting me.

Formulating a standard response.

I felt like I was going to be needing an introductory script to send to anyone looking for my help. It would need to contain such items as:

I am going to try to help you, however, you need to realize that in all probability I might not be able to. I won’t mince words here, your situation is dire and the odds are stacked up against you, however, if there is even the slightest chance that I can help you to stay alive, it’s slightly better than a zero chance, but still a chance. I cannot in any way guarantee success because everything is pretty much completely beyond my ability to control.

Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) whenever you communicate so as to make it difficult for the Taliban to track you. Also, stay off social media and make sure to delete ALL messages that you may send me. You should have NO ENGLISH on your phone whatsoever, the Taliban are checking.

You will need to remain inconspicuous, so men should refrain from shaving and women wear a burqa in public.

Men should check all of their identification to see if there are any pictures of them wearing a necktie. Any such identification must be destroyed, as it can and will prove to be problematic should the Taliban see it.

Compassion fatigue begins to set in.

By the end of October, I had started to notice that I was starting to exhibit the signs of “compassion fatigue”. I had been sent numerous messages from people who were for the most part hiding somewhere in Kabul. They all tended to start out the same, with an introduction followed by a statement about how bad things were in Afghanistan. I realized that the people sending me the messages weren’t aware to what extent I knew how bad things were in Kabul, but after a while, it all started to sound the same to me.

Gruesome images.

Along with some of the horror stories I was being told, I was also getting plenty of pictures. Pictures of people’s children were popular, in the hopes that they might somehow tug at my heartstrings and inspire me to help them. It got to the point that I just couldn’t look at another picture of a child, along with the occasional accompanying plea to save them lest they have to sell their children.

There were plenty of other pictures as well, pictures that laid out in very graphic detail what would await some people should the Taliban catch up with them. There was no way to authenticate the sources of any of these pictures, but what was authentic enough were the gruesome images that they depicted.

“You’re a journalist, you can help.”

For some reason, a lot of people seemed to think that journalists are possessed of some special kind of powers, the powers to do things that absolutely nobody else on Earth can do. What they didn’t understand was that even if I was some kind of “super” journalist, like Edward R. Murrow, Mike Wallace, and Woodward & Bernstein all rolled into one, I still wouldn’t be able to help. The only thing I could do was to refer them to the organizations that I knew were handling

Coming Next: Part Two – November 2021

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