These Afghans Were Our Allies. Now We Must All Help Them Become Our Neighbors
Americans have a new chance to serve the interpreters and others who helped our troops in battle.
As we write this, Americans from both political parties and from across the country—many of whom support President Biden’s decision to end the endless war in Afghanistan—are rightly horrified that too many of our Afghan allies, including interpreters, support staff, journalists, women’s rights advocates, and their families, are now at the mercy of the ruthless and barbaric theocracy we battled together.
Also as we write this, Kate Hoit—an Iraq veteran—and her husband, Afghan veteran Adrian Kinsella, are welcoming five newly arrived Afghan interpreters and their families to Sacramento, having collected from their friends and neighbors more than 150 packages of household items for these families as they begin a new and uncertain new way of life.
There is no question that we must ask why the leaders and institutions of our government which so prize advance planning seemed to have done so little of it effectively to protect the Afghans most closely associated with supporting and protecting our fellow Americans in uniform. But we must also direct our energy towards a productive end: stepping up to the plate to help with the enormous task of welcoming and resettling those Afghans.
On the official level, the Biden administration must call on the National League of Cities, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National Association of Counties, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the national organizations of city departments relevant to the health, educational and housing needs of their citizens, to use their community channels and networks to help the people and organizations which will be leading the way in resettlement over the coming weeks and months.
Among the non-profit organizations—many of which are religious—taking the lead to help with resettlement efforts: Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, the International Rescue Committee, Catholic Charities USA, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, and Church World Service. Veteran-led and -supported organizations like No One Left Behind, the Truman National Security Project, Association of Wartime Allies advocacy group, and Human Rights First are among those on the front lines fighting daily to get Special Immigrant Visas into the hands of Afghan interpreters and others, and bring them to safety. And White Oak Collaborative veteran service organizations are reaching out to help Afghan veterans deal with a déjà vu which a growing number of them are now confronting.
But the responsibility to hear and give back to our Afghanistan veterans belongs to us all. That brings us to Kait Hoit and Adrian Kinsella in Sacramento. Working with the International Rescue Committee, they have used their personal connections and social media to involve their friends and neighbors in proactively taking small, simple, yet hugely effective steps to do what they can do to address this human tragedy: be human. Kate and Adrian created an Amazon wish list to help the first arriving family resettle. People from across the country purchased everything on the wish list within a few hours. They’ve received over 150 packages and their garage is now filled with gently used furniture.
These personal interactions convey something very American to these new arrivals: You are here. You are welcome here. We will help you to get your feet back on the ground and succeed here.
Over the past twenty years, Americans – including those opposed to our involvement in Afghanistan – have wondered how they could honor their friends and neighbors, sons and daughters, husbands and wives who served in uniform. Over the past week, we have wondered how we can direct our anger and frustration into efforts that truly reflect our values. Now, there are ways we can do both. Americans from all walks of life can follow the Sacramento example and live the values our fellow citizens fought for on the battlefield.
Doug Wilson is former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs and co-founder of Vets’ Community Connections.
Afghan veteran Matt Zeller co-founded No One Left Behind and is the author of Watches Without Time: An American Soldier in Afghanistan.