Twenty years ago, I watched in horror, on live television, as people jumped out of the World Trade Center to escape the flames, even though it meant jumping to their deaths.
Ten years ago, I was pregnant and kissing my husband goodbye as he deployed to Afghanistan for the second time, hoping it wouldn’t be the last time I saw him.
Five hours ago, I watched in horror as the Afghan people clung to an Air Force plane leaving Kabul out of utter desperation to escape the Taliban, falling to their deaths out of the sky.
The news surrounding Afghanistan this weekend seemed to get continually worse, and by Monday, it seemed to have reached rock bottom. Last year, former President Trump met with Taliban leaders and outlined a timeline for our withdrawal from Afghanistan; this year, President Biden followed through with that plan. Our troops left the country rapidly, and just as rapidly, the Afghanistan government fell. High-ranking government officials, including the president, fled the country, leaving their people behind to suffer the consequences of what is truly an evil regime.
Zarifa Ghafari, the first female mayor of Afghanistan, has openly said she expects the Taliban to kill her. “I’m sitting here waiting for them to come,” she told reporters. “There is no one to help me or my family. I’m just sitting with them and my husband. And they will come for people like me and kill me. I can’t leave my family. And anyway, where would I go?”
For women especially, this is a huge loss. It wasn’t that long ago that Malala Yousafzai was shot in the face by the Taliban for trying to go to school. Women had just begun, in the grand scope of things, to finally feel free to go to university, to not feel forced to wear a burqa. Now, women are being evacuated from college campuses and forced into burqas again. Even as women are being evacuated, they can’t make it home, because male public transport drivers won’t take them. Public photos of women are being covered up. Now, it’s back to the days where women can be publicly whipped and beaten — without a warning, without being arrested, without even being charged with a crime — for simply existing in public without a male guardian. Women accused of wearing nail polish can be whipped; being accused of adultery means you can be publicly stoned to death. And it doesn’t matter if the women are actually guilty of these so-called “crimes,” either.
Others are being killed as they try to make it to the Kabul airport. Americans working at the embassy had to be evacuated by helicopter. The months the Taliban had to prepare for this moment were clearly helpful, as it took no time at all for them to completely destabilize the government. Already, there is talk of sending American troops back so that people left behind can be evacuated. But of course, the American government is only evacuating Americans; all the Afghan people — interpreters, members of the Afghan National Army, individual informers, and spies — who risked their lives to help us along the way are being abandoned. And they’re being abandoned with a death sentence. The Taliban will not only hunt them down and kill them, but they’ll target their families, too — rape their wives, conscript their sons, and sell their daughters into sex slavery.
Are you horrified yet? You should be.
There frankly aren’t words to explain how it feels to watch this unfold — as a family who had skin in the game. I can’t help but think of the Afghans who my husband knew and worked alongside and wonder — did they make it out at some point before this? Are they in hiding? Are they already dead? We don’t know, and we probably never will. That uncertainty is soul-crushing, but it’s not the only devastating thought rattling through my mind.
The response from my military community has been swift today, and for the most part, uniform. We’re all heartbroken. We’re all thinking of our Marines who didn’t make it home, who lost limbs, or who lost the war later, at home. Some of their children wear bracelets and jewelry, handmade by our allies in Afghanistan, the men our husbands became close friends with. Some of us are still fighting to get the interpreters our husbands worked alongside in the United States to safety. Some of us are warning that there will be another devastating wave of suicides through the military community, because so many of us lost so much, and are now getting the gut-punch realization that it didn’t matter. We’re all grieving in a way that can’t even be properly expressed, because we — and our husbands — are the ones who put in the blood, sweat, and tears. We care about each other, and we care about the people of Afghanistan. Our government has made it very clear that they, however, do not — on either front.
My husband had begun talking about how all of it — his fellow Marines being injured and killed in battle, being injured himself, the time away from his family, the scars of war, the countless Marines who committed suicide upon returning home — was for nothing a year or so ago. I used to tell him that it wasn’t true, even as I increasingly became unsure. Now, though… what am I supposed to say? Because it has become clear that yes, it was all for nothing. All that pain, heartache, and sacrifice, it was for nothing. Every accomplishment we made in Afghanistan, every woman and child our troops gave a brighter future to, every ounce of freedom that was hard-fought for… it was all wiped away in one single weekend, thanks to a government that didn’t care enough to properly plan a responsible exit. All of it was for nothing. And for all of us, the military families who have dealt with this for the past 20 years, it’s a realization that will haunt us forever.