For former translators and Vietnam veterans, breakdown of Afghanistan brings fresh pain
Ezaz Noori served as an interpreter for U.S. troops in Afghanistan before being relocated, along with his family, to Nashville in 2021. (Photo: John Partipilo)
From his home in Clarksville, Fowad Kohistani calls his family in Kabul, Afghanistan every day and night about the rapidly deteriorating situation in their country.
Kohistani and several members of his family worked as translators alongside the U.S. military, which allowed Kohistani to come to the U.S with his wife and young daughter.
His five brothers and their families, sister, mother and father were not so lucky.
The Taliban has rapidly taken over the country in recent days as the American military withdrew, the Afghan government collapsed, and thousands fled to the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, the last remaining escape route from the country. On Sunday, the Taliban took control of Kabul, the capital of the country, and have created checkpoints for Afghans fleeing Taliban-controlled areas.
Kohistani is now desperately looking for a way to get his family out.
“Please send my message to the people who are able to take out my family because the Taliban will ask if we worked with Americans,” said Kohistani.
Ezaz Noori, a translator with the U.S. Special Forces since shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in America, moved to the U.S. in Oct. 2019 with his wife and young children to escape death threats. Despite this, he was hopeful about the progress made in Afghanistan in the last 20 years.
“There were millions of girls going to school, democracy, and news agencies. There were so many good things happening in my country,” said Noori. “Unfortunately, the last couple of days [Afghanistan] fell down to Taliban terrorists, and all those achievements made in the last 20 years, we just gave it up within three weeks.”
Noori’s friends and family are still in Afghanistan and are currently in danger. Some have already been killed, and Noori is doing everything he can to help.
With thousands of Afghans also seeking to evacuate the country, Noori believes many people who aided American forces will be left behind by Aug. 31, when U.S. troops complete their evacuation of the country.
Once that happens, Afghanistan will be completely under Taliban’s extremist regime, Afghans will be left with almost no choices, and Noori blames the Trump Administration for believing the Taliban was capable of making peace agreements.
“The peace agreement was not wrong, but with the Taliban it was wrong,” he said.
History repeats itself
U.S. veterans have expressed frustration over how quickly the Taliban took back control of the country, but for Vietnam veterans, history has repeated itself.
“A lot of what is happening now, in the eyes of many people that have fought in wars like this, is predictable, and it’s a shame to have to say that,” said Bob Tuke, a Vietnam veteran and lawyer with Trauger & Tuke.
While it had been necessary to retaliate after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, U.S. forces should have retreated after killing Osama Bin Laden or risk losing to rebel forces, as did Russia against the Mujahideen from 1979 to 1989, said Tuke.
For Tuke, watching the collapse of the Afghan government was eerily similar to his own experiences in Vietnam.
A lot of what is happening now, in the eyes of many people that have fought in wars like this, is predictable, and it's a shame to have to say that.
– Bob Tuke, U.S. Marine veteran of the Vietnam War
Tuke fought alongside U.S. Marines and South Vietnamese villagers to bring stability into the area. When U.S. forces pulled out of Vietnam, his unit was among the last to leave because the South Vietnamese urged them to stay as to not create a power vacuum. His unit left right before the fall of Saigon and he left behind numerous friends.
“When we left, our view was still one of hope, but some of us that were more practical doubted that the hope would be long lasting unless the South Vietnamese really stood up strong to the enemy and the U.S. continued to provide support,” he said. “When Nixon decided to pull out and the North Vietnamese captured Saigon, that was truly disappointing and difficult to handle, so most of us were quiet.”
The Vietnam war was largely swept under a rug after the U.S.’s failures, which eventually inspired Vietnam veterans to build a memorial for all the soldiers who died during the war.
“What it did for me was give me a sense of purpose, satisfaction and belief that some of my dear friends who died are recognized and continue to be recognized. That’s important to me,” said Tuke.
The U.S.’s role in providing humanitarian aid is something to be proud of, and there will be future issues, said Tuke, “but we need to do it better, and we need to be much more careful. That’s hard to do sometimes, almost always actually.”
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