As the Aug. 31 deadline to leave Afghanistan approaches, the Biden administration is working to withdraw the remaining U.S. military service members as well as evacuate the thousands of Afghans who worked for the U.S. government over the past 20 years.
U.S. Marine Corps veteran Charlie Reeder, who served two tours in Afghanistan, told Yahoo Finance that he hoped the president would extend the deadline to leave the country in order to ensure the safe evacuation of those Afghans.
“You literally put these people in a death sentence if you do that, if you do not extend that deadline and actually work and get all these people out,” said Reeder. “Push the Taliban out of Kabul, out while you do it, so everyone has a safe passage to the airports, and [can] get home, get back to wherever they want to go…You can’t abandon them.”
On Wednesday U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that of the 6,000 American citizens who were identified in Afghanistan, at least 4,500 of them and their families have been evacuated since mid-August, and that the State Department was reaching out to the remaining contacts.
Reeder is part of a “digital Dunkirk” group working to help Afghan interpreters and other natives who aided the U.S. war effort over the past 20 years get out of the country. This evacuation effort is being conducted by a collection of veterans, military officials, civilians, defense agencies, and collaborators from around the world.
Although U.S. troops have not fully withdrawn from the country yet, the Taliban is already punishing and killing Afghan interpreters, says Reeder, who is worried about his former interpreter who has been left to fend for himself.
“He’s in extreme danger. They are actively hunting him. He’s had to move locations around 10 to 12 different times. They’ve harassed his family members, and his family has suffered multiple assaults since this week...began,” said Reeder. “He’s not the only one. They have actual groups that are going around, door-to-door hunting these people.”
On Wednesday, U.S. officials said an additional 19,200 American and Afghan citizens had been evacuated from Afghanistan, but thousands more still need help.
‘Nobody likes the Taliban over there’
Reeder, who was a corporal in the Marines, served two tours in Afghanistan as a heavy machine gunner and a third as a defense contractor for AECOM, a global infrastructure firm. He readily admits that he has struggled to assess the merit of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.
“It would be worth it,” said Reeder. “At least getting the people out that put everything on the line to help us accomplish our mission overseas, if we get them home, great. Then I will have some form of accomplishment for our time served there.”
“I understand their need to have [the U.S. exit the country] and why they want this war to finally be over,” said Reeder. “It's been 20 years, it's been a drain on everyone, emotionally, physically, and financially, to continue to do this, and it's cost the lives of thousands of Americans, tens of thousands of Afghans and hasn't really accomplished much at the end of the day.”
As the Taliban takes over Afghanistan’s government, the U.S. is “right back to square one,” said Reeder.
“So in any civilian's eyes why would we continue to keep fighting this? Me and many other vets are of the opposite opinion that we still need to continue to fight in Afghanistan and make sure that that country is secure,” he said. “Sometimes that looks like nation building and in a sense yes, it is, but you can't pound a country into the ground for 20 years and then leave and say it's your problem now. You just can't do that.”
Leaving Afghanistan without securing the safety of Afghans who risked their lives to help the U.S. during the war would hurt America’s credibility around the world, says Reeder.
“Nobody will ever trust us again if that's what we do,” he said.
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