No one left behind

The U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, is back on the road to continue pushing his peace plan. That plan consists, mostly, of declaring victory and withdrawing all foreign military personnel from Afghanistan. Despite the simmering tension between Kabul and Washington exploding in the press last week, the peace plan marches on with little attention from the main stream media.

As noted in my last post, the Afghan government feels like they are getting screwed — and they are. Most of the problems plaguing Afghanistan in general, and Kabul specifically, stem from decisions made back when our Peace Envoy was the ambassador — who was ramming things like the Single Non Transferable Voting system and a constitution through, while opposing the return of the Afghan King in favor of promoting Karzai. Khalilzad’s maneuvering back then might have been a genius move had former President Karzai proved capable of leading his nation, but that didn’t happen.

As the peace process plays out, the Afghan National Army (ANA) continues to take unsustainable losses in the field. Last week they lost an entire company of Afghan commandos. This week the Taliban overran most (if not all) of the security forces check points in Sangin, killing (the numbers are disputed) over 65 soldiers, police and militia. Sangin is a district in the Helmand province, which is where Task Force Southwest is operating. I suspect these attacks were in the district center, where civilians living in close proximity would restrict the use of supporting arms by the Marines. Decisive defeats of this nature are hard on morale and were not supposed to happen in Helmand with a Marine Corps Task Force providing the ANA fire support planning, drone surveillance and both ground and air delivered precision fire support.

The United States also sustained two more KIA’s during an HVT raid in Kunduz. Kunduz, a city in the northern reaches of the country, is too far from Bagram for a night raid so I suspect the task force these soldiers were working for is working out of Mazar-i Sharif. The last time America sustained combat casualties it was in Badghis province, which is way the hell in the west — well beyond striking range from Kandahar. Those guys were most likely working out of the Shindand airbase near Herat.

If my suspicions are correct, the U.S. has the guys at the pointy end of the spear spread very thin. As we ramp down the number of troops in Afghanistan, the biggest risk we will face is the signature move by central Asian fighters, which is to surround and eliminate an enemy formation. Mark my words — if the Taliban think they can pull off an annihilation raid they will go for it. It’s what they do.

As the Afghan War winds down (at least our portion of it), there are tens of thousands of Afghans who worked for the U.S. and her allies who will face retribution from the Taliban. Knowing this, America created the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program, which included airfare and help with settling in a city chosen by the contractors who administer the State Department program. The SIV program is (this will be a shocker) broken. In Afghanistan the embassy has run out of visas, and in Iraq the program has essentially ground to a halt. For those who have made it to America, a good percentage end up in public housing in Prince Georges County (apparently the most common destination), or in obscure small towns like Poway, California.

SIV recipients do get a stipend to help them resettle and subsidized housing (for a few months) but they are expected to find a job, a vehicle, and furniture on their own. The fondness and esteem for the Terps among our troops is well documented and it did not take long for former military men to recognize their Terps were getting set up to fail, so they stepped in. The first guy to step up was a former Army Infantry officer named Matt Zeller, who launched the No One Left Behind nonprofit to help our Afghan colleagues get on their feet.

The No One Left Behind organization has grown in the last six years, turning into a big, capable non-profit, but what about the Afghans who were not interpreters for the military? There are plenty of them in America now too and they have it just as hard as their countrymen but do not have a dedicated non profit picking up the slack as needed.

My good friend Bashir Ahmed Sidiqi is a perfect example. Bashir worked for me as a provincial project manager when I was in Lashkar Gah as the regional manager of a USAID-funded infrastructure repair program. He was the only Afghan national to work his way up to provincial manager and he was working Nimroz province where he made me (and the rest of us Americans) look good. My contribution to the incredible success of our projects consisted of editing and formatting plans, shifting more money to him (to reinforce his success, and because the Marines at Camp Leatherneck had asked me to throw as much as I could into Nimroz province), and providing extra armed security when we were moving money to pay our workers.

Bashsir and I cutting the ribbon on the Zaranj municipal sports stadium we built in 2011

Bashir is a Tajik born in Farah province, which is as unstable a province as there is in Afghanistan. Bashir’s family moved to Kabul when he was 15 years old, and was able to send him to India to complete his education. Having earned a university degree, Bashir worked at the expat (supervisor) level for NGOs operating in the Middle East and Africa before returning to Afghanistan after the Taliban government fell. He is not your typical Afghan, but he is not that unusual either. There are plenty of Afghans who obtained college educations overseas and most are like Bashir: hard-working, honest, dedicated, and talented. Bashir could probably have moved his family to another country in the Middle East or Africa, but he came here for the exact reasons we can all appreciate. He wants his children educated, he doesn’t want his wife confined to the family compound (now an apartment in PG county), and he wants to realize his own potential as a businessman. In short, what he wants is the American Dream.

Paydays on one of Bashir’s projects normally involved over 5,000 workers. He rehabilitated the major irrigation systems in every district of Nimroz (except Delaram because that’s Taliban land spliced into the province from Farah around 2009 to drive the incident numbers down for Farah and Helmand). We did one project in Delaram but took casualties among the night watchmen, so we didn’t do another.

Bashir has two near term goals. The first is to get out of PG County and move to Northern Virginia where he has started a business, and there is a significant Afghan community. The second is to get his business going and he has picked a potential winner: Saffron.

Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world, and the red gold variety farmed in Herat province is recognized as the best in the world by the International Taste and Quality Institute in Brussels. Plus Saffron has these amazing six benefits; it boosts cardiovascular health, treats erectile dysfunction, possesses potential anti-cancer effects, alleviates symptoms of PMS, promotes satiety and weight loss, and it treats anxiety and depression. Didn’t know that did you? Me either. But I found these facts on the internet so they must be true.

Bashir’s company, Unique Saffron, sells 500 grams of the finest red gold saffron from Herat for only $1,123.31. If you were to surf the net looking for 500 grams of saffron you would find Persian saffron selling for $1,875.00. Why pay extra for inferior Persian stuff when you can get your saffron directly from a war zone via an American importer for less?

The reason I write about Bashir is not necessarily to plug his business. Not many of you are in the market for saffron (but if you are hit the link above and check his website out, if you’re culinarily inclined you can get a great bargain). My ulterior motive is to introduce you to what has been, in my experience, a typical Afghan immigrant. I mentioned Poway, California, earlier. That is where my friend Zabi, one of Bashir’s supervisors in Nimroz province, was sent. He got a job cleaning hotel rooms at an Indian Casino and has steadily progressed up the ladder to a supervisory position.

I could go on and on with similar examples, but that’s not the point. The point is there are a lot more Afghans who need to get their visas and come here. Organizations like No One Left Behind is keeping the pressure on with that front. When the floodgates do open, as I suspect they will soon, these immigrants are going to need a helping hand, at first via charities, then later through the support of their business endeavors.

Afghans are natural entrepreneurs, but they know an economic truth that is unpopular with certain segments of society today. They know capitalism can deliver what socialism promises but it doesn’t work the other way around. They have lived it, which is why they want to come here — where an immigrant can make it if he works hard or finds an underserved niche in the economy where he can serve. That is not the typical main stream media narrative concerning immigrants from Muslim lands.

Let me leave you with a pro tip about Afghan immigrants. Afghan kids are hardy, and often phenomenal athletes. Any vet who played the Afghans in volleyball knows exactly what I am talking about. If you live in a small town with a big football program you want to talk with your local Catholic Relief Charity about getting some Afghan families sent to your town. If successful and they have sons, do not let the boys watch Cricket, and tell them soccer is for their sisters; in America, the boys play football. They should focus on receiver or defensive back from a young age because they’re tough, have attitude and are quick. They would be wicked lacrosse players too now that I think about it. Got to start the boys young with lacrosse though, there is a lot going on in that sport.

So there it is, my attempt to put lipstick on a pig with a little humor. As the situation in Afghanistan continues to degrade remember there will be a lot more Afghan families coming to America who are going to need a helping hand. I strongly recommend donating to No One Left Behind if you have the means and inclination to support our Terps. If you end up with Afghan neighbors, take the time to get to know them. They are great people who have been dealt a bad hand, and they will be good neighbors and great Americans.

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2 years ago

Tim, Do you ever get the feeling that the people who actually could rebuild Afghanistan are the ones who leave, often by force and threats, and the people left are the least capable of their countrymen?

2 years ago

Terps, or Troops, I will help anyway I can. Thanks for this update and links Tim. I have followed the stories of a couple of Terps, and they do embody the American work ethic and outlook (at least the one I grew up with). They know strife, America looks good to them because it offers so much more than from whence they came.

2 years ago

Thank you for the information. I recently read Code Name: Johnny Walker about a Seal Terp who finally got his family to America. Of course, they need to come here or they will likely be tortured or killed along with their families. It hurts to know that we abandon them, as we did in Vietnam. I promise to come back to this link in the next week or so and make a donation.

1 year ago

Nice blog! Thanks for sharing information

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