in Law Five: The End of America in Afghanistan (Published by Penguin Press Aug. 9) Elliot Ackerman, who served four combat tours in Afghanistan with the Marines and the CIA, writes about how his mission continues, in the quest to save an Afghani and his family from the country’s fall into the hands of the Taliban. .
Read the excerpt below, and Don’t miss David Martin’s interview with Elliot Ackerman on CBS Sunday Morning on August 7th!
US Naval Academy
Twenty years have passed since the day of September 11th. As planned, Josh traveled with his son, six-year-old Weston, and we’re up early to get ready to take our boys to the Navy vs Air Force football game. Josh had arrived the night before, from Wilmington – not far from Camp Lejeune – where he had settled after medically retiring from the Marine Corps. Had it not been for his leg wound, I always imagined that Josh would have moved around the corps and taken care of the organization; He would make a good brigade. Instead, he made himself a successful businessman. He once joked to me that he had done everything essential that anyone could do as an American: he had gone to war; I have started a family. He built and took a public company. He laughed telling me this, but also admitted that he wasn’t sure what would happen next.
The night he arrived, after we had put the boys to bed, he and I stayed up late, chatting over drinks on the same subject. Specifically, we were discussing the future of Afghanistan, but that conversation had a subtext. He was entangled with what would happen next for each of us now that our war was finally over. This summer, about a week before Kabul fell, Josh sent me a video. She was from a battalion of Afghan commandos as they prepared for one of their last attacks, a desperate helicopter attack on Lashkar Gah, the capital of the then-besieged Helmand Province. The video was shot at night, midnight. The heavily armed commandos walked in formation to the helicopters that were waiting for them on the runway. And they shouted in the house: God is great! Followed by “Long live Afghanistan!” It’s been years since Josh was in Afghanistan, but he admitted watching this video made him yearn to come back. He felt like he should have been loading up on those helicopters. Watching this video made me want to come back too. Or, to put it another way, it reminded me that no matter how far my life after the war had progressed—in family, at work, in friendship—the war had always taken hold of me, calling me back. Josh, as we were sitting at the dinner table, was giving me a little laugh at the video I sent him in response, which was a favorite scene from princess bride. It’s from the end of the movie, after Spanish swordsman Ingo Montoya kills the Six-toed Man and avenges his father’s death. He turns to his good friend Westley, the stable boy turned pirate, and says wistfully, “You know, it’s pretty weird. I’ve been in the revenge business for so long, and now that it’s over, I don’t know what to do with the rest of my life.” Westley replied, “Have you ever thought about hacking? You would make a great pirate out of awe Roberts.” Josh was the 2001 class of the Naval Academy. He has been in the business of revenge for a long time.
After the Abbey Jet bombing, our ability to transport Afghans to the airport ceased; However, it appears that the number of Afghans trying to leave is only increasing. When it became clear that the departure window had narrowed to a sliver, those Afghans who had been considering taking their time until conditions at the airport improved now seemed ready to take risks they would not have thought a week ago. Josh was curious about how the last few days of the eviction, in my view, would go. I explained that most of my efforts were now focused on helping a family that Admiral Mullen was trying to get out of. They were nine in all, including four young children. The head of the family, whom I will call Aziz, had worked at the US Embassy. His brother, who was a chauffeur for a senior cabinet minister, had already been assassinated by the Taliban, while the minister himself had slipped away, on a flight from Hong Kong airport in the early days of the evacuation.
Aziz sends me primarily voice notes. I play a few for Josh, starting with one that Aziz scored on Abbey Jet Night. He was nearby, like many others trying to get to the airport, when the bomb went off. Aziz begins with a shiver in his voice: “Hello sir, I hope you are well.” “We just went back and trying to go somewhere else. We don’t want to be caught by the Taliban, because they’re looking everywhere, place after place, house by street, street by street, looking for us. We don’t want that. I want them to know them.” I was so close to that explosion with a blood mark on my clothes. All the family is so scared. Sir, I’m waiting for your next call. If it is possible, sir, it would be very good, um, uh…” Aziz stumbles in His words for a moment before he regained his composure enough to say, ‘I’m not in a position to speak clearly. I can go near or near the airport. If we can be picked up, that would be fine. Right now, the whole family is in very bad shape. They are very afraid. The children are very scared. Everyone is in bad shape.”
I play for Josh another message from Aziz, this message from just two days ago. After the Americans’ final flight left the airport in Kabul, Aziz traveled north, with all nine members of his family crammed into a taxi, to Mazar-i-Sharif, where his family and others are hiding in a safe house waiting for a flight. It may or may not come. The safe house isn’t really a home, but a wedding hall rented at an exorbitant rate by private donors who foot the bill for this eviction. It was there about a week. There is approximately a week of financing left to pay for the safe house. The Taliban were at his home in Kabul. Once that funding runs out, if he doesn’t get out on a flight, he has nowhere to go. Aziz’s letter comes with a video of him depicting the filth of the wedding hall, children wandering aimlessly, families sleeping under the stairs and others sleeping in the same open hall, on filthy carpets, with empty water bottles and other pieces of water. Trash scattered around. He says: “Please sir, please, I want you to help me, my family, my children. This is not a safe place. I will turn off my cell phone and put it somewhere. I am just completely lost. I don’t know what to do.”
Josh asks if I think Aziz will come out. I describe some recent complications. Only Kam Air, the largest private airline based in Afghanistan, will be allowed to fly by the Taliban. A few nights ago, Aziz’s flight was cleared. But in a rotten scheme, Kam Air pilots offered their seats to the highest bidder, and in fact sold the plane twice for millions in profits. This caused a delay. Then, once this problem was resolved, the flight was again evacuated, but at the last moment a local Taliban commander prevented its departure because he had not received compensation. The next day, the problem was with the Qatari landing permits in Doha. Currently, the US State Department has been disrupting the flight by requiring that every Afghan on the plane have a passport, including children older than one year. Aziz’s children do not have passports. After enumerating these difficulties, Josh asks how often I receive messages like this from Aziz.
Tell him about every day.
From “Act Fifth: The End of America in Afghanistan” by Elliot Ackerman, published by Penguin Publishing, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2022 by Elliot Ackerman.
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