‘We sold them out’: Cheney author and veteran fears for Afghan friends’ lives amid Taliban takeover
Aug. 24, 2021 Updated Tue., Aug. 24, 2021 at 9:37 a.m.
Trent Reedy hasn’t been sleeping much lately.
“I’m a wreck,” he said. “I’m ridiculously stressed out.”
Reedy’s been stressed and exhausted for the past several weeks – since the start of the mass withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan – because he’s worried his Afghan friends will be killed by the Taliban and there’s almost nothing he can do to help.
In June 2004, Reedy was deployed to Afghanistan as a member of the Iowa Army National Guard.
He was a combat engineer, trained to work with landmines, plastic explosives, rifles and machine guns. Today, Reedy is an author and lives near Cheney. Among his books for young adults are two novels set in Afghanistan: “Words in the Dust” and “Enduring Freedom,” which he co-wrote with his Afghan friend, Jawad Arash.
When Reedy first arrived in Afghanistan in 2004, he loathed his assignment. He was tasked with providing security and helping the Afghan rebuilding effort.
“I was angry about this mission,” he said. “I did not want to help. I wanted to fight.”
Reedy blamed Afghans for the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. For a while, he held onto that anger.
But pretty quickly he started seeing how Afghans lived. They were heartbreakingly poor, he said. He remembered being on guard duty and watching a little boy dragging a shoebox with a piece of string as a makeshift toy.
“I couldn’t keep the anger up,” he said. “I couldn’t stay mad.”
Reedy’s voice repeatedly cracks when he talks about Afghanistan and his Afghan friends. He said that every morning when he wakes up he can’t believe the U.S. withdrew its troops and that the Taliban takeover is really happening.
America has betrayed the Afghans, plain and simple, Reedy said.
“We sold them out,” he said. “They believed in us.”
During the past few weeks, Reedy and many other U.S. veterans who served in Afghanistan have been flooded with desperate pleas for help from their Afghan friends who fear they’ll be killed by the Taliban for aiding U.S. troops. Thousands are trying to flee the country, but can’t, Reedy said.
“It’s an utter nightmare,” he said. “I’m absolutely exhausted, I’m heartbroken. This is all I do now. I just listen to them beg for help.”
Tens of thousands of Afghans have helped U.S. troops during the past 20 years. Many famously worked with the U.S. as translators, but Afghans also helped in many other civilian roles. Some worked as cooks or did a variety of odd jobs for the U.S.
All of those people who cooperated or collaborated with U.S. forces could face Taliban retaliation now, Reedy said. The lives of those who helped the U.S. are in danger, so the American government should be doing everything it can to get those Afghans out of the country to safety.
Reedy said the U.S. government and President Joe Biden haven’t done nearly enough to help Afghan allies escape, although thousands have been evacuated.
“The man said we’re not going to leave anybody behind – we left everybody behind,” Reedy said. “I never dreamed the Taliban’s biggest ally would be in the White House.”
Reedy and other veterans are doing everything they can to get their Afghan friends to safety, but there are a few reasons their efforts have mostly been in vain.
First, most of the Afghans who aided U.S. troops don’t have much evidence to prove it.
The U.S. generally gave certificates to Afghans who aided the war effort, Reedy explained, but the certificates weren’t especially official. Reedy compared them to the slip of paper a third grader might get for participating in a spelling bee.
“This was just a thing printed that we made in Word or whatever,” he said. “This was just made-up stuff on the fly.”
Leaving the country is nearly impossible even for the Afghans who can prove they helped the U.S., Reedy said. He explained that there isn’t anyone to whom Afghans can present their evidence .
The U.S. Department of State hasn’t been helpful, Reedy said.
“I’m told, ‘Oh, they should go fill out this form,’ ” he said. “There’s no form, they can’t move. There’s no office to whom they can report, there’s no access available, no means to get out of there.”
Reedy said he’s reached out to Sen. Maria Cantwell and U.S. Rep Cathy McMorris Rodgers, but so far no one has been able to give him good answers on how he can help his friends.
“We’re past visas,” Reedy said. “Who are they going to get visas from?”
On top of that, getting to the Kabul airport has been extremely difficult, and the number of planes flying in and out of the airport isn’t nearly enough to evacuate everyone who wants to leave the country.
Reedy is still in touch with Jawad Arash, his friend and co-author on “Enduring Freedom.” He checks in with his friend every night – there’s a 12-hour time difference between the U.S. and Afghanistan.
“Every time when I’m about to go to bed at night here, Jawad comes on and says he’s still there,” Reedy said. “It’s a huge sigh of relief.”
The Taliban will kill Arash if they find out he co-wrote the book, Reedy said.
“Jawad is hiding and terrified,” Reedy said.
Anyone concerned that Afghans coming to the U.S. might be threats is mistaken, Reedy said.
“We’re the ones that betrayed them,” he said. “I’m not worried about these guys betraying America.”
When Reedy was in Afghanistan 16 years ago, he saw things that filled him with joy. U.S. involvement led to the construction of schools, Reedy said, and girls were able to sit in class alongside boys.
Americans might not understand the significance of that, but for Afghan girls who previously hadn’t been allowed to get an education and condemned to lives of servitude, that was a huge deal, Reedy said. He said many Afghans loved Americans for bringing back education for girls.
“We were bigger than the Beatles,” he said.
All that progress has been washed away in a few days, Reedy said.
“How could it be all for nothing?” Reedy said. “There are people who didn’t make it back, for nothing now? How could it be for nothing?”
Still, going to Afghanistan was the right decision, Reedy said. He said U.S. troops achieved a lot of good.
“Was the mission worth it? It was incredible; it was essential,” Reedy said. “We were the good cowboys in the white hats from the old Westerns. Biden laid it all to waste, and he alone made the call.”
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