COLORADO SPRINGS — On August 30, 2021, the final phase of the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan took place. What's happened in that country since then is a mess to say the least.
The Taliban lied about any promises to improve it's stand in the international community once the U.S. and our allied partners withdrew.
One of the most significant changes in the past 12 months is the impact on the lives of those Afghan families who were able to escape amidst the chaos and confusion at the Kabul airport, which saw, among other tragedies, 13 U.S. military members killed in a suicide blast.
The entire world watched in horror as this exodus unfolded, with hundreds of Afghans literally clinging to the aircraft as they were taking off from the airport, fearing that remaining in their country, particularly if they helped the U.S. or our allied partners, would mean certain capture or death.
I had the chance to sit down with Schuyler Foerster, an expert in geopolitics recently, and a former Air Force Academy instructor, who also works closely with the World Affairs Council in Colorado Springs.
He and his wife Janet, are intimately involved in what is happening in Afghanistan, and the humanitarian effort that is going on right now in Colorado Springs to help those who had no choice but to leave.
Foerster told me, "We were shocked that Kabul fell so quickly, everyone was shocked, in retrospect, maybe we shouldn't have been, but it was a shock."
Since that withdrawal, the country has devolved in to a humanitarian crisis that he describes as "calamitous."
Sadly, that is just the beginning. When the new Taliban regime came back in to power, what was old was new again. Women once again relegated to second class status, leadership reneged on their promise to include women in their cabinet, women no longer working in government, period.
Secondary schools for girls were closed and media freedoms were rolled back. A government that is so fractured from top to bottom, we have seen some areas harboring fellow terrorists, like Isis-K, while others are still fighting against them for prestige and power.
When the U.S. military delivered a drone strike recently in to Kabul, killing Ayman al-Zawahiri, the co-conspirator with Osama Bin Laden in the 9-11 attacks, he was being housed in one of the most prestigious dwellings in Kabul, protected by the Taliban.
Afghanistan's economy is basically in ruins, with billions of dollars in assets frozen in banks in the United States and Europe, no money being printed, a cash and barter economy.
International aid has all but dried up, old hard-liners running a country with no accountability, and this regime is hell-bent on rounding up, arresting, imprisoning, torturing and killing anyone who worked alongside the U.S. and our military partners.
This is how Foerster described it to me, "You've got the idealogues at the top, but, you've also got a lot of fighters who are now running things on the local and municipal level, they're the cops, they're the sheriff, they're the mayors, whatever, that are at the local level, they've been fighters for 20 years, they don't know anything about governing."
The humanitarian crisis starts and ends with hunger. The United Nations estimates that 97% of Afghans don't have enough food to eat.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International report that it's become so bad from their reporting on the ground, that starving families are going to unthinkable extremes to feed or take care of their families.
For example, Foerster says "A mother sells her 13 year old daughter for marriage to a Taliban official for some money so they have money to eat and figures at least my daughter's not going to go hungry."
In Washington, and under increasing pressure from international aid organizations, the Biden administration is trying to carve out a $3 billion relief fund from those frozen Afghan assets, but they have to deal with a corrupt government in Afghanistan, "the problem is how do you make sure that money gets to where the to the people who need it."
This brings us to another problem in Washington, delivering on legislation.
The Afghan Adjustment Act was designed to streamline the process for these "humanitarian parolees" as Foerster calls them, to provide a path to permanent residence for them here in the U.S., like the 200 or so families now settled in Colorado Springs.
Right now, they have access to benefits, but only have permission to stay two years and the clock is ticking.
Schuyler Foerster says, "They don't have asylum status, they don't have refugee status, and they can be theoretically deported within 2 years."
He sees no urgency in Washington to get this passed and with no U.S. diplomatic representation in Kabul anymore, the backlog of processing in Afghanistan is stalled as well.
Meantime, local organizations like Lutheran Family Services and Catholic Charities have taken these Afghan families under their care.
Foerster's wife Janet told me, "largely, the people that we've worked with so far have been so grateful, so gracious and so happy to have a friends because the way we look at it, is we are friends with these people and they are new people in our community and we hope will be here for good."
She says they communicate with their families back home, and the Foersters are working with their connections in the U.S. Defense Department and elsewhere to bring more of their family members to the United States. The word they use to describe these families is "resilient."
The Foersters say these are intelligent people, not to be underestimated, highly skilled who just want an opportunity.
It's much more difficult for the Afghan women here, they say, because they come from a culture where raising a family is all they do, nothing more.
But they are fighting for their story to be told, in hopes that these people who fought alongside us, are not relegated to a footnote in history.