COLORADO SPRINGS — There is no better perspective of what is happening in Afghanistan today than from a former member of the Afghan Air Force who worked alongside U.S. and NATO forces before having to flee his home country a year ago as the U.S. military withdrew after 20 years of war.
I had a chance to sit down recently with Shukrullah Kamal, who was also a graduate of the National Academy of Afghanistan, a prestigious institution before the fall of Kabul and the final U.S. military withdrawal on August 30, 2021.
He is now living in Colorado Springs in a small apartment provided by local charities which also provides food and clothing.
Kamal was actually airlifted out of Afghanistan a couple of months prior to August of last year, working as a flight mechanic on Blackhawk helicopters in Slovakia.
He was able to witness that final, fateful evacuation process like the rest of the world as we gazed in horror at the desperation, the chaos, the panic, the death associated with those final flights out.
It was a bitter pill to swallow for Kamal and so many other native Afghans after 20 years of war and four U.S. presidential administrations.
He told me, "That was a very emotional moment for me, as a soldier we were going to lose the war and we lost the war and it was really hard for me, we lost more than 150,000 Afghan soldiers, the U.S. spend $3 trillion over there and 3,000 American soldiers lost their lives, they were there to prevent the war and make a peaceful country, but at the end of the day, we, that picture will never go away from my mind, it was really, really hard."
Kamal settled in Colorado Springs last October with some 200 other Afghan families as they work to transition and try and make a new life for themselves.
But he, like so many others, still has questions about how the withdrawal by the U.S. government was planned and carried out.
I asked him if he felt betrayed by the U.S. government or the U.S. military, he told me no, but, "The government took a wrong decision, based on their political prestige, it could be better planned, it could be a better deal, it could be managed better to prevent all collapse of national security of Afghanistan and the Afghan government."
I followed up on the promises made by the Taliban in advance of the withdrawal that they would work to improve their governing to become an accepted global partner and maintain some of the positive cultural changes made over the past two decades in his country, this is what he told me, "When the Taliban came and took the country they told all people of Afghanistan that they are going to forgive everybody that is working with the previous government, but they are trying to get revenge, they are trying to kill all the people it's an ongoing genocide going on in Afghanistan," he says.
This brings us to Kamal's personal stake in all this, his wife and three boys, the youngest of which he has never seen in person.
He had to leave the country when she was pregnant, all living a spartan life and moving constantly, living in the shadows with their extended family trying to survive in a country where the United Nations estimates 97% of the population doesn't have enough to eat. A country that how now been essentially abandoned by the rest of the world.
I asked him if they are living in fear every day and he said "All the family members of the military are living in fear. They are afraid of being tortured, afraid of being dead."
His cousin was a social activist before the fall but was arrested, tortured, and jailed. His whereabouts are unknown and he's not sure if his cousin is alive or dead.
Kamal is able to communicate with his immediate family from time to time depending on the internet connection. He sends them money when he can, he has a job here, hopeful he will find a long-term legal pathway to citizenship here and somehow bring his family to the United States.
In the meantime, he has connected with his fellow Afghans who have moved here with him.
I asked him about how the Colorado Springs community has supported them all these months, he says "That was amazing, that was incredible, when I go to Colorado Springs, they helped a lot, they full supportive and incredibly helped us."
Organizations like Lutheran Family Services have gone above and beyond, providing a home, food, clothing and a community connection.
So despite the odds, despite his anxiety and his fear for his family back home on a daily basis, remains optimistic, looking to a country that he fought alongside in hopes it will return the favor, ensuring a new life of hope, safety and prosperity.