Local concern runs deep for Afghan allies 

  • Ben Brody, the director of photography with the GroundTruth Project, works from his home with other veterans to come up with a comprehensive plan to help get Afghan journalists out of the country. “Planning is what the military does,” Brody said. “I can’t imagine trying to do this work with civilians. Working with these other veterans is giving me a sense of pride I haven’t felt for a long time.” STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Ben Brody, the director of photography with the GroundTruth Project, works from his home with other veterans to come up with a comprehensive plan to help get Afghan journalists out of the country. “Planning is what the military does,” Brody said. “I can’t imagine trying to do this work with civilians. Working with these other veterans is giving me a sense of pride I haven’t felt for a long time.” STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Ben Brody, the director of photography with the GroundTruth Project, works from his home with other veterans to come up with a comprehensive plan to help get Afghan journalists out of the country. “Planning is what the military does,” Brody said. “I can’t imagine trying to do this work with civilians. Working with these other veterans is giving me a sense of pride I haven’t felt for a long time.” STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Ben Brody, the director of photography with the GroundTruth Project, works from his home with other veterans to come up with a comprehensive plan to help get Afghan journalists out of the country. “Planning is what the military does,” Brody said. “I can’t imagine trying to do this work with civilians. Working with these other veterans is giving me a sense of pride I haven’t felt for a long time.” STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 8/20/2021 6:06:54 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Speaking to mercenaries and members of the military in Kabul, Afghanistan from his home in Southampton, Ben Brody has been working frantically this week to navigate Afghan colleagues safely through the chaotic crowds at the city airport.

“We’re pursuing every possible route to get our friends and colleagues to safety,” Brody said, adding that the airport is, right now, the most dangerous place in Kabul.

Formerly a U.S. Army photographer in Iraq and then a photojournalist in Afghanistan for The GroundTruth Project, Brody is coordinating evacuations through his contacts at the airport and others who are in hiding as they try to flee Afghanistan.

For Brody, who praised the efforts of those in the military on the ground in Kabul, the hope is most Afghan allies will make it out, whether on U.S. cargo planes or by taking a more perilous journey over land and mountains, observing that many already have deep ties to New England.

“We are hoping to welcome some of these colleagues to Massachusetts,” Brody said.

The withdrawal of American troops has led to the situation in Afghanistan in which the Taliban is assuming control of the country for the first time since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks nearly 20 years ago. Both the capital city has been toppled and the Western-backed Afghan government has collapsed following the long-lasting U.S. military campaign.

‘Desperate pleas’

Getting Afghans out of the country also is a major goal of David R. Evans, a professor emeritus and the founding director of the Center for International Education at the University of Massachusetts, which employs Afghans through U.S. Agency for International Development contracts.

“The bottom line is a great majority of our employees are stuck,” Evans said.

Many women who have been hired for projects are most vulnerable, Evans said, trapped in their homes and terrified of being found by the Taliban.

Evans said he is responding to desperate pleas by email from around 50 people and determining whether some might get on lists to fly out from the airport or can qualify for what are known as P2 visa applications, a complex and frustrating process that can only be used once a person is out of the country and declared a refugee.

A number of these employees, Evans said, have no way of getting to Kabul, and some may try to instead cross borders into neighboring Uzbekistan or Pakistan.

“We’re trapped in what we can do there,” Evans said. “We can pray and wish them luck and send them sympathetic emails and hope some of them will get out.”

Veterans’ perspective

Besides the plight of people still in Afghanistan, some soldiers who served and fought against the Taliban are having a difficult time processing what is happening, said Steve Connor, director of the Central Hampshire Veterans’ Services.

“This is obviously very confusing for those who served,” Connor said.

The Western Massachusetts Veterans Outreach Project is one avenue where veterans can talk to other veterans about their experiences. It becomes a place to vent about the pain they are still experiencing, Connor said, or to think about the positive things done on behalf of the Afghan people.

Still, Connor understands that many will not want to publicly discuss their feelings. “I don’t think Afghan vets really want to talk,” Connor said.

John Paradis of Florence, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel, said he, like others who served in Afghanistan, have a range of emotions, adding that most veterans may be questioning the sacrifices they made.

“All of us are in a deep state of depression, and a great level of remorse over what is occurring,” Paradis said.

Paradis is especially worried for an Afghan translator who worked alongside him while he served. He is now fighting red tape to get himself and family out of Afghanistan. Paradis wants to see these people who supported the American troops make it out from the country safely.

“Our lives were held in balance and they truly kept us alive,” Paradis said.

The concern for the welfare of those who assisted American soldiers is at the forefront for many veterans, even though the Taliban claims it will respect women’s rights and forgive those who fought them.

With the war ongoing for nearly 20 years and 2,400 Americans dead, veterans also appreciate that the action had to come to an end at some point.

“I don’t support endless wars and we needed to get out of Afghanistan, but not in this way,” said David J. Fill, II of Hadley, an Air Force veteran who spent time deployed in Kandahar and Baghram.

Like others, Fill said he is depressed that what was accomplished may be wasted by the abrupt way that the United States pulled out from Afghanistan.

“Guys I served with lost their lives, sacrificed arms and legs, not to mention mental scars, and to throw away 20 years of those sacrifices in less than a week is appalling,” Fill said.

Fill said that Afghan people mostly supported the efforts by the United States and worries that those who aided the cause, and women and children, will pay a price.

State Sen. John Velis, who served in Afghanistan from 2012 to 2013 and in 2018 and worked with Afghan linguists during his deployments, has drafted a letter that asks the state’s federal delegation to “make every effort to get our Afghan allies out.”

“Their work has not only been critical to our missions, but it has also been essential to keeping our personnel safe and alive. Some of us know this from first-hand experience serving in Afghanistan,” the letter reads. “These are residents who signed up to work with us despite the risks this brought to themselves and their families. Their lives, and their family’s lives, are still at risk. As our military forces formally withdraw and the Taliban regains power, that risk is severely heightened.”

Brody said the U.S. State Department and the remaining military forces seem to be doing the best they can and the Taliban, so far, is being receptive to allowing journalists and others to leave the country.

Even so, Paradis said there is a level of suffering in Afghanistan and children are acutely vulnerable and at constant risk of exploitation, ill-health and death.

The ongoing situation is cause for concern, depression and anxiety for those who served.

“A lot of good things were built over there and a lot of Afghans bled on our behalf,” Paradis said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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