Editor's Note: Amber and Freshta's last names are excluded from this article for their safety.
President Joe Biden, along with other NATO leaders, acknowledged many Afghans attempting to flee the state will not get out before the Aug. 31 deadline, but the U.S. and 97 other countries will continue to accept refugees after the departure.
The Pentagon confirmed Thursday that two explosions occurred outside Kabul’s airport, which resulted in the deaths of at least 90 civilians and 13 U.S. service members. ISIS-K claimed the attack, and advisors to President Joe Biden reported that the upcoming days will be the most dangerous yet.
According to AP News, through April, 47,245 Afghan civilians have died in America's longest war which also resulted in the death of 66,000 Afghan national military and police.
Freshta is a senior in the Ivy College of Business, and she, along with her whole family, are from Afghanistan. Freshta and her parents moved to the United States nearly six years ago.
Every summer, she and her family would visit Afghanistan, but because of COVID, they were unable to visit in 2019 and 2020 because they were applying for U.S. passports. But now, she wonders when she and her family will ever have the chance to return after the Taliban takeover.
Even though the Taliban has claimed to promise peace, Freshta said their track record isn’t convincing.
Following the withdrawal of Soviet troops, the Taliban emerged out of rural Kandahar Province. The Soviets originally entered Afghanistan to prop up the communist government in 1979 but exited the country by 1989 after the mujahideen defeated them.
The mujahideen were Islamic fighters who received arms from the U.S., Britain and China via Pakistan during the Cold War. Soon after, the country fell into a civil war. Due to the infighting from the mujahideen against the Soviets in 1995, the Taliban was then seen as a glimmer of hope. They promised to confront corruption and come down on crime, outlawing the cultivation of poppies for the opium trade.
The Taliban ruled Sharia law and adopted harsh punishments to enforce the law, such as public executions. Women were also kept from attending school under the Taliban and declared war on any rival religious practices.
There is a real fear that the Taliban will target U.S. citizens or anyone who worked for the U.S. Freshta shares this fear for her older brother and sister-in-law, both dentists in Afghanistan, and their three children.
Because Freshta’s parents are U.S. citizens and her father used to work for the Ministry of Finance, her brother and his family have an imminent need to leave Afghanistan under Taliban rule.
Three days before the Kabul airport bombing by ISIS-K, Freshta’s brother and his three children spent eight hours attempting to enter the airport. Only to have his beard pulled on by a U.S. service officer while presenting his visa. Freshta's brother is a successful businessman with his own clinic, and she wants to stress just because he has a beard and is Muslim does not mean he is part of the Taliban.
“That is really offensive in Muslim culture because nobody is able to touch your beard and hair unless you tell them to do so, and he was really sensitive about his beard because that is a part of his religion and a part of his faith,” Freshta said.
Her brother ended up leaving the airport after the encounter; still, Freshta has a heavy heart for the 100 plus Afghans who were killed or injured in the bombing. She also fears for her nephews experiencing this calamity at such a young age.
Amber is a cousin to Freshta who also attends Iowa State and is majoring in journalism. Amber’s immediate family lived in Afghanistan during the progressive era in the 1970s but fled the country during the mujahideen take over.
Amber was born in India, where her parents met, shortly after they moved to the United States. They still have relatives on both sides of the family in Afghanistan. As she has witnessed her family's home country conflicts left to be interpreted by the media, Amber can’t help but be frustrated by the current discourse surrounding the complex situation.
“Don’t use the collapse of a nation to make a political point when there are people being hurt,” Amber said. “It is the civilians who are being hurt and it is the civilians who are suffering and it seems like nobody cares about the civilians, and that is what makes me so angry.”
To Freshta, it feels like history is repeating itself. When the Taliban first rose to power in 1995, the U.S. refused to recognize their regime. The U.S. entered Afghanistan after 9/11 and the Taliban's refusal to turn over Osama Bin Laden.
Soon after, the Taliban receded from the larger provinces like Kabul, Kandahar. By 2002 an interim government was in place, forming organized elections. Scott Feinstein, assistant professor in the political science department, said before the U.S. withdrawal, an Afghan republic had been in place, but it heavily relied on foreign aid to keep it standing.
A state can typically be defined as a human community that has a living monopoly on coercion and a territory. That was the United States military and NATO forces for Afghanistan, especially in the larger cities.
“Some sense when you think about what was the Afghan government before the United States was departing, in a lot of way there had been a government officials that had some electoral process get them into place, however the legitimacy behind this government was primarily through the power of foreign military force,” Feinstein said.
While Afghanistan has seen rapid economic improvement, specifically in the agricultural sector, since 2015, aid flow has decreased to 42.9 percent of the GDP by 2020, slowing growth for the state, according to the World Bank.
Security expenditures for national security and police consisted of 28 percent of Afghanistan's GDP in 2019 as the country was exacerbated by political instability. President Joe Biden stuck to his promise of removing U.S. troops by September, but without foreign aid, terrorist groups made quick traction over the same cities foreign forces spent 20 years defending.
“This is something that is going to effect players of the world,” Feinstein said. “I don’t think anybody necessarily wants to get involved, these other countries I don’t think they see it as useful for a geopolitical power play.”
Biden has defended his stance on the withdrawal but admits the Taliban takeover unfolded more quickly than expected.
“So what has happened?” Biden said in a press conference Aug. 16. “Afghan political leader gave up and fled the country, the Afghan military collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight. If anything the developments in the past week reinforced that ending U.S. military force in Afghanistan now was the right decision. American troops can not and should not be fighting in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themself.”
Amber said while there is some truth to Biden’s statement, people are so focused on the political aspect that they forget that lives are at risk and assigning blame will do little to prevent that.
“You know when your engine breaks down, it is not just one thing that breaks down it is multiple parts that makes the car breakdown,” Amber said. “That is what I see here, yeah one aspect broke down but there are other contributing factors. To summarize I feel like people fail to look at the big picture and that all goes into like trying to prove a point and it is just not helpful because like I said I have family there.”
The U.S. Defense Department has attempted to evacuate people from Afghanistan “as quickly and safely as possible.” Roughly 105,000 people have been evacuated since the Taliban takeover of Kabul on Aug. 14; according to Reuters, at least 5,100 U.S. citizens have been evacuated since then.
“They (the U.S.) can take the people who worked with them, all these people I understand they are in great risk, but normal men and women who go to universities and have a normal life, there is no need to go to any country because right now the homeland is asking for their help,” Freshta said. “it is really shocking that the Taliban took over Afghanistan in less than one month.”
While there is a need for those in danger to flee Afghanistan, Freshta said Afghanistan still needs its’ people to fend for their home country, and she feels guilty for not being a part of that.
“After a few months there will be no brain left in Afghanistan, no development, no education and no body fighting for their rights,” Freshta said. “They need to stop taking those young men away, if I had a chance to go back and stay there I would have because I know they need me and I would have stay.”
Amber said the best thing for anyone watching the events unfold in Afghanistan to do, is to stop assuming and educate themself on the matter. Both Freshta and Amber mentioned that in the media, Afghanistan is only mentioned in times of conflict and never for beautiful valleys and mountains or the vibrant culture.
“One thing I will say is the people who truly believe in Islam don’t walk around with AK-47s,” Amber said. “They walk around with kindness in their hearts with the mindset they are willing to teach people who want to be taught.”