peter deck

Leaving Afghanistan

peter francis deckby Peter Francis Deck

The USA out of Afghanistan: What does this country stand for?

It is not an easy place. After one year in Afghanistan, I was happy to leave for South America to ride my Moto for six months before heading to Liberia. I arrived soon after the Taliban was ousted mainly by the US and other NATO forces so the security was rather good. I can even boast I traveled the entire Ring Road that circumnavigates just about the entire country from Kabul, north to Mazar-i-Sharif then west to Herat, and south to Kandahar. Still, even then the security was the most difficult I experienced.

If a female colleague I fancied didn’t ask me to meet her for lunch in Helmand on 27 March 2003, I would have been with Roberto Munguia an ICRC colleague who I had agreed to travel to the Province of Uruzgan north of Kandahar to visit a water project he was supporting. I was to assess the number and condition of displaced persons in the region. Vanessa, a UNHCR officer who I had known from Kosovo was traveling from Herat. She contacted me the night before and said let’s meet for lunch in Helmand, not far from Kandahar, where she had a meeting. I immediately postponed my participation in the ICRC mission with Roberto and a local staff/driver.  On the Uruzgan road in Tiron Kot, Roberto’s vehicle was stopped by Taliban operatives. According to his driver who returned to Kandahar stripped naked with the vehicle radio removed and Roberto’s body, Roberto was shot in cold blood execution-style. After this incident, the Taliban announced their return to power in Southern Afghanistan and ordered all foreigners to leave the country.

In Kandahar in November that same year, a car bomb placed in a vehicle on the opposite side of the building from my desk literally knocked me out of my chair and left me on the floor with my computer on top of me. The five Nepalis on the explosion side of the building were not so lucky. None of them were killed but all had to be medically evacuated by helicopter. Not as dramatic but just as life-threatening, I was accused of consorting with a local woman because she was in my office with the door closed unescorted by another woman. She was a national staff who was passionate about women’s rights and was one of the few who had learned good English and would travel to rural villages for the UN and report on abused and raped women to advocate for improving their situation. Her husband made her quit the UN job to save the face of the “closed-door incident”, even though she was feeding half her community by having that job. I was transferred to Kabul. I, and the UN lost contact with her.

Now after 20 years of relative calm and some sense of government building with the US trying to subdue the Taliban, the US is leaving Afghanistan. During my mission, on leave for the holidays back in the States I remember having after-dinner drinks and cigars with my brother’s FBI team members who were experienced in renditioning suspects from the Middle East and Afghanistan via Europe to Guantanamo. They claimed how “they had the rag heads on the run” and within a few months Al-Qaeda and the Taliban would be defeated.  I returned to Afghanistan dazed by their naivety or stupidity but with some sense of maybe, they know something I don’t know. After all, they were insiders working for the FBI of the powerful US Government. The contrast of my job of monitoring the human rights issues of people abused, kidnapped, and persecuted by governments around the world made me realize I was in a very different world from these mostly ex-jarheads.

Now the Taliban claims to have defeated America. The news outlets describe it as a “withdrawal” echoing the US Government’s description. It is a bad example of American leadership and a poor example of standing up for justice and freedom. The US is caving into popular will. The US empire has been in Europe, South Korea, Japan, and the Middle East with tens of thousands of troops for over 60 years. A few thousand could not stay to protect Afghanistan? Now NATO troops also involved in training the Afghan government forces will also leave without the US firepower present. Now every woman in Afghanistan (more than half the population) will be deserving of refugee status as they will risk persecution. Will America give them shelter? Most likely a future president will send troops back in. What does this country stand for?