Anti-Imperialism/Foreign Policy

Escape From Afghanistan

By George Packer, The Atlantic

Even those with a visa must endure harrowing conditions on their way to freedom.

or the past 10 days, thousands of private citizens have been working around the clock, through informal networks of friends and colleagues, to organize evacuation flights from Afghanistan to countries like Albania and Kyrgyzstan, and to help Afghans get their name on passenger manifests and safely reach the Kabul airport. This effort, which is largely taking place on WhatsApp and Signal, has been called a “digital Dunkirk.”

At this point the phrase is too generous. In the spring of 1940, British and French forces were rescued from Dunkirk by a collaboration between the British government and ordinary people sailing their own vessels into the English Channel; it was a miraculous success. Thus far, only a fraction of endangered Afghans have gotten out of the country. The private rescue effort in Afghanistan is basically running separate from the United States government’s Operation Allies Refuge; it became necessary because the official evacuation is beset by chaos and bureaucratic blockage. Private citizens are intervening because the government, as a retired military commander told me, is “overwhelmed.” People involved in this collective effort have said that it’s the only aspect of the fall of Afghanistan that relieves a bit of their shame.


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