Veterans, Afghans living in Minnesota react to what's unfolding in Afghanistan

A U.S. military helicopter flies above the U.S. embassy in Kabul.
A U.S. military helicopter is pictured flying above the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sunday.
Wakil Kohsar | AFP via Getty Images

The fast-moving developments in Afghanistan over the weekend hit home for thousands of Minnesota veterans who spent time in that country over the past two decades.

Many worked with the Afghan security forces who were unable to muster a defense against the Taliban.

Former state senator and naval reservist Roger Reinert of Duluth spent about a year in Afghanistan as a public affairs officer in 2018 and 2019, working on training and logistical support of Afghan armed forces. He said the outcome in Kabul is heartbreaking but not surprising and said there were concerns about Afghan forces not getting paid or having proper supplies during his time in the country. 

“It’s a large country with a big population in it,” he said. “There are a lot of mountains and valleys — difficult places to get to.”

Reinert said he's worried about the safety of Afghans who worked with the United States military and their families, who may now be trapped in the country.

“I’m curious how other Afghan vets are feeling,” Reinert said. “You think about the money spent and the lives lots, and even for those of us who came home safely, it changed my life — the year there — and then a really, really difficult time after coming home. And I know that’s not unique to me. That’s the rule, not the exception.”

People from Afghanistan now living in Minnesota are watching as the Taliban takes over. Some say they are alarmed that the families they left behind are in grave danger.

Danyal Saqeb worked as a U.S. Army contractor from 2003 to 2014 in Afghanistan before coming to the U.S. He lives in Bloomington now and has about two dozen family members in Afghanistan worried they cannot leave and that the Taliban will come for them. Saqeb said his brothers-in-law, who also worked for the U.S. military, were with their families among the crowds that fled to the airport, only to be stranded there.

“America, United States, cannot leave us like that. After this, nobody will trust in United States,” Saqeb said.

He believes other countries were openly trying to help topple the Afghan government and that its rapid fall should have been anticipated.

Minnesota lawmakers react

U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar released a statement Monday about what’s happening in Afghanistan, noting her experience as a child in war-torn Somalia and the “fundamental failures of [the United States’] Afghanistan policy.” She called for an “international coalition to evacuate every Afghan citizen who is fleeing for their lives.”

U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum and Sen. Amy Klobuchar have also released statements.

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MPR News is looking to speak with more Afghan people living in Minnesota. Reach out via the form below if you’d like to share your perspectives.

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