The desperation in Afghanistan brings fear and hope in Utah. Robert Gehrke explains how Utahns can help.

Utah is half a world away from the surreal scenes of chaos and panic in Afghanistan, but we are still deeply connected. When Afghans who worked with Americans desperately try to flee, I spoke to three Utahners who know the dangers but still have hope.

Mahmood Amiri brought his wife and four children to Utah on a special immigrant visa last March. He left because he feared retaliation from the Taliban for his work as an interpreter for the US Army.

His father was left behind.

“His life is in danger because the Taliban now continues to go into people’s homes” to find family members of those who have helped the US armed forces. “He won’t be okay.”

Amiri was only able to check him sporadically. His wife Masouda also has left behind parents.

The rapid collapse of his homeland was unexpected, said Amiri.

“Suddenly we heard that [the Taliban] attacked in Kabul. The army didn’t fight. You just told our President that he had to go, ”he told me. “Everyone thought that it wouldn’t happen, that they could come and conquer all of Kabul City, but that was so surprising to them.”

He has been trying to contact someone at the State Department for days, but to no avail.

In this April 22, 2020 photo, Afghan refugee Mahmood Amiri poses for a photo with his family in West Valley City, Utah. The coronavirus restrictions imposed in the US have affected refugee families in much the same way as other Americans, but many of them are forced to find their way around a language they are not yet fluent in and without support networks from extended families or trusted friends. Amiri arrived in the US more than a month ago but his children are still waiting for their first day of school and the family has yet to go to the mosque to meet other Muslim families. (AP Photo / Rick Bowmer)

Kael Weston, who served in the State Department in Khost province, eastern Afghanistan (and ran for Congress in Utah last year) shared some of the emails he gets from people trapped.

In an email Weston received with the subject “Last and Only Chance,” an Afghan asked him to do whatever he could to get him out. “Even my hands are shaking while I write this to you and I really can’t concentrate,” it said. “It is very likely that something can happen to me at any moment.”

Another wrote that Taliban soldiers had spent days looking for those who were working in some capacity with the US and coalition forces. “That’s why everyone has the feeling that we’re exposed to wolves,” the email said.

“All of us who had a real stake [in it]”A part of our soul belongs to Afghanistan, because of the people, the beauty, the need we are not objective,” Weston told me. “We are too close to the land, too close to the people, too close to the human tribute that is happening over there.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Robert Gehrke.

Weston argued that rather than a full force-level withdrawal, it would have been better to “go as deep as possible” and “stay as long as possible” to ensure stability and maintain a presence near the Pakistani border.

But staying behind was politically unpopular. Last year the Trump administration struck a withdrawal deal – a move praised by Sen. Mike Lee and Rep. Chris Stewart. And despite escalating violence, Biden stuck to the deal (despite delaying the withdrawal by a few months).

Regardless of your view of the withdrawal, measured by any metric and in any world, it was as disastrous a departure as anyone could have imagined, complete with images of desperate Afghans clinging to transport planes until they couldn’t hold on and fell to their deaths.

Political pointing started at the first sign of anger and has not subsided when Conservatives blamed Biden for botching the withdrawal, the left fingering Trump for negotiating the deal and pushing for a faster withdrawal.

It’s not surprising, and it’s not helpful at all.

“Where we are now, we are actually helping people who will be killed if we don’t. That is now the urgency. There will be time for blame later, ”Weston said. “We need our elected in order to be big in times of crisis and at least not to make politics about it for a while.”

Yes, we absolutely need accountability. We need to analyze what went wrong and who is to blame, how to minimize the long-term consequences and prevent future catastrophic missteps, and how that affects America’s reputation abroad and our strategic position in the region.

It will be time to untangle all of this – and no one responsible for this disaster should be let off the hook.

However, right now, thousands of lives are at risk and the focus at home must be on stabilizing the land sufficiently to evacuate those at risk, keep them safe and reduce the number of people.

There is a feeling of helplessness watching all of this unfold half a world away. But there are things Utahner can do to help, said Natalie El-Deiry, executive director of the Salt Lake City International Rescue Committee office.

In addition to sending 10 employees to Virginia to handle incoming refugees in the past few weeks, it is preparing to join refugees settling in Utah, find a furnished apartment, find a job, their children in enroll in school to gain access to health services. “Just all basic needs to help people rebuild their lives,” as El-Deiry puts it.

El-Deiry said her organization matches newcomers with volunteer family mentors to help refugee families navigate the city and acquire basic language skills. They offer tutoring programs for students and other services for children.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Aden Batar of Catholic Community Services speaks at a press conference in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, September 2, 2020. The press conference focused on Salt Lake County’s Nourish to Flourish project, which is bringing service providers and local restaurants together to provide hot meals to children in need, and supporting restaurants by paying them hundreds of meals a day.

Aden Batar, director of refugee programs for Catholic Community Services, has a hard time finding a place to live in a narrow market.

Batar said he expected the first refugees – a family of eight – to arrive in Utah within days. According to Batar, his group and the IRC can host up to 1,300 refugees annually.

Both groups are also asking for financial donations, which can be made on their respective websites: and

Indeed, it is encouraging to see Governor Spencer Cox reaffirm our state’s openness to those who are desperate to flee. Indeed, time is of the essence and we must do all we can.

“We just have to help,” said Batar. “People die. People are in a bad situation right now. “

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