Despite President Joe Biden’s celebratory declaration of the end of the war in Afghanistan, for Mike Rogers the mission is far from over.
The former Michigan congressman is among a loose-knit but determined group of former diplomats, military and intelligence personnel and private citizens working feverishly to get out of Afghanistan those Americans and their allies whom Biden left behind.
“It’s like a movie — I’ve never seen anything like it,” says Rogers, a former Army officer and FBI agent who represented mid-Michigan from 2001-15. “We’re trying to get people surreptitiously from one safe house to another, circumventing Taliban checkpoints to move them north and out of the country.”
When I spoke with Rogers, his group, working with operatives in Afghanistan, had collected 69 Americans and Afghanis at an undisclosed airfield, and were trying to land an aircraft to lift them out.
“I imagine this is what it must have looked like getting people out of East Germany,” he says.
While the Biden administration pegs the number of abandoned U.S. citizens at 100-250, Rogers says, “I passionately believe it is much greater. On the ground, people are saying two to three thousand.”
And, he says, most didn’t choose to stay, as the president contends, but either couldn’t get to the Kabul airport for evacuation or were afraid to leave their families behind.
What happens to them now? They are suddenly at the mercy of a brutal, bloodthirsty regime that kills on a whim and is newly emboldened by its vanquishing of the most powerful army in the world.
Biden, in his speech marking the end of the war Tuesday, said there will be no military intervention to rescue U.S. citizens. Rather, he said he would work through diplomatic channels to negotiate their release.
The president suggested dangling access to the world marketplace and even U.S. aid to get the Taliban to cooperate.
In reality, the terms will be set by the Taliban. The abandoned Americans are a very valuable commodity. They represent leverage, bargaining chips to be used to secure all manner of concessions from the United States.
“The Americans will be traded,” says Rogers. “For cash. For vaccines. To humiliate America. For recognition that gives the Taliban more credibility inside and outside the country.”
The situation is worse for the Afghans who worked with the U.S. during the 20-year war. Rogers says they are in hiding, living under a death sentence.
“We’re just leaving these people, our friends,” Rogers says. “The Taliban wants them dead. They’ll be tracked down and killed or tortured and their daughters married off to Taliban fighters. All of the horrible things you can think about.”
Rogers, who chaired the House Intelligence Committee and now works as a cybersecurity consultant, is among those who feel the U.S. should have maintained a presence in Afghanistan to assure stability.
Noting that Biden defined the ongoing objective with Afghanistan as keeping it from becoming a threat to America, he says, “if that’s your mission, you should still have a counterweight there. We’re not talking about a forever war, but about an enduring peace. He took away the ability to strike al-Qaida and keep them and other terrorist groups in check. How can anyone tell me this is a better place?”
Once the decision was made for a total withdrawal, Rogers says it should not have been carried out in a way that abandoned American citizens, sacrificed our friends and dishonored our nation.
“I’ve been disappointed in my government before,” he says. “I’ve been disheartened by my government. But I’ve never before been ashamed of my government.”
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