June 6, 2023

It’s been a year since the chaotic end of the US war in Afghanistan, and Elliot Ackerman doesn’t look much better in retrospect: “It’s a breakdown of American ethics and the way we treat our allies,” he said. “This is a breakdown of American capability, our ability to carry out this mission.”

For Ackerman, who served in Afghanistan on four combat tours including the Marine Corps and the CIA, the debacle was also personal. “Suddenly, I was back in the war. I thought I was out of the war.”

He had been away from the war for ten years and made a living as a writer. Now he’s written a book about America’s longest war called “Act 5” (Penguin Publishing Aug. 9).


Penguin Press

“Five Acts. Shakespeare’s Tragedy?” asked CBS News national security reporter David Martin.

“You have Bush, Obama, Trump, Biden, and the fifth act, the ending, is the Taliban,” Ackerman said.

The Taliban have overtaken the world’s most powerful superpower and want revenge on Afghans who have sided with the United States. A war that began long before the iPhone was raging in a stream of viral videos. “Through your phone, you can hear the collective voice of all the Afghans who believed what we told them, and they cried out for help,” Ackerman said.

So he became part of a digital network of veterans working to get Afghans out. “I was involved in some work, you know, maybe more than 200 people out.”

U.S. forces have taken control of Kabul airport, and Afghans are swarming, trying to get past the guards to board the plane.

“It’s the equivalent of going to a Rolling Stones concert and then walking to the back and having the band call you on stage,” Ackerman said. “You have to know someone in the band.”

Or the guy guarding the gate in the Marines. Ackerman’s network sent them photos with arrows pointing to where to find specific Afghans with handmade signs. Most of them are strangers. Everyone is desperate.

As Ackerman calls “Aziz”. He used to work for the U.S. government and is now sending painful voice messages expressing his fears of the Taliban:

“Bless you sir…please do something for us. Please save my children…we don’t want to be caught by the Taliban because they are looking everywhere, place by place, home by home, street, looking for us .

“The whole family is in a very bad situation. They’re scared. The kids are scared.”

“How could you ignore something like this?” Ackerman said.

Martin asked, “What do you think the chances are?”

“Low, we’ll be able to help him. Then the bomb hits the door of the monastery and everything shuts down.”

A suicide bomber slipped into the crowd, Killed 13 Americans and an estimated 170 Afghans.

Four days later, the last American soldier flew out of Afghanistan. Ackerman could only tell Aziz that he was sorry.

“He sent me a text: ‘You’ve done your best and done more. Then you’re a superhero in our family. I think it’s our luck to be killed by the Taliban.'”

Then, Ackerman heard about a flight from Mazar-e-Sharif. “It’s halfway up north, in the mountains, you know, it’s a long drive.”

He texted Aziz:

“Please leave as soon as possible.”

“Okay, sir.

“You have to hurry, all the flights are taking off today, hurry up.”

Aziz sent a video of the drive north. He arrived in Mazar-e-Sharif just in time. “But,” Ackerman said, “the plane didn’t go that day, the next day, and the days and weeks passed, and he was in a safe house that was really just a wedding hall.  … .He stayed on this brink for about a month. Then one night I knew he manifested for the flight and I went to bed” – woke up in the morning and saw a video Aziz sent him, he had and The family left Afghanistan together and entered a refugee center in Qatar – finally away from the Taliban.

“Hello, sir, how are you?” Aziz said. “I don’t know how to thank you. But I thank everyone in America, everyone, because we never dreamed of anything like this. But their love, their kindness. Thank you, thank you for everything you do. “

“I was amazed that after going through what he was going through and seeing how disastrously it all ended, his impulse was to thank us,” Ackerman said. He said, ‘I thank every American .'”

Aziz now lives in California with his wife and children. “Sunday Morning” did not use his real name, and he did not want to be interviewed on camera because he still has family in Afghanistan.

“Just because we as Americans have decided to turn the page, that doesn’t mean that everyone who’s still in Afghanistan, or all Afghans who come to the U.S. with their families still, will turn the page,” Ackerman said.

Read the excerpt: “Act 5,” about an American’s role in Afghanistan

For more information:

A story made by Mary Walsh. Editor: Mike Levine.

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