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2021

Fun with Maps - Afghanistan and other "-Stan" Countries

We have always planned on doing a Fun with Maps episode on one or more of the "Stan" countries. Just not yet. Unfortunately, the news has made me change the schedule and focus on the map of a very troubled place - Afghanistan.

This episode looks at the group of seven countries known as the "Stan" countries in the heart of Central and South Asia. Then we drill down more into the map of Afghanistan, its capital Kabul and more.



See more Fun with Maps episodes


Evacuating Afghan allies: the Midnight Hour is Striking.
By Vietnam Veteran, LTC-RET, Joseph Patrick Meissner

Since 2001, many Afghans helped us fight Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Translators and others gave blood, sweat and tears in supporting our troops. They risked their lives. They put their families at risk. They merit our support.

President Joseph Biden has promised to evacuate them. Yet except for a small contingent of troops assigned to protect our embassy in Kabul and the Kabul airport, we have no assets to execute that evacuation. The slaughter a week ago of nearly two dozen Afghan commandos who had surrendered reveals the murderous nature of the Taliban. What will be the Translators’ fate? More slaughter? One thing seems evident: the Government of Afghanistan has little or no ability to protect their safety.

I’m a Vietnam veteran assigned to Special Forces. Sadly, we’ve seen the unfolding picture in Afghanistan before. The South Vietnamese government and its military had matured into a significant fighting force, but it needed U.S. military support, especially airpower. Congress foolishly cut off funding and prohibited our military from providing further assistance. A North Vietnamese invasion overwhelmed the south. The scenes of Americans and Vietnamese making a final, desperate escape burn deeply in our memories.

Still, in one bright note amid a dismal catastrophe, Vietnamese and American heroes managed to evacuate 130,000 Vietnamese refugees before April 30, 1975.

Ever since I was twelve, I had read about the historic battle of Dien Bien Phu. I wanted to go to Vietnam and volunteered. In 1961 I helped sponsor a program that brought the Vietnamese Ambassador to Xavier University. He presented what was happening. He explained the Strategic Hamlet program pushed by General Creighton Abrams that might have succeeded had the Washington politicians given the able Abrams their backing. In 1968 I got my traveling wish when I received orders to go to Vietnam. There I served with 5th Special Forces Group Airborne. I met many good people including our Vietnamese interpreter.

Between 1975 and 1980, I co-chaired the Vietnamese Information Services coalition. We resettled 10,000 refugees in Ohio, where I live. My personal experience involved my Vietnamese Interpreter, who came with her family from Fort Chafee and stayed in our home. Others lived with welcoming Cleveland families. We worked to help them resettle here and integrate into our society. This process was repeated thousands of times throughout America, with the support of immigration agencies.

Of course, differences exist between Vietnam and Afghanistan. First, in Vietnam evacuations, Americans and Vietnamese intermingled. Both groups traveled together. Americans had a deep commitment to not abandoning their Vietnamese allies. Second, Washington gave the evacuations unwavering support.

In Afghanistan, most Americans have left. The “sprinkling” strategy of American-Afghans is not now possible. Second, for all the brave talk, the same dedication of our government officials seems missing. While the administration has referred to certain actions under the label Operation Allies Refugee, whose details it won’t reveal because of operational security – a valid rationale, it is factual – the task that lies before them in an increasingly hostile war zone is huge.

The U.S. evacuation seems poorly thought through. It is coming very late. Some hope that a possible three-month ceasefire that the Taliban has offered in exchange for the release of 7,000 of its prisoners may create a space for evacuation. Learn from history. In 1975, hope arose that the South Vietnamese government could strike a truce with the Communists. It was an empty hope. And even if it occurs in Afghanistan, that does not answer the question of how a massive evacuation of Afghans scattered around a large country can be rescued.

Here are requirements for a fruitful evacuation.

First, define clearly how many Afghans we will evacuate. I propose 100,000. That embraces 18,000 Interpreters who aided our soldiers plus families, totaling 50,000. There are other at-risk Afghans including women leaders. These may consist of another 50,000.

Second, how do we communicate with these people in Afghanistan? Most Interpreters have filed for the SIV Program (Special Immigrant Visas for Translators/Interpreters). Their applications contain contact information. Also virtually everybody in the world has a cell phone. So start by trying cellphone networks. Ultimately, we may have to rely on word of mouth.

One emphasizes: in Vietnam, the goal was to save people, not dot every “i” on a bureaucrat’s application form. Agencies had drawn up lists and rankings of at-risk Vietnamese. But it was agreed to save as many as possible even if some might fail to pass detailed interrogatories.

Third, how do we get people out? In Vietnam, river barges carried thousands to our waiting Navy. Vietnamese Navy ships rescued thousands, and took them to the Philippines. The Vietnamese Air Force airlifted people to Thailand. Aircraft filled with refugees flew from Saigon’s Tan Son Nhat Airport. Helicopters landed precipitously on Saigon rooftops and ferried people to the American fleet. Other Vietnamese self-evacuated. They boarded anything that could float and went out to sea.

Passenger aircraft may prove the best option in land-locked Afghanistan. Some may use land routes to reach Afghanistan’s neighbors. But it is uncertain how they will be welcomed.

Fourth, what about safely flying out of Afghanistan? Will the Taliban hinder that? Will they shoot down our airplanes? Do they have stinger missiles? Remember, there are 6,000 Taliban prisoners. This will sound callous, but on each passenger aircraft we could place some Taliban people, leaders, and families. Make no mistake. The Taliban care about the fate of their own people. Taliban prisoners provide important leverage to safely evacuate other Afghans. We should detail jets loaded with bombs and napalm to fly protection. In this scenario, hostile action would be swiftly countered.

Fifth, where should these Afghans be taken? Some recommend Guam and Third-world countries. I advocate against this for several reasons. I recommend the 100,000 be evacuated to the United States, and to house them temporarily in military bases. That was done for the Vietnamese. It will be easier to assist Afghans if they are in the US, where American immigration services and NGO’s are located and can provide needed resettlement help.

This will avoid possible problems in other countries. It would inspire confidence among refugees.

Sixth, all Afghan families should remain on US bases (or perhaps temporary but civilized camps) until a named sponsor is obtained for that family. Sponsors will be recruited from throughout America. This will require a substantial public relations outreach. The sponsors can be churches and mosques, local community groups, Afghan groups, resettlement and immigration organizations, and individual American families. Sponsors would agree to work closely with Afghan family, perhaps for five years. That worked with Indochinese and American sponsors by establishing close long-term relationships.

Seventh, the task is achieving self-sufficiency and employment for each Afghan family. No long-term financial assistance should be allocated for anyone. A generous monthly stipend will only create dependency, leading recipients to expect this forever. Furthermore, these Afghans generally possess English language skills. Many are well-trained and will be eager to work hard and succeed. This has been our experience with the Indochinese.

The overriding goal: achieving independence for each Afghan family. The motto: “Any job is a good job.” I will mention again my Vietnamese interpreter. When she came to Cleveland, I kept telling her, “Here is another job opportunity. Visit this place; talk to the hiring people.”

“No, Anh Ba (Brother Number Three, my Vietnamese name),” she repeated over and over. Three weeks after my initial urgings, she boasted she had a job. She had secured a splendid position with an American company. She had knocked doors on her own and telephoned for in-person interviews.

So we should help find employment for a family. Families then start up the American ladder toward success.

The evacuation is late. We need to act NOW to fulfill our moral obligation to our friends and allies who helped our soldiers in Afghanistan. As one General remarked about our Vietnam evacuation: “We did the right thing. We stood by people that stood by us, that were going to be persecuted because of their association and support to us. And we brought them to our country and then made them part of our society.”



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Afghanistan History and Culture

Map of Afghanistan

Ahmad Shah DURRANI unified the Pashtun tribes and founded Afghanistan in 1747. The country served as a buffer between the British and Russian Empires until it won independence from notional British control in 1919. A brief experiment in democracy ended in a 1973 coup and a 1978 communist countercoup. The Soviet Union invaded in 1979 to support the tottering Afghan communist regime, touching off a long and destructive war. The USSR withdrew in 1989 under relentless pressure by internationally supported anti-communist mujahidin rebels. A series of subsequent civil wars saw Kabul finally fall in 1996 to the Taliban, a hardline Pakistani-sponsored movement that emerged in 1994 to end the country's civil war and anarchy. Following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, a US, Allied, and anti-Taliban Northern Alliance military action toppled the Taliban for sheltering Usama BIN LADIN.

A UN-sponsored Bonn Conference in 2001 established a process for political reconstruction that included the adoption of a new constitution, a presidential election in 2004, and National Assembly elections in 2005. In December 2004, Hamid KARZAI became the first democratically elected president of Afghanistan, and the National Assembly was inaugurated the following December. KARZAI was reelected in August 2009 for a second term. The 2014 presidential election was the country's first to include a runoff, which featured the top two vote-getters from the first round, Abdullah ABDULLAH and Ashraf GHANI. Throughout the summer of 2014, their campaigns disputed the results and traded accusations of fraud, leading to a US-led diplomatic intervention that included a full vote audit as well as political negotiations between the two camps. In September 2014, GHANI and ABDULLAH agreed to form the Government of National Unity, with GHANI inaugurated as President and ABDULLAH elevated to the newly-created position of chief executive officer. The day after the inauguration, the GHANI administration signed the US-Afghan Bilateral Security Agreement and NATO Status of Forces Agreement, which provide the legal basis for the post-2014 international military presence in Afghanistan.

Despite gains toward building a stable central government, the Taliban remains a serious challenge for the Afghan Government in almost every province. The Taliban still considers itself the rightful government of Afghanistan, and it remains a capable and confident insurgent force despite its last two spiritual leaders being killed; it continues to declare that it will pursue a peace deal with Kabul only after foreign military forces depart.

(From the CIA World Factbook)

Map of Afghanistan


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