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By Jim Cornelius
News Editor 

Out of Afghanistan


Last updated 2/21/2023 at Noon

Last week, I flew to San Antonio, Texas, for a conference with my colleagues with Mullen Newspapers. Louie Mullen, the majority owner of The Nugget (with myself as minority owner), has community weekly newspapers across the country, and a dozen of the publishers of those papers gather regularly to share ideas and to work through the struggles that each of us face in a challenging media landscape.

A snafu at the car rental counter put me on the taxi line at the San Antonio Airport. A small, wiry man jumped out of his taxi and hailed me. I told him my destination and, without thinking about it, climbed into the front seat. He gave me a bit of side-eye, and I told him I’d get in back if he was more comfortable with that. He shook his head and gave me his phone to punch in the unfamiliar B&B address.

Of course, we got to talking. And what a story Sayed had to tell.

The man who was now a taxi driver in San Antonio had been an interpreter for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. He saw serious combat. He fled Afghanistan two years ago, when it became apparent that the U.S. was leaving and that the Taliban were again on the ascendant. He described the Taliban as “very scary,” both in appearance and in action. He was very glad to have gotten out before the mad rush of the final departure in August 2022 — but his family is still in Afghanistan, and he has little hope of getting them out. Which means he probably won’t see them again.

I found myself short of breath as Sayed matter-of-factly described a tragedy that had permanently upended his life. Because we Americans are responsible for it. All I could do was thank him for the work he did — at the constant risk of his life — on behalf of American forces and his own country, and tell him I was sorry that we abandoned him.

The United States has an abysmal record of abandonment and betrayal of indigenous auxiliaries — men who help us fight the wars of empire and are rewarded with a fistful of ashes.

During the Vietnam War, U.S. Army Special Forces worked and fought with Montagnard tribesmen in the Highlands, creating a highly effective anti-communist force. And when the war went bad, we abandoned them to repression and expropriation.

We abandoned the Kurds in northern Syria and Iraq.

It goes back further than that. Stockbridge Indians who fought in the Continental Army were rewarded for their service by being juked out of their land in Massachusetts. Loyal Apache scouts were rounded up in 1886, sent off on a train, and incarcerated in Florida along with the militants they ran down.

If you haven’t read “The Afghanistan Papers,” by journalist Craig Whitlock, you should. It’s not a fun read; it’s an indictment of systematic failure and lies across every administration from Bush through Obama to Trump. The Biden Administration added its own crowning disaster last year.

“Distracted by the war in Iraq, the U.S. military became mired in an unwinnable guerrilla conflict in a country it did not understand. But no president wanted to admit failure, especially in a war that began as a just cause. Instead, the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations sent more and more troops to Afghanistan and repeatedly said they were making progress, even though they knew there was no realistic prospect for an outright victory.”

The hubris and deceit had a real impact on the ground, in the lives of Americans who served there, and for people like Sayed who tried to save their country from Islamist fanatics.

If there is any uplifting story to be salvaged from the wreckage, it is that American citizens, many of them special operations veterans, stepped up and mobilized their own expertise and resources to get people like Sayed out of the country before they could be hunted down and killed as collaborators. Look for “Saving Aziz: How the Mission to Help One Became a Calling to Rescue Thousands from the Taliban,” by Force Recon Marine veteran Chad Robichaux.

As for Sayed, he is resilient because he has to be. He doesn’t have the luxury of victimhood. He’s out there scuffling for a living.

“It’s good,” he told me. “I’m lucky to be alive and in the USA.”

Author Bio

Jim Cornelius, Editor in Chief

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Jim Cornelius is editor in chief of The Nugget and author of “Warriors of the Wildlands: True Tales of the Frontier Partisans.” A history buff, he explores frontier history across three centuries and several continents on his podcast, The Frontier Partisans. For more information visit


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