BY SHAWN DORMAN
This special edition of the FSJ shines a bright light on the Afghanistan evacuation of 2021, through the eyes of the U.S. Foreign Service members who were there alongside the U.S. military and other agencies. In December 2021 we put out a call for essays about working this emergency, to which more than two dozen people responded. We are so grateful to them for their contributions.
How can the words “disaster,” “tragedy” and “apocalyptic” be uttered in the same breath as “inspiring,” “compassionate” and “professional”? Because, simply put, that is how it was. The pain and heartbreak all around, and the bravery and dedication of FS colleagues, are palpable. The story of the evacuation, the plight of Afghan allies, the trauma and the continuing crisis must not be forgotten: It is not over.
Authors of the essays in the compilation, “Operation Allies Refuge: The FS View from the Front Lines,” paint the global picture (in words and photos) of the journey that the Afghan allies took: from Kabul to the “lily pad” countries (such as Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Germany and Italy), to the United States through Dulles and Philadelphia airports, and on to military bases (“safe havens”) across the country to continue resettlement processing. From there, they travel on to communities nationwide.
To add a global perspective, we worked with geographer Chad Blevins to create a world map illustrating the 2021 evacuation, based on research and input from those involved. We know of no other like it.
We also hear from an Afghan interpreter who worked for the U.S. government for more than a decade. Ahmad Khalid Siddiqi made it out with his family and has a new home in Colorado. But even this “best-case” scenario is so difficult one must wonder how others will fare, those who don’t have Siddiqi’s connections or English-language competence.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has pledged to evaluate the evacuation, aiming for lessons to be learned. And he’s put resources and personnel toward this effort. In his President’s Views column, Eric Rubin urges “a thorough, nonpartisan and unstinting review” of the evacuation and of the 20 years of war that led up to it.
As a follow-on to the interview with the Secretary in the January-February FSJ, we were able to pose questions to Policy Planning Director Salman Ahmed for more specifics about the Secretary’s initiatives—in particular, the new Policy Ideas Channel and the Dissent Channel revitalization. See the S/P director’s responses in “Challenging Groupthink, Injecting New Ideas—Exploring the Secretary’s Modernization Agenda.” It is welcome news that they plan to bring back the Open Forum this year.
Speaking of getting input from employees … we bring you an FS Know-How from a group of entry-level FSOs in Pakistan on how to work with them to build the next generation of successful diplomats. FSOs M.J. Crawford and Keome Rowe lead the way.
In the Feature, FSO Sarah Wardell tells us how working a State consular affairs job remotely from a rural Oregon town created opportunities to both put consular skills to use to help the community and raise awareness of the Foreign Service among Americans who might not otherwise hear about it.
The Speaking Out from FSO (ret.) Gerald Loftus and FSO Stuart Denyer presents an intriguing suggestion, asking whether it might well be “Time to Bring Back Legations Headed by Diplomatic Agents.”
And in a surprising, fun feature from Ambassador (ret.) Tibor Nagy, he pitches the value of summer camp as a “stable anchor” for Foreign Service kids living a mobile life.
In the Reflection, one month ahead of the 50th anniversary of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (next month’s cover story), Marc Gilkey takes us back to his APHIS assignment to Kabul, 2005. The Local Lens from Carole Fenton is a beautiful, haunting photo from Georgia.
Not to be missed is a strong rebuttal from Jon LeChevet in Letters-Plus to Jim Schumaker’s January-February piece, “Before Havana Syndrome, There Was Moscow Signal.” Responses to that article continue to come in, and we look forward to publishing more next month.
Please do continue to write us at firstname.lastname@example.org.