Georgians with ties to Afghanistan heartbroken over disaster

Atlanta-area humanitarian agencies scrambling to help

Norcross resident Bahar Mehr is frightened about the fate of his parents and siblings in Kabul amid the Taliban’s rapid advances across his homeland.

Mehr, who worked for the American embassy in Afghanistan’s capital, arrived in Georgia last year on a Special Immigrant Visa for Afghans who helped the U.S. government during the war. Sleepless from the stress, he managed to keep in touch with his family through Facebook’s instant messaging program Sunday.

“What is happening right now in Afghanistan is unimaginable for everyone,” he said. He added that his family is among many Afghans who are “just waiting for the worst.”

Mehr resettled in Georgia with the help of a refugee resettlement agency, the International Rescue Committee in Atlanta. The IRC is dispatching some of its personnel to Fort Lee in Virginia, where other Afghans who helped the American military during the past two decades are arriving. At the same time, the IRC is preparing to welcome more such Afghan families to the Atlanta region as soon as Monday.

“To see what has slowly been happening over these last several weeks — but especially in the last 36 to 48 hours — has just been gut-wrenching,” said Justin Howell, executive director of the IRC in Atlanta.

“How many families now are basically stuck inside Kabul, thinking it was going to be a place of safety and awaiting a promised flight to the U.S and now they won’t be able to get that flight? What that portends for them and their families is just devastating.”

The IRC has joined a cooperative with other refugee resettlement agencies, including New American Pathways, which is now scrambling to find affordable housing in the Atlanta area for families fleeing Afghanistan.

“We are heartbroken about what is happening in Afghanistan,” said Paedia Mixon, CEO of New American Pathways. “We are really proud to be a part of bringing people to safety here in Atlanta and we appreciate all of the support we are getting from the Atlanta community.”

Meanwhile, Georgia National Guardsmen who served in Afghanistan are following the news closely.

Among them is Maj. Gen. John King, who deployed to Afghanistan with the Guard in 2010 and who served as the senior adviser to that nation’s minister of the interior. King, who serves as Georgia’s insurance and safety fire commissioner, has learned that an Afghan national police colonel who protected him during his deployment has gone into hiding.

“He traveled all over Afghanistan and he put his life on the line to keep me safe,” said King, who is keeping in touch with the colonel through WhatsApp. “And he is begging for help to get him and his family out. ... He is afraid they are going to come for him at any moment.”

King is critical of the Biden administration’s handling of the military’s exit.

“I am watching the CH-47 (helicopter) flying to pick up the ambassador and the flag. I mean, this is Saigon,” King said, referencing an iconic image from the Vietnam War. “Don’t get me wrong. … We were there for 20 years. That was an incredible investment of blood and treasure. And nobody agreed to stay there forever. It was just the way we left. … We just pulled the carpet out from under their feet.”

“Is that how we are defining coalition building?” he continued. “Why would anybody ever trust us again when we do this?”

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Joshua Winchester of Brunswick has deployed with the Georgia Guard to Afghanistan twice. He still wears a metal bracelet that reminds him of an intense firefight he was in near Kabul in 2009. The metal band is inscribed with the name of Chief Warrant Officer 2 Douglas Vose III, a Green Beret who died from his wounds in that battle.

“Over 20 years — here we are back to square one. It’s kind of like a slap in the face,” Winchester said. “The time, effort, money and the loss of lives — I just don’t understand how we can justify putting in all those resources and losing all those servicemembers and just ignore it really.”

Meanwhile, Mehr, the Kabul native who now lives in Norcross, worries about the bigger message stemming from the disaster in Afghanistan.

“We lost in the face of global terrorism and we lost everything we sacrificed,” he said. “What did we achieve? Nothing. We lost to a terror group that has no mercy.”

Meet the reporter

An award-winning journalist with more than 27 years of experience reporting for newspapers, Jeremy Redmon has written extensively about politics, immigration, war, the coronavirus pandemic and the opioid abuse epidemic. His assignments have taken him to the U.S.-Mexico border, Central America and the Middle East. Between 2004 and 2006, he embedded with U.S. troops during three trips to Iraq.