Matt Zeller Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, left and Veterans, refugee advocates, and Afghan evacuees speaks during a press conference to urge members of Congress to pass an Afghan Adjustment Act, in Washington, Monday, Feb. 14, 2022.
AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib
The US pulled out of Afghanistan about a year ago as the Taliban regained control.
Last year, Matt Zeller, a war veteran and ex-CIA analyst, described his frustration and heartache during the withdrawal.
On Thursday Zeller said it’s “a shame that people only seem to care when it’s around a calendar anniversary.”
A former CIA analyst and war veteran said the efforts to save people in Afghanistan are an ongoing struggle — not something to only regard as important around the one-year anniversary of the US pullout.
Matt Zeller — co-founder of No One Left Behind, a nonprofit dedicated to helping US interpreters and employees in Iraq and Afghanistan — told Insider last year it was impossible to get anyone out of Afghanistan as the war ended.
“It’s over. We can’t get people out,” Zeller said on August 25, 2021, the day before a suicide bomber killed over 170 people at the Kabul airport and five days before the US military officially completed its withdrawl from the country on August 30.
“My heart aches so profoundly for these wonderful people,” he added last year.
Zeller served in Afghanistan in 2008 as an embedded combat adviser. Since his time in the army, he has become an advocate for current and former service members and is the author of “Watches Without Time: An American Soldier in Afghanistan”.
When asked Thursday about his headspace one year on since the US pulled out of Afghanistan, he said not much has changed.
“I’m in the exact same place where I was a year ago,” Zeller told Insider.”Forgive me, but no offense, but while you, and pretty much everyone else went on with your lives, those of us that have been trying to get these people out have been living this as our daily existence for the last year.”
Zeller — advisory board chairman for the Association of Wartime Allies, an organization that aids refugees and allies — said he hasn’t been able to get a single person out of Afghanistan in the past year.
“It’s nice that you all are checking in, seeing how we’re doing, but this is still very much an ongoing mission. And it’s just a shame that people only seem to care when it’s around a calendar anniversary,” the army veteran said.
Throughout the war, 2,448 US service members, approximately 66,000 Afghan national military and police officers, and over 47,000 Afghan civilians died, according to Brown University’s Costs of War project.
The US evacuated approximately 124,000 individuals during the withdrawal last August. Since then, the Biden administration has evacuated 800 American citizens from the country, Politico reported earlier this month, citing House GOP investigators and the State Department.
The New York Times reported last year that thousands of Afghan nationals who helped the US government throughout the 20-year war were seeking refuge.
Zeller said they still need help getting out.
Though Biden has called the pullout an “extraordinary success” he faced heavy criticism about the withdrawal from members of both parties.
“The guy at the very top of it has seemed to have washed his hands of the whole situation and wants to move on from something that happened last year. And it’s a shame,” Zeller said of Biden, adding that helping people stuck in Afghanistan would “require this administration to actually care.”
The Taliban’s current control in Afghanistan is marked by reports of executions, amputations, and abuse of women — reminiscent of its oppressive regime from 1996 to 2001 despite promises of a moderate rule.
“It’s very hard to stand out in this world when there’s so many other problems going on that demand our attention,” Zeller said.
“I think this is a life lesson for us all: We can’t just abandon issues because they get difficult or because we don’t like the outcomes,” he added. “We need to see commitments through to the end. Otherwise, in this case, people literally die.”