Evacuation from Afghanistan: A Retrospective

Evacuation from Afghanistan: A Retrospective

In the final, chaotic days of the American evacuation from the war-torn country, over 75,000 people boarded the proverbial last plane out.

Many of these evacuees did not serve the U.S. government in any direct capacity. According to the DHS, these individuals have a “compelling emergency” and show an “urgent humanitarian reason or significant public benefit” to gain temporary entry to the United States. Others did not have visas, but were on the visa fast track, mostly because they had helped the CIA. People with current, valid visas made up just 5% of the Afghanistan evacuees, according to a report. 

Shortly after the evacuation, U.S. President Joe Biden remarked that “We got out thousands of citizens and diplomats from those countries that went into Afghanistan with us to get bin Laden. We got out locally employed staff of the United States Embassy and their families, totaling roughly 2,500 people.”

U.S. in Afghanistan

Considering the recent Afghanistan War lasted 20 years, a list of significant milestones in this conflict is not very long. This brevity conveys the frustrating nature of a war that former U.S. president Donald Trump seriously considered entirely handing over to private military contractors.

When U.S. and other NATO forces invaded Afghanistan in Octover 2001, they quickly overthrew the Taliban, and arch-conservative Muslim group with strong ties to Osama bin Laden, and installed a new government. 

Taliban forces regrouped in neighboring Pakistan. The insurgency they launched, along with a large-scale famine, plunged the nation into poverty. 

Things began looking up in the mid 2010s. Opposition candidate Ashraf Ghani won a 2014 Presidential election and, for the first time in its history, the Afghan government transferred power without bloodshed. Furthermore, as the Taliban appeared to be on the run, NATO troop strength went from 140,000 in 2011 to less than 17,000 in 2018.

Then, it all fell apart. When NATO forces announced a unilateral withdrawal in April 2021, the Taliban launched a major offensive. By August 2021, the Taliban controlled most of the country, including Kabul. A last-ditch resistance movement ended in September. 

Contractors in Afghanistan

Where were contractors during all these events? In Afganistan, even moreso than in Iraq and other Global War on Terror fronts, private military contractors were front and center. In fact, at many points during the war, there were more private military contractors in Afghanistan than regular servicemembers.

Combat Support

It is easy to see why Afghanistan has been such a bitter battlefield for so many years. Rugged mountains pretty much cover the country, and aside from a couple of large cities, most people live in remote villages.

Combat support is critical in this environment. Establishing and maintaining lines of communication and supply is difficult, at best, in Afghanistan. These efforts would have been impossible if private military contractors did not escort supply convoys and otherwise hold the fort.

In conventional, World War II-style campaigns, combat support operatives might never fire a shot. But anti-insurgency campaigns are different. Everyone is on the front line, and supply convoys are tempting targets. So, private military contractors face the same combat risks as regular servicemembers.

Back Office Work

When we shop at department stores, we see clerks and salespeople. We do not see the vital back-office people, like accountants and IT workers. Private military contractors are much the same. Combat-ready contractors are just the visible workers. There is much more going on.

Part of the reason Afghanistan seemed viable is that, for a time, Afghan security forces were viable. That is mostly due to the efforts of private military contractors and military trainers.

These trainers do more than instill basic military discipline and teach basic military skills. Truthfully, almost anyone could probably handle this training phase. Contractors design advanced training programs which help recruits prepare to fight insurgents and build relationships with civilians. Only private military contractors who have been in the field themselves can convey these lessons.

Effective training is not enough. Firepower is critical for modern armies, as well. Terrorist groups, like the Taliban, know how to prey on people’s’ fears. Therefore, they usually have a steady stream of recruits. But Cold War-era rifles and homemade bombs are no match for modern weapons. Contractors keep these weapons working. Additionally, contractors keep helicopters flying and maintain other hardware. Without these things, government security forces lose their edge.

Contractor Injuries

As they go about their duties, overseas private military contractors in Afghanistan and elsewhere are at risk for trauma injuries and occupational diseases.

Falls, gunshot wounds, and other such trauma injuries could happen in the field, at the base, or pretty much anywhere else. Insurgents typically employ hit-and-run tactics. They ambush columns and disappear. These attacks could happen anywhere. At the base, the aforementioned advanced training exercises are often dangerous. If they weren not dangerous, they would not effectively prepare recruits for the challenges ahead. As for other incidents, terrorists always target civilians, including off-duty contractors. That is why they call them terrorists.

Hearing loss and repetitive stress injuries are among the most common occupational diseases. Long-term exposure to sounds higher than 35 decibels, which is basically the amount of noise a lawnmower makes, could cause permanent hearing loss. Additionally, many mechanics and other such professionals spend lots of time bending, kneeling, reaching, and stooping. Knees, shoulders, and other joints can only take so much wear and tear.

Injury Compensation Available

Compensation is available for both kinds of injuries, even if the injury did not occur “on the clock.”

The Defense Base Act requires injured victims to immediately notify their supervisors in writing. This notification starts the injury compensation process.

A few weeks after initial notice, once the victim has completed initial medical treatment, a third-party mediator usually presides at a settlement conference. A few claims settle at this point, if both the medical evidence and legal issues are crystal-clear. 

However, there are usually some questions in one or both areas. Preliminary medical records are usually the only available medical evidence at this point. Such records can be misleading. Legal issues in a Defense Base Act claim could include the contractor’s employment status, the terms of the insurance policy, and the injury nexus (connection between the deployment and the injury).

Therefore, most DBA claims go to the next level, which is a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. Basically, an ALJ is a judge without the powers of an elected or appointed state or federal judge. ALJs may consider legal arguments and rule on matters of evidence and procedure.

DBA claims frequently settle out of court prior to the ALJ review. Insurance company lawyers are usually anxious to resolve claims in a venue where they have some control over the outcome. Lawyers like to control things.

For more information about DBA benefits, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A.