Long Island Afghan community members and U.S. veterans groups expressed heartache and frustration Friday at the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan amid the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
Mohammed Sultan, 75, and his daughter Masuda, 43, of Syosset, said they are unable to reach family members in Afghanistan after internet outages in the country.
Sultan brought his family to the United States 40 years ago to escape the Soviet-Afghan War.
"We haven’t had peace in 43 years," Masuda Sultan said.
Mohammed Sultan said he wants to see peacekeeping efforts such as a United Nations presence remaining in Afghanistan even as the Taliban advances toward controlling the country.
"The Afghan people are in trouble. The people are not fighting. The people are innocent," Mohammed Sultan said. "Our request and wishes are the United Nations will lift the people back up in their houses and help the sick and injured. When there is bombing and fighting from sky, we pray to the almighty God to make the whole nation safe and world peace to end this."
Masuda Sultan is a member of the Queens-based group Women for Afghan Women, advocating for aid to women in the country, including an estimated 2 million widows.
"I think women are particularly vulnerable during the war, and as Americans we have to think about ways in which we can serve them with humanitarian assistance, education and health care," she said.
President Joe Biden ordered the withdrawal of 3,000 troops from Afghanistan by Aug. 31 to end the U.S. involvement in the war. But officials dispatched an additional 3,000 troops to Afghanistan to help partially evacuate the U.S. Embassy in the capital city of Kabul by Sunday. Troops are battling an uprising of the Taliban, which has taken over half the country's cities and is posed to move into Kabul.
Representatives of Long Island veterans groups condemned the withdrawal and worried that it would overshadow the work U.S. troops have done in the country for nearly 20 years.
"It’s like a slap in the face to these guys that worked hard, doing their jobs. They were given a mission and did the right thing," said Frank Colon, commander of the Rockville Centre American Legion post. "It’s like taking the rug out from underneath them. It’s very sad and some of these veterans who served there feel like they were let down. They weren’t represented properly. It’s not a good feeling."
Current events in the country remind Vietnam War veteran Colon of the evacuation of U.S. citizens from Saigon in 1975, he added.
Ralph Esposito, director of Nassau County Veterans Services, said the U.S. withdrawal is discouraging for U.S. troops and he is concerned for the Afghan people.
"We’ve been fighting for 20 years and it breaks my heart," Esposito said. "We don’t deserve this as a country and we need to get our people to come home and stay home. I don’t like to leave until we get the job done. We leave all those people vulnerable to be taken over and it’s so unfair."
The Long Island-based group Afghan Americans of New York advocates for the Afghan people and represents between 6,000 and 7,000 Afghan residents on Long Island, according to the group’s president Wazma Wardak Hassan of Manhasset Hills. She said she wants the U.S. forces to remain in Afghanistan.
"We the community here in Long Island are heartbroken by the development in our homeland," Hassan said. " … We want to remember and have our own children remember their forefathers' land as a place of peace, not a place where there has been fighting for decades.
"This generation needs to have a connection to their homeland," she continued. "At the rate that things are developing right now, there are so many innocent lives with such potential for the future being lost."