Mir Ansari, NICE APA PC Case Manager
A NICE Case Manager Recounts the Afghanistan Withdrawal
“I helped lots of refugees who were evacuating from Afghanistan. I was interpreting in front of the gate of the Afghanistan airport. I am the live evidence of the evacuation from Afghanistan to the United States.” – Mir Ansari
The world watched as the U.S. Army withdrew from Afghanistan in August of 2021, ending nearly two decades of military involvement in the country and setting the stage for the rapid resurgence of the Taliban, an Islamic fundamentalist group with a history of violence in the region.
Throughout 2020 and into 2021, the American and Afghan governments worked to come to a peace agreement with the Taliban after years of tension and violence in Afghanistan. The U.S. military’s intentions to withdraw troops were announced in November 2020 with thousands of troops pulling out of the region. However, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg expressed concern that too rapid of a withdrawal could cause further conflict and a resurgence of terrorist groups in the country.
In April 2021, U.S. President Joe Biden released a plan to withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021. While Biden said that Washington would continue to assist Afghan security forces with peacekeeping initiatives in the region, the Taliban stated that they would not be participating in peace talks with the Afghanistan government until all foreign troops had withdrawn.
On August 15, the Afghanistan National Army collapsed and the Taliban seized control of the capital city, Kabul, without much resistance. The United States launched a widespread effort to evacuate remaining American citizens by the Taliban’s August 31 deadline, but when American forces pulled out of the country on August 30, hundreds of U.S. citizens were left stranded alongside thousands of Afghan people who qualified for expedited U.S. visas.
In the days after the Taliban resurgence, Afghan people fled the country by the thousands. Despite Taliban leaders’ promises to create an “open, inclusive Islamic government,” Afghan citizens and others in the region anxiously waited to see how the new government would treat its citizens. There were reports of brutality at the hands of the Taliban in the days following the fall of Kabul.
Mir Ansari, an Afghan Placement and Assistance Preferred Community (APA PC) Case Manager at NICE, was one of the individuals on the front lines of the chaos that came with the U.S. withdrawal. Mir and his older brother had worked with the U.S. Military in Afghanistan for over ten years, providing them with supplies through their general store. During the withdrawal, Mir served as an interpreter, helping control the crowds of panicked people looking for ways to flee the country.
Mir volunteered at the Afghanistan airport translating conversations between the Afghan people and the military, and ensuring those who were fleeing had the documents they needed to seek refuge in the United States.
“We went to the gate of the Afghanistan airport and we saw there were more than 20,000 people just at one gate and everybody wanted to go in,” Mir said. “It was very difficult for the Army to control the crowd and make them patient.”
Mir and his brother spent several days at the airport, helping army officials and Afghan people navigate the chaos that ensued during the withdrawal. The severity of the situation for many Afghan citizens inspired Mir to continue to invest his time and energy in ensuring as many people found safety as possible.
“We didn’t eat. We didn’t sleep. Nothing. Whenever I saw that the kids, the old women, the people were in a very bad situation, we just made that decision that we don’t want to let them die, we don’t want to let them stay there, so we were trying our best,” Mir said.
However, Mir was informed by Army personnel that his life may be in danger due to his prevalence in the withdrawal efforts and his history as a public figure in local communities in Afghanistan. An avid athlete, Mir was a gold medalist in South Asia for body building and spent much of his time coaching and traveling for different events. His success as an athlete paired with his involvement with the U.S. withdrawal made him a potential target for the Taliban.
“My life was in a very risky place,” Mir said.
The danger Mir faced made him eligible for resettlement in the United States. After traveling to Qatar and then Washington, D.C. to help the military meet the needs of refugees fleeing the conflict, Mir spent four months at Fort McCoy Military Base in Wisconsin volunteering as a cultural advisor for military officials serving Afghan refugees awaiting resettlement. Over 13,000 refugees were housed at Fort McCoy following the withdrawal, Mir said.
As a cultural advisor, Mir worked to ensure that the Afghan refugees had access to nutritious and palatable food, clothing and other supplies they needed, and medical services.
“We were just trying our best to see what was going on and trying our best to make them self-sufficient over there and make every problem that they had solved,” Mir said.
After four months at Fort McCoy, Mir moved to Nashville with his older brother as advised by U.S. military officers. During the past five months living in Nashville, Mir has received his driver’s license, found an apartment, and was hired at NICE as a case manager for new Afghan arrivals.
“I’m so happy to start work at NICE. It was like my dream job to help all refugees,” Mir said. “Many of the people don’t know how to speak English, how to buy food, or how to be healthy. They need someone to know those things. Sometimes, if you don’t know the culture, it’s difficult to survive.”
Mir has leveraged his past experiences and skills as a translator and nutritionist in his position at NICE. Mir’s proficiency in seven languages paired with his knowledge of Afghan refugees’ experiences and needs allows him to connect with his clients and help them settle into their new home in Nashville. He also aims to help Afghan arrivals stay healthy, find nutritious food, and access doctor’s appointments, he said.
Mir and his older brother have struggled during their experience being resettled in the United States. During the evacuation, they had to leave their family behind. Mir’s wife and three children currently live in a safe house in Afghanistan, unsure of when their family will be reunited.
“Right now, we are struggling to see what will happen for the future and our family. We are trying to bring them to the United States,” Mir said. “I helped a lot of the refugees and the army, now I need someone to help me get my family out of Afghanistan.”
Thousands of Afghan refugees still await resettlement in U.S. military bases both in the United States and abroad; many more Afghans left behind in the withdrawal remain vulnerable to the Taliban. Mir’s work at NICE exemplifies his ongoing commitment to providing Afghan refugees with necessary access, understanding, and support during the difficulties of the last ten months.
“If we don’t help them, it’s very difficult to let all of the people in,” Mir said.
To learn more about how you can support our Afghan allies in Nashville, visit https://www.empowernashville.org/afghanistan.