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Summer 2012, Spin Buldak

"Wrorjan, komak rakra? Asnad jig sakht di."

Hey brother, can you give me a hand? I'm having a hard time with this paperwork.

Azad-Jan is holding a blue folder with the UN wreath and the seal of the US State Department on the front. I look at my watch and see that I have at least two hours until the next thing on my schedule. I spend a little time with Azad, looking through an enormous stack of paperwork that will allow him to obtain a special humanitarian visa for US residency.

He had spent a year's wages to bribe someone with inside access to the program, and was having some difficulty deciphering the paperwork despite his good command of written English.

Azad-Jan's folder contains photocopies of a selection of assorted forms originally procured from various packages put together by the UN, the US Department of State, some part of the German government, and a tourism agency in Turkey. They are in no discernible order, and have no apparent relation to each other. Most are missing pages, or reference forms that are not included.

Azad's particular specimens are photocopies of photocopies, festooned with various signatures, official-looking (and sometimes actually official, though doubtless purloined) seals and stamps. Unfortunately for Azad, I was familiar with the pile of paperwork that had stumped him.

I say unfortunately, because there is no such thing as a special humanitarian visa for US residency.

You can't con an honest man - but you can con a desperate one.

When the US withdrew unilaterally from Afghanistan, they did so by, in part, severing all ties with most of their former Afghan allies and disappearing into the wind.

Various arms and mouths of the US machine have outright refused to honor their promises to many of those allies. This by a long chain of intentional oversights, denials, refusals to acknowledge, and of late outright sabotage of private efforts to recover and bring to safety the men we once sponsored and trusted with American policy and lives, including mine.

A ghost reached out to me a few months ago and asked if I would be willing to help.

Once, on a winter day overlooking a tribe that had been working terraces and seasonal pasture for at least a thousand years, I sat sharing a cigarette with a handful of young men. The night before I had guided them on their first live mission after almost a year of training, and it had been a success by all the metrics that the program was to be judged by.

"Haq saheb," one of them asked as he passed me half a coffin nail made of the finest halfzware, "Have you killed before?"

Never did I lie to them, and so I told him.

There was a long, long moment after my own pass of the nail.

"Haq saheb, did you do right?"

Today I sit quietly and smoke a rollie made of that halfzware and think about that young man. He was publicly executed a week ago by a death squad sponsored by the Taliban government - the one that publicly proclaims amnesty for the forces of the puppet regime, but quietly circulates death warrants among its leadership.

The ghosts, echoes and names from another life, pass around the news of these executions with increasing frequency. This is going to be a particularly hard winter to be a wanted man in Afghanistan. No money, no passport, no allies, and dwindling opportunities to escape, particularly for those with families.

Hundreds remain, and those are just "my" Afghans. The ghosts and I have some in safehouses, some arranged to stay in third countries, and some brought here by our work or their own. We've had successes, and I am grateful for them, but the reality is that this is a salvage operation at best.