It was about to get worse.
Most of the embassy personnel left Afghanistan that night or early the next day. But Mr. Wilson and about 30 other US diplomats stayed for another two weeks in an effort to locate and evacuate other US citizens and permanent residents and foreign allies, among the tens of thousands of panicked Afghans just outside the airport, begging to be rescued. become. .
“They have to make choices: ‘Yes, you can come in’ or ‘No sir, you can’t,'” Mr Wilson recalled of the diplomats’ work at the airport gate during 12-hour shifts amid gunfire and explosions, and against the constant cheering of the crowd. “And you know, that’s very hard.”
“No one who wasn’t there can imagine how awful it was,” he said.
Wilson was one of the last four diplomats to leave Kabul, taking off on the last US military plane taking off shortly before midnight on August 30. The flight went to Doha, Qatar, where he was taken to a military hospital for tests and was told he had the coronavirus. Few people wore masks during the long and grueling days at the Kabul airport, but Mr Wilson had assumed that the fatigue and other symptoms he had experienced were the result of five consecutive weeks of working 20 hours.
He flew to his home outside Minneapolis for isolation and formally resigned from his position in late September. That part had always been the plan: Mr. Wilson had retired from the State Department in 2008 after a career of 30 years as a diplomat. But he had never served in Afghanistan before, to his surprise, he was asked to fill in as a Chargé d’affaires in January 2020 as the Trump administration and Congress battled over who to send as permanent ambassadors.
“To be fair, my response was that they should ask other people who had served there,” said Mr. Wilson. But when he was once asked, “It was my duty to do it.”
Almost a year later, Mr. Wilson was still in touch with American diplomats who were with him during his last weeks in Kabul, many of whom he said were still shocked. The cruel memories have in some cases overshadowed the silver lining of an evacuation mission that animates more than 124,000 people from Afghanistan.