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Fred Smith

Diplomat and musician Fred Smith’s memoir of his time with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) at Kabul airport, and later in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), processing Afghan evacuees fleeing the Taliban’s return to power in August 2021, opens with a richly symbolic vignette. On his first visit to the North Gate, one of only three public entry points to Kabul airport, Smith is confronted by a nightmare vision of the country’s collapse. Amid a cacophony of screaming and gunfire, thousands of Afghans jostle, push, and kick one another, waving passports, holding babies aloft, as they fight their way towards a narrow gap in the razor wire entrance to the gate, guarded by a human wall of US Marines. Every thirty seconds or so somebody squeezes through the scrum to safety, emerging discomposed, bloodied, and bewildered.

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