Tony Short and Hazem Amiry became close friends in Afghanistan. After Kabul fell nearly seven years later, a promise Short made brought them even closer together.
The chaos of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan left many veterans scrambling to help their contacts escape. And for some, that battle still isn’t over. This is the story, in their own words, of two men that America’s longest war brought together — two men who refused to give up even when many things they believed in were falling apart. Their accounts have been edited for length and clarity.
Hazem Former Afghan Air Force Lt. Col. Hazem Amiry narrowly escaped after the Taliban took over. But his wife and five children were hiding in Kabul for months.
Tony Retired US Air Force Maj. Tony J. Short pushed behind the scenes day and night to help Amiry and his family flee to safety in the United States.
It’s unbelievable that I’m here now. It is incredible. It was a dream, but it has become real.
They got my family out, at a time when it was impossible for most people to leave Kabul.
It was like a miracle.
I hate to go spiritual here. But God had a plan I guess, because look what happened.
We called our operation “Restore Hope” thinking of the Afghan people, but honestly, over the course of the last seven years since I left Afghanistan, and everything that we’ve gone through in this country alone, I had lost a lot of faith in humanity. And this restored my own hope.
Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, now I feel like I have a whole new purpose. I couldn’t be more grateful to this man.
And the story is so much deeper than just the two of us.
Amiry escaped Afghanistan and now lives in Tucson, Arizona, where Short is helping him get settled and adjust to life in the United States. A friendship begins
When you face certain things in life, when you go through a dangerous situation, it builds an undying bond. It’s hard to put into words, but it’s like it can’t be broken.
I had done a lot of studying before I went to Kabul. I knew I was going into a combat zone. But when it came to meeting people, I didn’t know what to expect.
We were there to advise the Afghan Air Force. My first night there, we were rocket attacked. It was like, “Welcome to Afghanistan.”
An alarm would sound. People called it “the giant voice.” Because it was on speaker systems. It would say, “Incoming, incoming. Wooo, wooo.” The first time you’re scared shitless. Your heart’s jumping out of your chest. Then it just becomes business as usual. You’re numb to it after that.
You’re very lost, you’re in a country you’ve never been to. It’s a very dangerous place. Trust is a major issue. And how you can learn to overcome those fears and build trust. You must be able to build a relationship.
I got there in October 2014 and I met Hazem in mid-November, maybe around Thanksgiving. I’d heard he was a good man. Former advisers told me, “You can trust him.”
The day I learned he could speak English, that’s how it all began right there. We could communicate directly without an interpreter. Our relationship just grew tenfold. I could call him on the phone. I could say, “Hazem, how are you?” I’d bring him over to our base. I would have him come over to the campfires at night, have him come around and break bread. We were able to build a personal relationship.
We would talk about our families. I met his children. We’d talk about home — families, cultural differences, like we wanted to learn and respect one another.
We had a projector that we would put up. We would watch movies on the walls — “Charlie Wilson’s War,” “Rambo 3.” We played games on an Xbox. We’d do other dumb stuff… see how far one of us could throw a big rock — who’s the strongest, you know. I’d show pictures of my kids. “Look what they did today” … “Oh look, they carved pumpkins on Halloween” … “Here they are at Christmas.” That type of stuff.
I have had a hard time finding a true relationship in America, compared to the working relationship I had with him in Afghanistan. It was completely different. Once we determined we could trust each other, there was nothing that could stop us.
Short’s father made a scrapbook documenting his son’s time in Afghanistan, including texts he sent about his friendship with Amiry. Short and Amiry have been flipping through the book lately and reminiscing.
My English wasn’t that good at first. But once Short knew I could speak a little English, he pushed me to speak more. I am still trying to get better.
He supported me at that time, motivated me and encouraged me to learn English.
We stood shoulder to shoulder. We had a good relationship. We had good cooperation. He trusted me. I trusted him.
I had a good relationship with all my advisers. I knew spending one year in Afghanistan was such a long time for them. They were training our personnel. Whenever anything happened, I wanted to protect them. I was the first line. I’d tell them, “You should keep behind me. You should go back home safe. Your mom and your family are there waiting for you. You deserve to go back home.”
At that time, I was also thinking about how to make them feel comfortable and free. Some, when they got deployed to Afghanistan, they felt like they shouldn’t talk about religion, or about women. I told them, “Don’t worry about anything. Just feel free.” We had lunch and tea together.
I’d say to my advisers, “What support do you need? Thank you for coming here, for leaving your family.” Technology made the world like one room. They would show me pictures of their families, of their children. I saw that they left their life in the US to come and accept a dangerous situation in Afghanistan. And it was so difficult for them. I was so grateful for that.
I’d tell them, “Go home safe to your children, your parents.” Getting them home safe was my goal.
Amiry treasures this uniform, which he says friends in the US military gave him. He says it’s what he was wearing when he fled Afghanistan in August, and it’s one of the few possessions he has in his Tucson hotel room. Standing side by side
One day we were all sitting at the chow hall. And there’s gunfire. Our ground attack alarm goes off — the “giant voice” again. Instead of saying “incoming, incoming,” it says, “ground attack, ground attack.”
I ran straight up to see what was going on. Someone’s screaming into their phone — “Someone’s shooting at us. I’ve been shot up. We don’t know what to do.” An armed Afghan Security Forces soldier patrolling outside the hangar had snuck up and opened fire on American maintenance crews working inside. They were contractors. He killed most of the security team first, and then he started shooting at the maintenance folks. Someone on the security team was at the back of the hangar going off shift. He had his handgun on him and pursued the shooter, eventually killing him.
The [Afghan] QRF [quick response force] rolled up and started getting out of their vehicles. We were all getting there at the same time. And everybody that was on the other end of that gun was yelling and screaming. It was chaos. I’ve got the general on the phone. He says, “Captain, we’ve got to get these Afghans out of there.”
The QRF was Hazem’s company. He was the commander. But it was the one night a week when he’d leave the base to be home with his family. I called Hazem immediately and said, “You need to get your QRF out of there.” And he made the call.
What felt like an eternity was over in a second. Every Afghan, they got in their vehicles and left. That immediately quelled everything. Had it not been for that relationship I had with this man, I believe it would have gone a lot worse. It was chaos. All it would have taken is one person to pull a trigger. I trust him with my life. I believe I owe him everything.
Hazem stood by my side the rest of the night.
That wasn’t the first time or the last. He was always protecting Americans.
Short served in the Air Force for 20 years. He retired in October and has been devoting his free time to helping Amiry and his family.
When Short left Afghanistan in 2015, Amiry gave him this uniform as a memento.
That night was so difficult. One of the soldiers, he killed three and wounded one.
The Afghan people were blaming the US people. The US people were blaming the Afghan people.
Nobody knew what was happening.
But we worked to make sure that it didn’t happen again.
Preparing for the worst
After that attack, everything was locked down. We ran a two-week mission to basically root out any other insider attacks tied to this. We worked together to identify other insider threats. We were able to stop 15 additional people from doing what that attacker did. Had it not been for Hazem, it would not have been possible.
I left Afghanistan in October 2015. We stayed in touch regularly after that and talked at least monthly. Sometimes it was on FaceTime, sometimes it was a message just checking in — “hey, how are you doing?”
Many of us, half our hearts were left in Afghanistan with these people. So you always had a feed or a watch for things that would happen out in Kabul. If there was an attack that happened at the airport, I’d always reach out to him to make sure he was OK.
Hazem and I were talking in July. I wrote him a recommendation letter and I said, “You should go to the US embassy. You need to start trying to get your family out.”
He was an Afghan patriot, much like Americans were in 1776. He believed that Afghanistan as a country would prevail. They would survive. There was nothing I could do to talk this man into getting his family out. He believed.
So I said, “Let’s have a contingency plan.”
“Give your oldest son my information, and if something happens, tell him to contact me.“
From his home in Tucson, Short tried to help Amiry’s family escape Kabul. Numerous attempts failed.
Tony wasn’t the only one. Before Kabul fell, many times my advisers asked me if I wanted to leave. They said, we’ll sponsor you if you come. I told them I wanted to serve Afghanistan. I have five boys — they are 17, 15, 13, 5 and 1. Yes, I’d like my sons to go to the US and get a good education. Yes, I’d like my sons to go there. But I want to be here.
Suddenly Afghanistan changed. It wasn’t our decision. I am still so sad about it.
At the time I was thinking, maybe I will die. I have a responsibility to our people. I was a security commander of the Air Force. The people, they expected me to stay there and fight. My duty was to fight against Taliban
How 2 men from different worlds found hope in America — and each other
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