What happened in Kabul this week reminded me of what happened in Mogadishu in 2006, and the years to come for Afghanistan seem scarier than ever.

In 2006, only five years after the U.S. troops went into Afghanistan in pursuit of Osama Bin Laden, an armed Islamic group who called themselves Al-Shabab stormed into Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital. The group was never known until the U.S started covertly funding the Somali warlords to capture and deport Islamist groups. The U.S involvement was a golden opportunity for the Islamist groups to rise to power. They took over cities and towns as fast as it is happening in Afghanistan. I remember scrambling to burn my soccer cleats, trimming my hair short and burying my fashion jeans. I stopped speaking English. No more movies to watch, listening to music was a crime. Slowly it felt like living in a prison.

I understand what the people of Afghanistan are going through today. I don’t blame them for storming into the airport trying desperately to cling onto U.S. warplanes. One thing is clear, we own the outcome in Afghanistan.

In the next few weeks, months or even years, Taliban will go hunting for anyone who worked with the United States and the Afghan government; many killings will follow and the Afghans know this. One thing the United States should avoid doing this time is engage with Taliban militarily – we should not fly our drones all over Afghanistan dropping bombs. Taliban, like every other Islamic group, thrives on these killings and uses them to justify their actions. History shows us this. But what we could do is engage with the majority of the Afghan people who want to live in freedom and justice. To do that, start with the Afghan refugees.

Millions of Afghans have tasted freedom at some point in their lives in the last 20 years or so. And once people taste freedom, they will not tolerate life under oppression. I know this because Somalia’s Islamic groups came to power after I had had some freedoms, such as playing sports and watching movies. Life was boring when those things were no longer available to me, and I would risk my own life to find the smallest freedom available anywhere. Everyone knows all the choices Taliban will offer in Afghanistan, and thousands will leave there by foot searching for a place that can offer the least freedom they can get.

This is an opportunity we have as Americans to work together to connect with those who do not want to live under a Taliban rule. The United States leaves Afghanistan with permanent scars and bruises and anything that happens there, our country will always be mentioned. But if we can help the most desperate Afghans today, history might be rewritten in the years to come. Support the Afghans, empower the refugee women and girls, build alliances that will host these refugees.

It is about time Americans listen to the stories of people who have lived in these places to learn about the life they want. Their opinions matter. They  know what they want for themselves, their families and their country, and it’s not what foreigners bring to them. The U.S. government should listen to what type of democracy these people desire. In my experience, people don’t want the Taliban version of government or the U.S. version of democracy. These conversations should start here in the United States. The will of the majority of Afghans should be the one everyone supports. For now, all three – the U.S., the Taliban and the Afghan government – failed the Afghan people. It is the Afghan people who have to suffer from here on; they are the ones who will be murdered, oppressed and forced to flee. We can’t abandon them because we own the outcome. We should continue to be involved, not militarily, but through storytelling, humanitarian aid and refugee assistance.

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