Today at work, I received an all-hands message asking for volunteers to staff a call center to contact Americans stranded in Afghanistan and provide instructions on how to get to the Kabul airport and what to do upon arrival. The message came with the caveat that there was a preference for staff trained in crisis management as it is not expected that Americans in-country in Afghanistan would be entirely in control of their faculties.

I saw email traffic offering counseling services to military and civilians who have spent the better part of two decades involved in the war: men and women who had deployed to the country half a dozen times or more, who had friends there, who lost friends there, who had spent 20 years trying to make a difference for the better. Emails told us to be sensitive to new patterns of depression, excessive drinking, or isolation.

Meanwhile, we have six or so thousand troops crammed into a tiny geographic location trying to get people out. They are sitting ducks…..not to the Taliban, but to extremists who do not take orders from the Taliban and who are even more radicalized. A terrorist attack now would be catastrophic.

We are watching a humanitarian crisis, a national humiliation, and are a thin line away from catastrophe. Americans do not generally have sufficient knowledge of history to be aware of what happened in this place in 1842 when 4,500 British and Indian regular troops attempted to withdraw from Afghanistan with 14,000 civilians: men, women, and children. You can bet it is on the minds of the American diplomats and troops still in-country.

When we went in, I remember a news article recounting how a tribal chieftain remarked to the U.S. military leaders briefing them on the U.S. invasion: “You can come, but will you be able to leave.?” I knew what he meant; I’m sure our leadership knew what he meant.

In the U.S., all we can do is hope for the best.